Willa B. Perlmutter

Willa B. Perlmutter
Of Counsel
Portland, OR
P: 503.294.9462 M: 202.441.0531
Overview

About Willa

Willa Perlmutter has more than 30 years of experience as a litigator, focusing for the last 20 on defending mine operators across all sectors of the industry in administrative enforcement proceedings brought by the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) for alleged violations of the Mine Act.  In addition, she regularly counsels clients on a broad range of issues that affect their mining operations, from personnel policies and actions to compliance with a broad range of federal statutes. Willa regularly defends companies and individuals facing investigations and formal legal proceedings for alleged safety and health violations under both the Federal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1977 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, whether those arise out of a catastrophic event, such as an accident, or in the course of a regular inspection by MSHA or Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). She has successfully defended a number of mining companies in whistleblower cases brought under the Mine Act.

From Alaska to California and all points east—above ground and beneath—Willa is accustomed to working effectively and efficiently with in-house counsel and business representatives of mining companies at both the corporate and plant level.

Even with an affinity for litigation, Willa recognizes that clients may be best served by a direct approach to regulators and legislators. Her experience on Capitol Hill and in the federal government provides a solid foundation for seasoned advocacy. She maintains positive and constructive relationships with policymakers and operational staff at MSHA, OSHA and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), as well as with the administrative law judges and staff at the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission.

Prior to joining Stoel Rives, Willa served as counsel at Crowell & Moring LLP and at Patton Boggs, LLC in Washington, D.C. Prior to that she was an attorney-adviser for the U.S. Department of the Interior and supervising attorney in the Juneau office of Alaska Legal Services Corporation.

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Experience

Experience

Trial and Appellate

  • As first chair, tried three civil jury trials to verdict and more than 50 bench trials to decision; of those bench trials, approximately one-fourth were in administrative enforcement proceedings brought by MSHA for alleged regulatory violations.
  • Secured a decisive victory, after trial, on behalf of the operator of an underground silver mine and a construction contractor jointly accused by MSHA of knowingly violating mining regulations in connection with an arson fire, with findings of no violation as to all charges.
  • In quasi-criminal enforcement proceedings, represented an individual manager accused of knowingly violating the Mine Act and causing the deaths of two miners working under his supervision; as a result, the individual was cleared of wrongdoing and no criminal or civil charges were brought against him.
  • Member of the legal team that defended a mining company in a complex federal criminal investigation and related administrative enforcement proceedings stemming from two mine collapses that occurred over a 10-day period in 2007 and resulted in the deaths of nine individuals; in connection with that representation, evaluated the testimony of fact and expert witnesses and analyzed legal principles governing federal criminal prosecutions for Mine Act violations.
  • As part of a three-person team, was trial counsel in a landmark case before the tribal court of the Chilkat Indian Village that resulted in the return of culturally and historically significant artifacts that had been stolen from the village of Klukwan, Alaska; the case raised significant and novel issues of civil jurisdiction in Indian country and was the first case ever referred to tribal court by a federal court of appeals.
  • Had sole or primary responsibility for briefing and argument in appellate proceedings before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and the highest courts of Alaska, Connecticut and Louisiana.

Investigations

  • Managed client responses and participated in government investigations, in more than 25 separate cases involving 10 different companies over a 15-year period, into claims that the companies had unlawfully retaliated against whistleblowers who exercised rights protected by federal law; of those, MSHA determined in approximately one-half of the cases that no unlawful activity had taken place; in approximately 10 cases, defended the client companies in bench trials brought either by the U.S. Department of Labor or by the individual complainant alleging unlawful retaliation.
  • Led client teams participating in and responding to U.S. Department of Labor investigations into numerous fatal accidents that occurred at mines and other industrial sites.
  • Directed and conducted an internal investigation into allegations that management at an underground coal mine had failed to manage water properly, resulting in a flooded escapeway that jeopardized the safety of miners; as a result of the investigation, the mine’s general manager and underground superintendent were terminated and new management put in place to implement better procedures and improve accountability.
  • Managed an internal investigation to determine why automatic airlock doors essential to proper mine ventilation persistently failed to function as designed and whether management had taken appropriate steps to address the problem and safeguard mine personnel; as a result of the investigation, the mining company redefined lines of responsibility for mine maintenance and brought in additional maintenance staff with specialized expertise to ensure the continued operation of the doors.

