Food and Commercial Workers v. Brown Group, Inc. - 517 U.S. 544 (1996)


OCTOBER TERM, 1995

Syllabus

UNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION LOCAL 751 v. BROWN GROUP, INC., DBA BROWN SHOE CO.

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT

No. 95-340. Argued February 20, 1996-Decided May 13, 1996

Petitioner union filed this suit, alleging that respondent company began to layoff workers in connection with the closing of one of its plants before giving the union the closing notice required by the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act), and seeking backpay for each of its affected members. The District Court dismissed the complaint, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the suit was barred because the union failed to meet the third part of the test for determining associational standing.

Held:

1. The WARN Act grants a union authority to sue for damages on behalf of its members, North Star Steel Co. v. Thomas, 515 U. S. 29, 31; the writ of certiorari therefore was not improvidently granted. pp. 548-550.

(a) Under modern associational standing doctrine, an organization may sue to redress its members' injuries when: "(a) its members would otherwise have standing to sue in their own right; (b) the interests it seeks to protect are germane to the organization's purpose; and (c) neither the claim asserted nor the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Comm'n, 432 U. S. 333, 343. The requirement of individual participation has been understood to preclude associational standing when an organization seeks damages on behalf of its members. The question here is whether a bar to the union's suit found in this third prong of the test is constitutional and absolute, or prudential and malleable by Congress. The Court of Appeals apparently concluded that the test's third prong is of constitutional character, for it denied standing even though the WARN Act permits the union to sue for its members' damages. pp.551-554.

(b) The test's first prong is grounded in Article III as an element of the constitutional case or controversy requirement. Resort to general principles, however, leads to the conclusion that the third prong is a prudential impediment that Congress may abrogate. Hunt's require-


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ment that an organization suing as representative include at least one member with standing to present, in his or her own right, the claim pleaded by the association is an Article III necessity for the association's representative suit. Hunt's second prong is complementary to the first, because it raises an assurance that the association's litigators will themselves have a stake in the resolution of the dispute, and thus be in a position to serve as the defendant's natural adversary. But once an association has satisfied Hunt's first and second prongs assuring adversarial vigor in pursuing a claim for which member Article III standing exists, it is difficult to see a constitutional necessity for anything more. The third prong is best seen as focusing on matters of administrative convenience and efficiency, not on elements of a case or controversy. Circumstantial evidence of that prong's prudential nature is seen in the wide variety of other contexts in which a statute, federal rule, or accepted common-law practice permits one person to sue on behalf of another, even where damages are sought. See, e. g., 42 U. S. C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). Pp. 554-558.

50 F.3d 1426, reversed and remanded.

SOUTER, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Laurence Gold argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were George Murphy, Renee L. Bowser, Marsha S. Berzon, and Jonathan P. Hiatt.

Alan Jenkins argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Days, Deputy Solicitor General Kneedler, Thomas S. Williamson, Jr., Allen H. Feldman, Nathaniel

Thomas C. Walsh argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief were Michael G. Biggers, James N. Foster, Jr., Michelle M. Cain, and Robert D. Pickle.*

JUSTICE SOUTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN Act or Act), 102 Stat. 890, 29 U. S. C. § 2101 et seq., obligates certain employers to give workers or their union

* Kary L. Moss filed a brief for the American Federation of Government Employees et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.


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Full Text of Opinion

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