1. Are state law negligence, product liability, and breach of warranty
claims against manufacturers of roof bolter dust collection systems preempted
by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq.?
2. Are state law failure to warn claims against manufacturers of roof bolter dust collection systems preempted by the Federal Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq.? (See footnote 2)
For the reasons that follow, we find that state law claims are not preempted by the Mine Safety and Health Act.
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be
made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made,
under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the
Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the
Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.
U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2. This Court has held that [t]he Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, Article VI, Clause 2, invalidates state laws that interfere with or are contrary to federal law. Syllabus Point 1, Cutright v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 201 W.Va. 50, 491 S.E.2d 308 (1997).
It is also true, however, that [o]ur law has a general bias against preemption. General Motors Corp. v. Smith, 216 W.Va. 78, 83, 602 S.E.2d 521,526 (2004). [B]oth this Court and the U.S. Supreme Court have explained that federal preemption of state court authority is generally the exception, and not the rule. In re: West Virginia Asbestos Litigation, 215 W.Va. 39, 42, 592 S.E.2d 818, 821 (2003). Given the importance of federalism in our constitutional structure . . . we entertain a strong presumption that federal statutes do not preempt state laws; particularly those laws directed at subjects _ like health
and safety _ 'traditionally governed' by the states. Law v. General Motors Corp., 114 F.3d 908, 909-910 (9th Cir. 1997), quoting CSX Transp., Inc. v. Easterwood, 507 U.S. 658, 664, 113 S.Ct. 1732, 1737, 123 L.Ed.2d 387 (1993). Therefore, preemption is disfavored in the absence of convincing evidence warranting its application. Hartley Marine Corp. v. Mierke, 196 W.Va. 669, 673, 474 S.E.2d 599, 603 (1996). Said another way, pre-emption will not lie unless it is 'the clear and manifest purpose of Congress.' Law, 114 F.3d at 910, quoting Easterwood, id. For these reasons, [c]onsideration under the Supremacy Clause starts with the basic assumption that Congress did not intend to displace state law. State ex rel. Orlofske v. City of Wheeling, 212 W.Va. 538, 543, 575 S.E.2d 148, 153 (2002), quoting Maryland v. Louisiana, 451 U.S. 725, 746, 101 S.Ct. 2114, 2129, 68 L.Ed.2d 576, 595 (1981).
This Court has previously recognized that [i]n any preemption analysis, the focus of the inquiry is on congressional intent. Hartley Marine Corp., 196 W.Va. at 674, 474 S.E.2d at 604 (citations omitted). We have also explained that [p]reemption may either be explicit, i.e., set forth in the federal statute, or implied. In re: West Virginia Asbestos Litigation, 215 W.Va. at 43, 592 S.E.2d at 822. Implied preemption may take two forms.
[I]n the absence of explicit statutory language signaling an intent to pre-empt,
we infer such intent where Congress has legislated comprehensively to occupy
an entire field of regulation, leaving no room for the states to supplement
federal law, or where the state law at issue conflicts with federal law, either
because it is impossible to comply with both or because the state law stands
as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of congressional
Hartley Marine Corp., 196 W.Va. at 674, 474 S.E.2d at 604, quoting Northwest Cent. Pipeline Corp. v. Kansas Corp. Comm'n, 489 U.S. 493, 509, 109 S.Ct. 1262, 1273, 103 L.Ed.2d 509 (1989).
The defendant argues first that field preemption exists in the instant case. Specifically, the defendant opines in its brief to this Court that,
compliance with 30 U.S.C.A. § 844 (See footnote 14) and [30 C.F.R. §§ 33.1 _ 33.38]
constitutes field preemption. Federal authority completely occupies the field
of law with respect to roof bolters and respirable dust exposures by the
foregoing and by the fact that manufacturers are prohibited from making any design, instruction, labeling, component part or any other change without first
having MSHA's approval. 30 C.F.R. § 33.12. (See footnote 15) . . . Because Congress and
MSHA has [sic] completely occupied the field of regulation as to this product,
any State damages action would directly conflict with the same. This conflict
is expressly prohibited. [30 U.S.C.A. § 955] (footnotes added).
