Thomas v. Union Carbide
Annotate this Case
473 U.S. 568 (1985)
U.S. Supreme Court
Thomas v. Union Carbide, 473 U.S. 568 (1985)
Thomas v. Union Carbide Agricultural Products Co.
Argued March 26, 1985
Decided July 1, 1985
473 U.S. 568
The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires manufacturers of pesticides, as a precondition for registering a pesticide, to submit research data to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) concerning the product's health, safety, and environmental effects, and authorizes EPA to use previously submitted data in considering an application for registration of a similar product by another registrant ("follow-on" registrant). Section 3(c)(1)(D)(ii) of FIFRA authorizes EPA to consider certain previously submitted data only if the "follow-on" registrant has offered to compensate the original registrant for use of the data, and provides for binding arbitration if the registrants fail to agree on compensation. The arbitrator's decision is subject to judicial review only for "fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct." Appellees, firms engaged in the development and marketing of chemicals used to manufacture pesticides, instituted proceedings in Federal District Court to challenge, inter alia, the constitutionality of the arbitration provisions on the ground that they violate Article III of the Constitution by allocating to arbitrators the functions of judicial officers and by limiting review by an Article III court. Appellees alleged that EPA had considered their research data in support of other registration applications, that one of the appellees (Stauffer Co.) had invoked the arbitration provisions of § 3(c)(1)(D)(ii) against a "follow-on" registrant, and that the arbitration award fell short of the compensation to which Stauffer Co. was entitled. The District Court held that the claims challenging the arbitration provisions were ripe for decision, and that those provisions violated Article III.
1. Appellees' Article III claims demonstrate sufficient ripeness to establish a concrete case or controversy. Ruckelshaus v. Monsanto Co., 467 U. S. 986, distinguished. Appellees have an independent right to adjudication of their compensation claims in a constitutionally proper forum; their claim does not depend on the outcome of a given arbitration. It is sufficient for purposes of a claim under Article III challenging a tribunal's jurisdiction that the claimant demonstrate it has been or inevitably
will be subjected to an exercise of such unconstitutional jurisdiction. In addition, the issue here is purely legal, and will not be clarified by further factual development. Appellees have standing to contest EPA's issuance of "follow-on" registrations pursuant to what they contend is an unconstitutional statutory provision. Pp. 473 U. S. 579-582.
2. Article III does not prohibit Congress from selecting binding arbitration with only limited judicial review as the mechanism for resolving disputes among participants in FIFRA's pesticide registration scheme. Pp. 473 U. S. 582-593
(a) The Constitution does not require every federal question arising under the federal law to be tried in an Article III court before a judge enjoying life tenure and protection against salary reduction. Congress is not barred from acting pursuant to its Article I powers to vest decisionmaking authority in tribunals that lack the attributes of Article III courts. Pp. 473 U. S. 582-584.
(b) Any right to compensation from "follow-on" registrants under § 3(c)(1)(D)(ii) for EPA's use of data arises under FIFRA, and does not depend on or replace a right to such compensation under state law. Thus, the holding in Northern Pipeline Construction Co. v. Marathon Pipe Line Co., 458 U. S. 50 -- that Congress may not vest in a non-Article III court the power to adjudicate a traditional contract action arising under state law, without the litigants' consent, and subject only to ordinary appellate review -- is not controlling here. Nor do this Court's decisions support appellees' contentions that Article III adjudication or review is required because FIFRA confers a "private right" to compensation (as distinguished from a "public right"), or that the right to an Article III forum is absolute unless the Federal Government is a party of record. Pp. 473 U. S. 584-586.
(c) Practical attention to substance, rather than doctrinaire reliance on formal categories, should inform application of Article III. Crowell v. Benson, 285 U. S. 22. If the identity of the parties alone determined the requirements of Article III, under appellees' theory, the constitutionality of many quasi-adjudicative activities carried on by administrative agencies involving claims between individuals would be thrown into doubt. In essence, the "public rights" doctrine reflects simply a pragmatic understanding that, when Congress selects a quasijudicial method of resolving matters that could be conclusively determined by the Executive and Legislative Branches, the danger of encroaching on the judicial powers is reduced. Pp. 473 U. S. 586-589.
(d) Several aspects of FIFRA establish that the arbitration scheme adopted by Congress does not contravene Article III. The right created by FIFRA as to use of a registrant's data to support a "follow-on" registration is not a purely "private" right, but bears many of the characteristics
of a "public" right. Congress has the power, under Article I, to authorize an agency administering a complex regulatory scheme to allocate costs and benefits among voluntary participants in the program without providing an Article III adjudication. The arbitration scheme is necessary as a pragmatic solution to the difficult problem of spreading the costs of generating adequate information regarding the safety, health, and environmental impact of a potentially dangerous product. Additionally, the scheme contains its own sanctions and subjects no unwilling defendant to judicial enforcement power. Given the nature of the right at issue and the concerns motivating Congress, the arbitration system does not threaten the independent role of the judiciary in the constitutional scheme. In the circumstances, the limited Article III review of the arbitration proceeding preserves the appropriate exercise of the judicial function. Pp. 473 U. S. 589-593.
3. Appellees' alternative Article I claim that FIFRA's standard for compensation is so vague as to be an unconstitutional delegation of legislative powers was neither adequately briefed nor argued to this Court, and was not fully litigated before the District Court. Therefore, the issue is left open for determination on remand. P. 473 U. S. 593.
Reversed and remanded.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and WHITE, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 473 U. S. 594. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 473 U. S. 602.