Chao v. Mallard Bay Drilling, Inc., 534 U.S. 235 (2002)

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certiorari to the united states court of appeals for the fifth circuit

No. 00-927. Argued October 31, 2001—Decided January 9, 2002

While Rig 52, respondent's oil and gas exploration barge, was drilling a well in Louisiana's territorial waters, an explosion on board killed or injured several workers. Pursuant to its statutory authority, the United States Coast Guard investigated the incident, but did not accuse respondent of violating any of its regulations. Indeed, the Coast Guard noted that the barge was an "uninspected vessel," see 46 U. S. C. 2101(43), as opposed to an "inspected vessel" subject to comprehensive Coast Guard regulation, see 3301. Subsequently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited respondent for violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSH Act or Act) and its regulations. Respondent challenged OSHA's jurisdiction to issue the citations on the grounds that Rig 52 was not a "workplace" under 4(a) of the Act and that 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. In rejecting both challenges, the 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, explaining that there was no industry-wide exemption from OSHA regulations for uninspected vessels and no Coast Guard regulation specifically regulating the citations' subject matter. The Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission issued a final order assessing a penalty against respondent. Without addressing the 4(a) issue, the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding 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 4(b)(1), and that this pre-emption encompassed both inspected and uninspected vessels.


1. Because the Coast Guard has neither affirmatively regulated the working conditions at issue, nor asserted comprehensive regulatory jurisdiction over working conditions on uninspected vessels, it has not exercised its authority under 4(b)(1). The OSH Act does not apply to working conditions as to which other federal agencies "exercise" statutory authority to prescribe or enforce occupational safety and health


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