International Union v. Brock
477 U.S. 274 (1986)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

International Union v. Brock, 477 U.S. 274 (1986)

International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace, and

Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Brock

No. 84-1777

Argued March 25, 1986

Decided June 25, 1986

477 U.S. 274

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Syllabus

To supplement state unemployment insurance benefits, the Trade Act of 1974 (Act) provides federally funded trade readjustment allowance (TRA) benefits to workers laid off because of competition from imports. As authorized by the Act, the Secretary of Labor (Secretary) has contracted out to state unemployment insurance agencies the job of making individual eligibility determinations for the benefits. To qualify for benefits, a worker must have at least 26 weeks of employment in the 52 weeks immediately preceding his layoff. In a 1975 policy handbook, the Secretary advised the state agencies that they should not count toward these 26 weeks leaves of absence, sick leaves, vacations, and military leaves. These guidelines were superseded by a 1981 amendment to the Act that permits inclusion of such periods of nonservice in determining a worker's period of employment, but the amendment was limited to benefits payable for weeks of unemployment beginning after September 30, 1981. Petitioner union and petitioner union members (some of whom had been denied benefits before October 1, 1981, because of the 1975 guidelines and some of whom were defending the award of benefits against appeals by their respective state agencies) filed an action in Federal District Court against the Secretary, claiming that his interpretation of the Act in the 1975 guidelines was incorrect, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court first rejected the Secretary's argument that the provision of the Act, 19 U.S.C. § 231 1(d), that makes entitlement determinations reviewable only "in the same manner and to the same extent as determinations under the applicable State law," precluded federal jurisdiction over the action. On the merits, the court held that the 1975 guidelines were inconsistent with the Act, and granted the requested relief. Without reaching the merits, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the union had no standing to bring the action. As to the individual union member plaintiffs, who claim to have been denied benefits because of an improper construction of the Act, the court, relying on § 2311(d)'s requirement, held that no relief could properly be awarded because the

Page 477 U. S. 275

plaintiffs had failed to join as party defendants the state agencies that had denied their claims.

Held:

1. Petitioner union has standing to litigate this action. Pp. 477 U. S. 281-290.

(a) An association has standing to bring suit on behalf of its members when (1) "its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right"; (2) "the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose"; and (3) "neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Hunt v. Washington Apple Advertising Comm'n,432 U. S. 333, 432 U. S. 343. All three of these conditions have been met in this case. As to the first condition, § 2311(d) does not preclude a union member or any other aggrieved claimant from challenging the 1976 guidelines. The question is not whether there are any union members who might have circumvented any state administrative and judicial process in order to bring the claims that the union now seeks to litigate, but rather whether there are union members who have yet to receive either benefits they believe are due or a final state judgment that will preclude further consideration of their claims. Such individuals would have the live interest in challenging the guidelines that would support standing in this case. As to the second condition for associational standing, there is little question that the interests the union seeks to protect in this action are "germane" to its purpose of obtaining benefits, including unemployment benefits, for its members. As to the third condition, although the unique facts of each union member's claim will have to be considered by the state authorities before the member can receive the claimed benefits, the union can litigate this action without those individual members' participation, and still ensure that the remedy, if granted, will benefit those members actually injured. Pp. 477 U. S. 282-288.

(b) The principles of associational standing set out in Hunt, supra, are reaffirmed. The Secretary's suggestion that members of an association who wish to litigate common questions of law or fact against the same defendant should be permitted to proceed only pursuant to the class action provisions of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 fails to recognize the special features distinguishing suits by associations on behalf of their members from class actions. While a class action creates an ad hoc union of injured plaintiffs who may be linked only by their common claims, an association suing to vindicate its members' interests can draw upon a preexisting reservoir of expertise and capital that can assist both courts and plaintiffs. In addition, the doctrine of associational standing recognizes that the primary reason people join an organization is often to create an effective vehicle for vindicating interests that they share with

Page 477 U. S. 276

others. Here, the Secretary has given no reason to doubt the union's ability to proceed on behalf of its aggrieved members. Pp. 477 U. S. 288-290.