We disagree with the defendant and find that field preemption does not exist in this case. As stated above, preemption is only to be inferred [i]n the absence of explicit statutory language signaling an intent to pre-empt. Hartley Marine Corp., 196 W.Va. at 674, 474 S.E.2d at 604. In the instant case, however, there is explicit statutory language signaling Congress's intent to preempt state law insofar as it conflicts with federal law. This explicit statutory language is found in 30 U.S.C. § 955 which states:
(a) No State law in effect on December 30, 1969 or which may become
effective thereafter shall be superseded by any provision of this chapter or
order issued or any mandatory health or safety standard, except insofar as such
State law is in conflict with this chapter or with any order issued or any
mandatory health or safety standard.
(b) The provisions of any State law or regulation in effect upon the operative date of this chapter, or which may become effective thereafter, which provide for more stringent health and safety standards applicable to coal or other mines than do the provisions of this chapter or any order issued or any mandatory health or safety standard shall not thereby be construed or held to be in conflict with this chapter. The provisions of any State law or regulation in effect December 30, 1969, or which may become effective thereafter, which provide for health and safety standards applicable to coal or other mines for which no provision is contained in this chapter or in any order issued or any mandatory health or safety standard, shall not be held to be in conflict with this chapter.
Therefore, because Congress has clearly expressed its intent not to preempt all state law or to occupy the entire field, we conclude that field preemption does not exist in this case.
Second, the defendant asserts that express preemption exists which is indicated by Congress's promulgation of regulations that specify the design, engineering, construction, and performance criteria for dust collectors. Essentially, the defendant's argument hinges on the fact that the federal regulations are detailed, comprehensive, and mandatory. According to the defendant, a fair reading of this comprehensive regulatory scheme leads to the inescapable conclusion that Congress clearly intended to preempt state laws pertaining to dust collectors.
We find no merit to the defendant's argument. Again, because Congress included an express preemption provision in the Mine Safety and Health Act, this Court does not find it necessary to infer Congressional intent from regulations that do not specifically address preemption. According to the clear provisions of § 955(a), only state laws that are in conflict with the federal standards for permissible dust collectors are superseded by the federal standards. Further, pursuant to the plain language of § 955(b), state laws or regulations that provide for more stringent health and safety standards than do the federal provisions shall not be construed to be in conflict with those provisions. It is obvious to this Court from the clear language in § 955(a) and (b) that Congress did not intend to preempt State laws that provide for more stringent health and safety standards than the federal laws. Therefore, we find that Congress did not intend to preempt state law claims that may hold the defendant's dust collection system to a more stringent standard than federal law.
The defendant contends, however, that paragraph (b) of § 955 is not applicable to its dust collection system. The defendant points out that § 955(b) applies specifically to health and safety standards applicable to coal or other mines, which, says the defendant, refers to the property from which coal is mined and not to manufacturers of dust collectors. We decline to read the language of § 955(b) so narrowly. According to 30 U.S.C. § 802(h)(1), coal or other mine means, among other things, equipment and machines used in, or to be used in . . . the work of extracting . . . minerals. A roof bolter with a dust collection system is a piece of equipment or machinery used in the work of mining underground coal. Specifically, it makes the underground mining of coal possible by preventing roof collapses. It also makes the job of mining underground coal safer by limiting the amount of respirable dust in the air resulting from roof bolting operations. (See footnote 16) But even absent the definition of the language coal or other mine in 30 U.S.C. § 802(h)(1), it is apparent to this Court that any common sense construction of the phrase applicable to coal or other mines includes machinery, such as a roof bolter, which is integral to underground mining operations. Thus, we find no reason, in the absence of express language to the contrary, to exclude roof bolters from the application § 955(b).
