Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc.

PETITIONER: Chao
RESPONDENT: Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc.
LOCATION: United States District Court Eastern District of Louisiana

DOCKET NO.: 00-927
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 534 US 235 (2002)
ARGUED: Oct 31, 2001
DECIDED: Jan 09, 2002

ADVOCATES:
Matthew D. Roberts - Department of Justice, argued the cause for the petitioner
Patrick J. Veters - Argued the cause for the respondent

Facts of the case

In 1997, an explosion on board Mallard Bay Drilling Rig 52, a oil and gas exploration barge, killed or injured several workers while the barge was drilling a well in Louisiana's territorial waters. The Coast Guard's subsequent investigation did not accuse Mallard of anything, but did note that the barge was not an "inspected vessel" subject to comprehensive Coast Guard regulation. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) then cited Mallard for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (Act) of 1970. Mallard challenged OSHA's jurisdiction to issue the citations on the grounds that Rig 52 was not a "workplace" under section 4(a) of the Act and that section 4(b)(1) of the Act pre-empted OSHA jurisdiction because the Coast Guard had exclusive authority to prescribe and enforce occupational safety and health standards on vessels such as Rig 52. Rejecting both arguments, an Administrative Law Judge found that Rig 52 was a "workplace" under the Act and held that the Coast Guard had not pre-empted OSHA's jurisdiction. In reversing, the Court of Appeals held that the Coast Guard's exclusive jurisdiction over the regulation of seamen's working conditions aboard vessels such as Rig 52 precluded OSHA's regulation under section 4(b)(1), and that this pre-emption encompassed both inspected and uninspected vessels.

Question

Does the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have jurisdiction under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to issue citations to uninspected vessels, which are subject to minimal Coast Guard regulation?

Media for Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 31, 2001 in Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc.

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - January 09, 2002 in Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc.

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the court No. 00-927, Chao, Secretary of Labor versus Mallard Bay Drilling will be announced by Justice Stevens.

John Paul Stevens:

This case comes to us from the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

It involves an oil and gas exploration barge known as Rig 52 which belongs to the respondent, Mallard Bay Drilling.

While its crew was drilling a well in the territory of waters of Louisiana, Rig 52 exploded as a result of a gas leak.

Four members of the crew were killed and two were injured.

The United States Coast Guard investigated the incident but did not accused Mallard Bay of violating any Coast Guard Regulations.

The coast guard’s report explained its limits however by noting that Rig 52 was an uninspected vessel as opposed to an inspected vessel, which meant that the barge was not comprehensively regulated by the Coast Guard.

Based largely on information from the guard's report, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Mallard Bay for three violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

In the OSHA administered proceeding, Mallard Bay challenge OSHA’s jurisdiction to issue this citations, arguing that the guard possess exclusive statutory authority to regulate occupational safety and health standards on vessels in navigable waters.

The Administrative Law Judge rejected the challenge and assessed the penalty against Mallard Bay for its violations of the Act.

The Fifth Circuit reversed holding that the Coast Guard possessed exclusive jurisdiction over working conditions of board vessels such as Rig 52, thereby precluding OSHA from applying its regulations to both inspected and uninspected vessels.

Because other Courts of Appeals had not endorsed such extensive pre-emption of OSHA’s regulation, we granted certiorari to resolve the conflict.

We reversed the decision below and conclude that OSHA had jurisdiction to issue the citations against Mallard Bay.

The statute bars OSHA from regulating working conditions “with respect to which other federal agencies exercise statutory authority to prescribe or enforce standards or regulations affecting occupational safety and health.”

Whether OSHA’s jurisdiction is preempted in a given case thus depends on whether another federal agency has exercise its authority to regulate the working conditions in questions.

As its language of the statute makes clear, mere possession by another agency of unexercised authorities is not enough to displace OSHA’s jurisdiction, nor is another federal agencies minimal exercise of authority with respect to a limited class of working conditions.

The parties do not dispute that the Coast Guards comprehensive regulation of inspected vessels has preempted OSHA’s authority to regulate those vessels.

However, concerning uninspected vessels like Rig 52, the Coast Guards Regulatory Authority is much more limited.

In this case, the working conditions that were the subject of OSHA’s citations related to inland drilling operations on uninspected vessels.

Because the Coast Guard has neither affirmatively regulated such working conditions nor asserted comprehensive regulatory jurisdiction over them and uninspected vessels.

The Coast Guard has not exercised its preemptive authority.

As a result, the jurisdiction is not preempted and as I say we reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal.

Except for Justice Scalia who did not participate in the decision, our opinion is unanimous.