NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co.,
437 U.S. 214 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

NLRB v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co., 437 U.S. 214 (1978)

National Labor Relations Board v. Robbins Tire & Rubber Co.

No. 77-911

Argued April 26, 1978

Decided June 15, 1978

437 U.S. 214


After the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filed an unfair labor practice complaint against respondent employer, respondent requested, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), that the NLRB make available prior to the hearing copies of all potential witnesses' statements collected during the NLRB's investigation. This request was denied on the ground that the statements were exempt from disclosure under, inter alia, Exemption 7(A) of the FOIA, which provides that disclosure is not required of

"investigatory records compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that the production of such records . . . would interfere with enforcement proceedings."

Respondent then filed an action in District Court seeking disclosure of the statements and injunctive relief. That court held that Exemption 7(A) did not apply because the NLRB did not claim that release of the statements would pose any unique or unusual danger of interference with the particular enforcement proceeding, and hence directed the NLRB to provide the statements for copying prior to any hearing. The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the NLRB had failed to sustain its burden of demonstrating the availability of Exemption 7(A) because it had introduced no evidence that interference with the unfair labor practice proceeding in the form of witness intimidation was likely to occur in this particular case.

Held: The Court of Appeals erred in holding that the NLRB was not entitled to withhold the witness statements under Exemption 7(A). Pp. 437 U. S. 220-243.

(a) Exemption 7(A)'s language does not support an interpretation that determination of "interference" under the Exemption can be made only on an individual, case-by-case basis, and, indeed, the language of Exemption 7 as a whole tends to suggest the contrary. Nor is such an interpretation supported by other portions of the FOIA providing for disclosure of segregable portions of records and for in camera review of documents, and placing the burden of justifying nondisclosure on the Government. Pp. 437 U. S. 223-224.

(b) Exemption 7(A)'s legislative history indicates that Congress did not intend to prevent federal courts from determining that, with respect

Page 437 U. S. 215

to particular kinds of enforcement proceedings, disclosure of particular kinds of investigatory records while a case is pending would generally "interfere with enforcement proceedings," and, more particularly, did not intend to overturn the NLRB's longstanding rule against prehearing disclosure of witnesses' statements. Pp. 437 U. S. 224-236.

(c) Witness statements in pending unfair labor practice proceedings are exempt from FOIA disclosure at least until completion of the NLRB's hearing, since the release of such statements necessarily would involve the kind of harm that Congress believed would constitute an "interference" with NLRB enforcement proceedings -- that of giving a party litigant earlier and greater access to the NLRB's case than he would otherwise have. Thus, here, the NLRB met its burden of demonstrating that disclosure of the witnesses' statements in question "would interfere with enforcement proceedings," since the dangers posed by premature release of the statements would involve precisely the kind of "interference with enforcement proceedings" that Exemption 7(A) was designed to avoid, the most obvious risk of such "interference" being that employers or, in some cases, unions will coerce or intimidate employees and others who have given statements, in an effort to make them change their testimony or not testify at all. Pp. 437 U. S. 236-242.

563 F.2d 724, reversed.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, REHNQUIST, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., and REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 243. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN, J., joined, post, p. 437 U. S. 243.

Page 437 U. S. 216

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