2. The action can be maintained without the joinder as defendants of the state agencies administering the TRA benefit program. The action is not an appeal from an adverse benefit determination, removed to federal court, but is a challenge to federal guidelines that required that determination. Just as § 2311(d) cannot be read to bar federal jurisdiction over a challenge to the guidelines, that section does not demand that the state rules governing review of the entitlement decisions bind the federal court entertaining that challenge. Under circumstances where the state agencies would be bound to comply with the relief ordered here, and are reimbursed by the Federal Government for TRA benefits they pay, the state agencies are not "indispensable parties" within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 19(b) whose absence from the action rendered the District Court unable to grant the relief sought. Pp. 477 U. S. 290-293.

241 U.S.App.D.C. 106, 746 F.2d 839, reversed and remanded.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 477 U. S. 293. POWELL, J., filed a dissenting opinion, post, p. 477 U. S. 296.

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit was brought by the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), and several of its members challenging the Secretary of Labor's interpretation of the eligibility provisions of the Trade Act of 1974, 88 Stat.1978, 19 U.S.C.

Page 477 U. S. 277

§ 2101, which provides benefits to workers laid off because of competition from imports. The issues presented here are whether the Union has standing to sue in federal court on behalf of its affected members and whether such a suit can be maintained without the joinder as defendants of the state agencies that administer the benefit program in question.

I

To aid workers who have lost their jobs because of import competition, the Trade Act of 1974 established a program of trade readjustment allowance (TRA) benefits as a supplement to state unemployment insurance benefits. 19 U.S.C. § 2291. Under the Act's scheme, a group of workers, their union, or some other authorized representative may petition the Secretary of Labor to certify that their firm has been adversely affected by imports. §§ 2271-2273. If the Secretary issues a certificate of eligibility for such a group, workers within that group who meet certain standards of individual eligibility may then apply for and receive TRA benefits. These benefits are funded entirely by the Federal Government, as is the cost of administering the program.

While the Secretary of Labor cannot delegate his certification duties, the Act does permit him to contract out the job of making individual eligibility determinations to the state agencies that administer state unemployment insurance programs. The Secretary has in fact entered into such agreements with unemployment insurance agencies in each State and in the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Pursuant to the agreements, each of these "cooperating Stat[e] agencies," § 2311(a), becomes an "agent of the United States," § 2313(a), charged with processing applications and using federal funds to pay TRA benefits to individuals eligible under the Act. Review of eligibility decisions by these agencies is to be

"in the same manner and to the same extent as determinations under the applicable State law and only in that

Page 477 U. S. 278

manner and to that extent."

§ 2311(d). In making these eligibility determinations, however, state authorities are bound to apply the relevant regulations promulgated by the Secretary of Labor and the substantive provisions of the Act. 29 CFR § 91.51(c) (1985).

To qualify for TRA benefits under the Act, a worker must have

"had, in the 52 weeks immediately preceding . . . separation, at least 26 weeks of employment at wages of $30 or more a week in adversely affected employment with a single firm or subdivision of a firm."

19 U.S.C. § 2291(2) (1976 ed.). In a 1975 policy handbook, the Secretary advised the state agencies that they should not count toward these 26 weeks

"[p]eriods in which service is not being performed, such as leave of absence, sick or annual leave or vacation leave, and periods in which service is being performed for other than the adversely affected employer, such as military service, temporary loan or detail to another employer, or work for another employer while attached to the adversely affected employer. . . ."

App. 85. These guidelines were superseded in August, 1981, by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981 (OBRA), Pub.L. 97-35, 95 Stat. 357, which amended the Trade Act to provide that "leave for purposes of vacation, sickness, injury, maternity, or inactive duty or active duty military service for training" is to be included in determining an individual's period of employment with an adversely affected firm. 19 U.S.C. § 2291(a)(2)(A). The effect of this amendment, however, was limited to TRA benefits "payable for weeks of unemployment which begin after September 30, 1981." OBRA, § 2514(a)(2)(B), 95 Stat. 889, note following 19 U.S.C. § 2291.