The defendant further avers that state law pertaining to dust collectors is preempted under the principles of conflict preemption. Specifically, according to the defendant, the distinction between 30 U.S.C. § 955(a) and (b) spells out the clear and firm expression of Congressional intent to preserve conflict preemption principles for a narrow category of persons and entities involved in the mining industry, other than coal or other mines. The defendant apparently defines the term conflict for the purposes of conflict preemption to mean different. In other words, according to the defendant, any state law or jury verdict requiring a different standard than that set forth in federal law is preempted. The defendant supports this proposition by citing specific language in both the Act and its accompanying federal regulations. For example, the defendant cites 30 U.S.C. § 811(6)(A) which provides:
The Secretary, in promulgating mandatory standards dealing with toxic
materials or harmful physical agents under this subsection, shall set standards
which most adequately assure on the basis of the best available evidence that
no miner will suffer material impairment of health or functional capacity even
if such miner has regular exposure to the hazards dealt with by such standard
for the period of his working life. Development of mandatory standards under
this subsection shall be based upon research, demonstrations, experiments, and
such other information as may be appropriate. In addition to the attainment
of the highest degree of health and safety protection for the miner, other
considerations shall be the latest available scientific data in the field, the
feasibility of the standards, and experience gained under this and other health
and safety laws. Whenever practicable, the mandatory health or safety
standard promulgated shall be expressed in terms of objective criteria and of
the performance desired.
It is the defendant's position that the use of the term mandatory in this code section indicates that any state law or jury verdict that deviates from the federal standards is preempted. We reject the defendant's reasoning.
This Court has explained that conflict preemption [occurs] where 'compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility,' or where state law 'stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress[.] Hartley Marine Corp., 196 W.Va. at 674, 474 S.E.2d at 604, citing Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Ass'n, 505 U.S. 88, 98, 112 S.Ct. 2374, 2383, 120 L.Ed.2d 73 (1992). We do not believe that the defendant's compliance with both a jury verdict that requires more stringent standards than federal law and its compliance with less stringent federal standards is a physical impossibility. Logically, compliance with a more stringent state standard also indicates compliance with a less stringent federal standard.
Further, we do not believe that a jury verdict requiring a different standard than that set forth in the federal regulations would frustrate the objectives and execution of the federal standard. The purposes of the Mine Safety and Health Act are spelled out in 30 U.S.C. § 801(g), which provides,
it is the purpose of this chapter (1) to establish interim mandatory health and safety standards and to direct the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of Labor to develop and promulgate improved mandatory health or safety standards to protect the health and safety of the Nation's coal or other miners; (2) to require that each operator of a coal or other mine and every miner in such mine comply with such standards; (3) to cooperate with, and provide assistance to, the States in the development and enforcement of effective State coal or other mine health and safety programs; and (4) to improve and expand, in cooperation with the States and the coal or other mining industry, research and development and training programs aimed at preventing coal or other mine accidents and occupationally caused diseases in the industry.
This Court fails to see how state enforcement of a more stringent standard pertaining to dust
collectors would frustrate these purposes. Essentially, the purpose of the Federal Coal Mine
Health and Safety Act is to protect the safety of the miner. Westmoreland Coal Co. v.
Federal Mine, Etc., 606 F.2d 417, 419 - 420 (4th Cir. 1979), see also Estate of Bernaldes v.
U.S., 877 F.Supp. 301, 308 (W.D.Va. 1995), affirmed, 81 F.3d 428 (4th Cir. 1996)
(recognizing that protecting the health and safety of the nation's coal miners is one of the
purposes of the Act). Quite frankly, it seems to us that enforcement of a more stringent
standard governing dust collectors would have the effect of better protecting the health and
safety of miners by further limiting the amount of respirable silica that they breathe while
operating roof bolters. Accordingly, we conclude that conflict preemption does not operate
to prevent state law claims against the defendant.
Next, the defendant posits that this Court's decision in In re: West Virginia Asbestos Litigation, in which we found that state tort law claims against manufacturers of parts or components of railroad locomotives are preempted by the federal Locomotive Boiler Inspection Act, § 20701, et seq. supports a finding of preemption in the instant case. According to the defendant, the inspection, testing, approval, and performance regulations for dust collectors are more precise, detailed, and onerous than the regulations in the railroad preemption cases.
