340 U.S. 474 (1951), 40, Universal Camera Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board

Docket Nº:No. 40
Citation:340 U.S. 474, 71 S.Ct. 456, 95 L.Ed. 456
Party Name:Universal Camera Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board
Case Date:February 26, 1951
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 474

340 U.S. 474 (1951)

71 S.Ct. 456, 95 L.Ed. 456

Universal Camera Corp.


National Labor Relations Board

No. 40

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 26, 1951

Argued November 6-7, 1950




The National Labor Relations Board ordered petitioner to reinstate with back pay an employee found to have been discharged because he gave certain testimony in another proceeding under the National Labor Relations Act. The evidence as to the reason for his discharge was conflicting, and the Board overruled its examiner's findings of fact and his recommendation that the proceedings be dismissed. In decreeing enforcement, the Court of Appeals held that the Board's findings of fact were "supported by substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole" within the meaning of § 10(e) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended in 1947. This holding was based partly on the view (1) that the 1947 amendments had not broadened the scope of judicial review, and (2) that the Board's rejection of its examiner's findings of fact was without relevance in determining whether the Board's findings were supported by substantial evidence.


1. In the light of the legislative history, the standard of proof required under § 10(e) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended by the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, to support a decision of the Labor Board on judicial review is the same as that to be exacted by courts reviewing every administrative action subject to the Administrative Procedure Act. Pp. 477-487.

2. In amending § 10(e) of the National Labor Relations Act so as to require that, on judicial review, the Board's findings of fact must be supported by substantial evidence "on the record considered as a whole," Congress made it clear that a reviewing court is not barred from setting aside a Board decision when it cannot conscientiously find that the evidence supporting that decision is substantial, when viewed in the light that the record in its entirety furnishes, including the body of evidence opposed to the Board's view. Pp. 487-488.

3. When read in the light of their legislative history, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Labor Management Relations Act,

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1947, require the courts to assume more responsibility for the reasonableness and fairness of Labor Board decisions than some courts have shown in the past. Pp. 488-490.

4. Whether, on the record as a whole, there is substantial evidence to support agency findings is a question which Congress has placed in the keeping of the courts of appeals. This Court will intervene only in what ought to be the rare instance when the standard appears to have been misapprehended or grossly misapplied. P. 491.

5. The Court of Appeals erred in holding that it was barred from taking into account the report of the examiner on questions of fact insofar as that report was rejected by the Board. Pp. 491-497.

(a) A trial examiner's findings are not as unassailable as a master's, and may be reversed by the Board when when not clearly erroneous. P. 492.

(b) A reviewing court need not give a trial examiner's findings more weight than, in reason and in the light of judicial experience, they deserve, but they should be accorded the relevance that they reasonably command in answering the comprehensive question whether the evidence supporting the Board's order is substantial. Pp. 496-497.

6. The cause is remanded to the Court of Appeals, which is left free to grant or deny enforcement as it thinks the principles expressed in the opinion, of this Court dictate. P. 497.

179 F.2d 749, vacated and remanded.

The Court of Appeals decreed enforcement of an order of the National Labor Relations Board requiring petitioner to reinstate an employee with back pay and to cease and desist from discriminating against any employee who files charges or gives testimony under the National Labor Relations Act. 179 F.2d 749. This Court granted certiorari. 339 U.S. 962. Judgment vacated and cause remanded, p. 497.

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FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The essential issue raised by this case and its companion, Labor Board v. Pittsburgh Steamship Co., post, 498, is the effect of the Administrative Procedure Act and the legislation colloquially known as the Taft-Hartley Act on the duty of Courts of Appeals when called upon to review orders of the National Labor Relations Board.

The Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted enforcement of an order directing, in the main, that petitioner reinstate with back pay an employee found to have been discharged because he gave testimony under the Wagner Act, and cease and desist from discriminating against any employee who files charges or gives testimony under that Act. The court below, Judge Swan dissenting, decreed full enforcement of the order. 179 F.2d 749. Because the views of that court regarding the effect of the new legislation on the relation between the Board and the courts of appeals in the enforcement of the Board's orders conflicted with those of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit,1 we brought both cases here. 339 U.S. 951. The clash of opinion obviously required settlement by [71 S.Ct. 459] this Court.

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Want of certainty in judicial review of Labor Board decisions partly reflects the intractability of any formula to furnish definiteness of content for all the impalpable factors involved in judicial review. But, in part, doubts as to the nature of the reviewing power and uncertainties in its application derive from history, and, to that extent, an elucidation of this history may clear them away.

The Wagner Act provided: "The findings of the Board as to the facts, if supported by evidence, shall be conclusive." Act of July 5, 1935, § 10(e), 49 Stat. 449, 454, 29 U.S.C. § 160(e). This Court read "evidence" to mean "substantial evidence," Washington, V. & M. Coach Co. v. Labor Board, 301 U.S. 142, and we said that

[s]ubstantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

Consolidated Edison Co. v. Labor Board, 305 U.S. 197, 229. Accordingly, it

must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established. . . . [I]t must be enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn from it is one of fact for the jury.

Labor Board v. Columbian Enameling & Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 300.

The very smoothness of the "substantial evidence" formula as the standard for reviewing the evidentiary validity of the Board's findings established its currency. But the inevitably variant applications of the standard to conflicting evidence soon brought contrariety of views, and, in due course, bred criticism. Even though the whole record may have been canvassed in order to determine whether the evidentiary foundation of a determination by the Board was "substantial," the phrasing of this Court's process of review readily lent itself to the notion

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that it was enough that the evidence supporting the Board's result was "substantial" when considered by itself. It is fair to say that, by imperceptible steps, regard for the factfinding function of the Board led to the assumption that the requirements of the Wagner Act were met when the reviewing court could find in the record evidence which, when viewed in isolation, substantiated the Board's findings. Compare Labor Board v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 309 U.S. 206; Labor Board v. Bradford Dyeing Ass'n, 310 U.S. 318; and see Labor Board v. Nevada Consolidated Copper Corp., 316 U.S. 105. This is not to say that every member of this Court was consciously guided by this view, or that the Court ever explicitly avowed this practice as doctrine. What matters is that the belief justifiably arose that the Court had so construed the obligation to review.2

Criticism of so contracted a reviewing power reinforced dissatisfaction felt in various quarters with the Board's administration of the Wagner Act in the years preceding the war. The scheme of the Act was attacked as an inherently unfair fusion of the functions of prosecutor and judge.3 [71 S.Ct. 460] Accusations of partisan bias were not wanting.4 The "irresponsible admission and weighing of hearsay, opinion, and emotional speculation in place of factual evidence" was said to be a "serious menace."5 No doubt

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some, perhaps even much, of the criticism was baseless ,and some surely was reckless.6 What is here relevant, however, is the climate of opinion thereby generated, and its effect on Congress. Protests against "shocking injustices"7 and intimations of judicial "abdication"8 with which some courts granted enforcement of the Board's order stimulated pressures for legislative relief from alleged administrative excesses.

The strength of these pressures was reflected in the passage in 1940 of the Walter-Logan Bill. It was vetoed by President Roosevelt, partly because it imposed unduly rigid limitations on the administrative process and partly because of the investigation into the actual operation of the administrative process then being conducted by an experienced committee appointed by the Attorney General.9 It is worth noting that, despite its aim to tighten control over administrative determinations of fact, the Walter-Logan Bill contented itself with the conventional formula that an agency's decision could be set aside if "the findings of fact are not supported by substantial evidence."10

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The final report of the Attorney...

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