Counseling and Public Policy

  • Regularly provide advice on statutory and regulatory compliance to clients in a wide range of mining and other industrial contexts, including counseling publicly-held companies and their mining subsidiaries on reporting obligations in connection with the industry-specific requirements of the Dodd Frank Act.
  • Through relationships developed with officials at MSHA, OSHA and NIOSH advocate on behalf of clients seeking agency action or forbearance without resorting to litigation; regularly meet with government representatives on a variety of public policy initiatives affecting mining and industrial clients.
  • Conduct training seminars for mine operators and others on relevant topics, including anticipating and reducing civil and criminal liability by responding appropriately to inspections, investigations and catastrophic events; responding to whistleblower complaints; and criminal proceedings under the Mine Act, among others.

Complex Litigation

  • In a matter involving complex factual and regulatory issues, shouldered primary responsibility for providing comprehensive assistance to the lead attorney in obtaining, reviewing and producing client documents to the U.S. Department of Justice in response to allegations that a corporate client had fraudulently calculated and improperly underpaid royalties arising out of oil and gas leases on federal lands; our representation led to the U.S. government’s first settlement with a major oil company in lieu of qui tam litigation to recover unpaid royalties.
  • While at the U.S. Department of the Interior, participated in a historic negotiated rulemaking with representatives of tribal governments and various federal agencies to implement the Indian Self-Determination Act, which authorized the Secretaries of the Interior and Health and Human Services to enter into government-to-government contracts with federally recognized Indian tribes for management of tribal programs; although initially extremely contentious, the rulemaking was accomplished within the deadline established by Congress and resulted in a consensus rule agreed to by all parties; represented the Office of Indian Self-Determination in government contract disputes with tribes, including litigation over allocation of contract support funds.

Government Experience

  • U.S. Department of the Interior - Attorney-Advisor, Office of the Solicitor, Division of Indian Affairs, 1995-1997
 
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Honors

Honors & Activities

  • District of Columbia’s Pro Bono Honor Roll
  • Steering Committee, Federal Agency and Congressional Practice Section of the Alaska Bar Association
  • Safety and Health Committee, California Construction and Industrial Minerals Association (CalCIMA)
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Insights & Presentations

Insights & Presentations

  • Willa regularly conducts training seminars for mine operators and others, in which she focuses on how to anticipate and reduce civil and criminal liability cases by responding appropriately to inspections, investigations and catastrophic events. 
  • “Managing Cybersecurity: What the Mining Industry Should Know and Do” (coauthor), The Conveyor, Winter 2016 
  • “Representing Mine Operators Under the Alternative Case Resolution Initiative,” three-day training program for mine safety professionals, 2001 to present 
  • “OSHA Requests Stakeholder Input on Revamping Rules Governing Workplace Exposure to Chemicals,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, Oct. 2014 
  • “Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission Holds that Mine Operators Can Be Cited for Violations Discovered During Pre-Op Examinations,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, May 2014 
  • Presenter, “Dealing with Discrimination Cases: Mechanics and Strategies,” North Carolina Mine Safety and Health Conference, Apr. 2014 
  • Presenter, “Legal Developments in Mine Safety, or The More Things Change, The More They Remain The Same,” Pennsylvania Aggregates & Concrete Association, Feb. 2014 
  • “Recent Developments in Whistleblower Retaliation Cases Under the Mine Act,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, Winter 2014
  • “Two Recent Court Decisions Herald Positive Developments for Mine Operators in § 105(c) Whistleblower Cases,” Environment, Energy & Resources Law Alert, Oct. 2012 
  • “Developments in MSHA Enforcement – And What On Earth Are We Going To Do About Them?,” Alaska Miners Association, Nov. 2010 
  • “Mine Emergency Procedures: What Every Manager Needs to Know,” speech to Society of Mining Engineers (SME) Annual Meeting and Colorado Association Conference, Feb. 2007



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