This Court does not believe that In re: West Virginia Asbestos Litigation is analogous to the present case. First, as seen above, the Mining Safety and Health Act has an express preemption provision that expressly preserves state laws that do not conflict with federal law. In contrast, the Locomotive Inspection Act is silent on preemption. (See footnote 17) Moreover, an important practical basis for finding implied preemption in railroad cases is the unique interstate nature of the railroad business.
This broad preemptive sweep is necessary to maintain uniformity of
railroad operating standards across state lines. Locomotives are designed to
travel long distances, with most railroad routes wending through interstate
commerce. The virtue of uniform national regulation is self-evident:
locomotive companies need only concern themselves with one set of
equipment regulations and need not be prepared to remove or add equipment
as they travel from state to state. Southern Pac. Transp. Co. v. Oregon PUC, 9 F.3d 807, 811 (9th Cir. 1993); see also R.J. Corman R.R. v. Palmore, 999
F.2d 149, 152 (6th Cir. 1993) (Th[e] lasting history of pervasive and
uniquely-tailored congressional action indicates Congress's general intent that
railroads should be regulated primarily on a national level through an
integrated network of federal law.). . . .
. . . the purpose of tort liability is to induce defendants to conform their conduct to a standard of care established by the state. See San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 247, 79 S.Ct. 773, 780-81, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959) (The obligation to pay compensation can be, indeed is
designed to be, a potent method of governing conduct and controlling policy.). . . . If each state were to adopt different liability-triggering standards, manufacturers would have to sell locomotives and cars whose equipment could be changed as they crossed state lines, or adhere to the standard set by the most stringent state.
Law, 114 F.3d 908, 910-11. These same considerations do not apply to the dust collectors at issue.
The defendant further argues that its faithful compliance with all of the federal standards that regulate dust collectors should shield it from claims that its dust collectors are defective. While this Court agrees that compliance with federal standards is compelling evidence on the defendant's behalf in any state law claim, (See footnote 18) such claims are not completely foreclosed. As set forth above, Congress has clearly expressed its intent that states may adopt more stringent standards than those found in the Mining Safety and Health Act. This Court must give effect to Congressional intent. Moreover, we are confident that our decision herein supports the compelling public policy of encouraging manufacturers of dust collection units to continually strive to make those units safer than what is currently required by the federal Act.
Finally, the defendant opines that state law cannot require a more demanding standard governing dust collectors because federal regulations represent the gold standard. We believe that to accept the defendant's argument is to deny the possibility of technological progress in the manufacture of dust collectors. Technology that represented the gold standard a short time ago may no longer represent the gold standard today. The federal regulations themselves recognize that all possible designs, arrangements, or combinations of components and materials [of dust collectors] cannot be foreseen. 30 C.F.R. § 33.20. We believe that by permitting states to adopt more stringent dust collector standards than those found in the federal regulations, Congress has implicitly recognized that dust collector systems may be manufactured that actually exceed federal safety regulations. (See footnote 19)
In sum, after reviewing the language of the Mine Safety and Health Act and its accompanying regulations, we conclude that our basic presumption that Congress did not intend to displace state law has not been rebutted by convincing evidence to the contrary. Quite simply, we do not believe that Congress's purpose to preempt all state law regulating dust collectors is clear and manifest. Accordingly, we hold that state tort law, product liability, breach of warranty, and failure to warn claims against manufacturers of roof bolter dust collection systems are not preempted by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. § 801, et seq. (See footnote 20)
Are state law negligence, product liability, and breach of warranty
claims against manufacturers of roof bolter dust collection systems
preempted by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. §§
801, et seq.?
2. Are state law failure to warn claims against manufacturers of roof bolter dust collection systems preempted by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act, 30 U.S.C. §§ 801, et seq.?
Certified questions answered.