Attorneys for Altor and Vasilio Saites, the company's president, argued that the company did not have the ability to pay the fines, highlighting 2013 as a year it had negative taxable income despite showing positive balances in its bank accounts each month. A magistrate judge's report said the contractor could have at least paid something toward the balance but refused to do so.
The same ruling found that Saites' son, who is also a participant in the business, was not, unlike his father, personally liable for the fines. If Saites and Altor do not pay the fine or make other payment arrangements with OSHA within 30 days of the July 25 ruling, the U.S. secretary of labor can propose an additional daily penalty that the court will review.
Also wrapped into the same case is another Saites company, Avcon, which was dissolved in 2010. The government was seeking repayment of a $77,000 fine it said Avcon still owed, but the appeals court denied that petition.
OSHA regularly makes payment arrangements with companies that owe safety-related fines and will sometimes negotiate the amount down under certain circumstances. In its press release announcing the appeals court decision, however, OSHA said that the $412,000 levied against Altor represented multiple violations, some willful, which can be harder to defend against when trying to negotiate a settlement.
While many contractor disputes with OSHA are settled directly with the agency, OSHA will not hesitate to take its issues to the U.S. court system.
In February, OSHA took another New Jersey contractor, Frame Q, to court in pursuit of $678,053 of past due fines. The amount covers the result of violations issued during the course of eight inspections going back several years.
Frame Q tried to contest at least one of the fines but missed the administration's deadline. The original fines levied against Frame Q totaled $473,178, but the penalties, interest and other charges, including Department of Justice and U.S. Treasury fees of $173,100, brought the balance up significantly.
The Frame Q lawsuit did not include an additional fine of $261,451 levied in January for fall protection violations. Evidently, Frame Q has not paid the fine nor has it negotiated a settlement because it has been turned over for debt collection, according to OSHA.