Shortly after the passage of the OBRA, petitioners, the UAW and 11 of its members -- some of whom had been denied benefits for weeks of employment before October 1, 1981, because of the interpretation of § 2291 in the 1975 handbook and

Page 477 U. S. 279

some of whom were defending the award of benefits against appeals by their respective state agencies -- filed this suit in District Court against the Secretary of Labor. Claiming that the Secretary's interpretation had been incorrect and, to the extent that it related to military leave, in violation of the Veterans' Employment and Readjustment Act of 1972, 38 U.S.C. § 2013, and the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, 38 U.S.C. §§ 2014, 2024, petitioners sought a declaration that the interpretation was improper and an injunction requiring the Secretary both to notify all cooperating state agencies of the invalidity of the handbook and to direct those agencies to review and reprocess all cases in which TRA benefits had been denied.

On cross-motions for summary judgment, the District Court first rejected the Secretary's argument that § 2311(d), which makes entitlement determinations reviewable only "in the same manner and to the same extent as determinations under the applicable State law," precluded federal jurisdiction over the action. International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Donovan, 568 F.Supp. 1047, 1050-1052 (DC 1983). It noted:

"In the typical case, the Act envisions that a disappointed applicant for TRA benefits appeals to the state court the administering agency's application of the pertinent guidelines or regulations to the facts of his case. The instant case, however, is atypical. Here, plaintiffs allege that the guidelines themselves are invalid; they do not contest the particulars of the application of the guidelines to the facts of individual cases."

Id. at 1050. On the merits of the complaint, the court held that the 1975 guidelines were indeed inconsistent with the Trade Act and the Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1972. It therefore ordered the Secretary to notify all cooperating state agencies of the Act's proper construction, and to direct those agencies to process anew, applying the proper eligibility

Page 477 U. S. 280

standards, any TRA claims wrongfully denied as a result of the 1975 guidelines.

Without reaching the merits, a divided panel of the Court of Appeals reversed. 241 U.S.App.D.C. 106, 746 F.2d 839 (1984). The court first noted that the UAW "is not an appropriate representative of those TRA claimants who were not its members," id. at 109, 746 F.2d at 842, and that, at this stage of the proceedings, it would be "impermissible" to treat the suit as a class action on behalf of all disappointed claimants, id. at 108, 746 F.2d at 841. The court then held that the UAW could not even represent the interests of those claimants who were union members. It reasoned:

"In this case . . the Union has alleged no injury to itself; nor are the members' associational rights affected. . . . It seeks standing solely because some of the claimants, but far from all, were members of the Automobile Workers Union. Many of the members of the Union, however, have not had their employment terminated because of increasing imports. They have no interest in this case, and no standing to seek any judicial relief. Those members of the Union who were disappointed claimants of the benefits have been injured, or denied advantages, in various amounts. The controversy could draw to a conclusion in these proceedings only if each individual claimant was a party plaintiff."

Id. at 109, 746 F.2d at 842.

Turning to the six named plaintiffs who claimed to have been denied administrative awards of benefits because of an improper construction of § 2291, the court held that, even assuming that § 2311(d) did not preclude federal jurisdiction, "no relief could properly be awarded in this action" because plaintiffs had failed to join as party defendants the cooperating state agencies that had denied their claims. Id. at 111, 746 F.2d at 844. Relying on the requirement of § 2311(d)

"that review of determinations with respect to TRA benefits

Page 477 U. S. 281

must be 'in the same manner' as a determination under the state's unemployment insurance law,"

the court concluded:

"Judicial review of a state agency's determination of benefits under its own unemployment insurance law may not be had without the presence of the state agency, [and] since the state agencies are outside the district court's jurisdiction, it may not be had here."

Id. at 110, 746 F.2d at 843.

We granted certiorari to consider the procedural issues raised by the Court of Appeals' decision, 474 U.S. 900 (1985). We now reverse.

II

The first question raised by the Court of Appeals' decision is a simple one: does the UAW have standing to challenge the 1975 policy directive that allegedly resulted in the denial of TRA benefits to thousands of the Union's members? See Complaint

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