430 U.S. 442 (1977), 75-746, Atlas Roofing Co., Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Commission

Docket Nº:No. 75-746
Citation:430 U.S. 442, 97 S.Ct. 1261, 51 L.Ed.2d 464
Party Name:Atlas Roofing Co., Inc. v. Occupational Safety and Health Commission
Case Date:March 23, 1977
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 442

430 U.S. 442 (1977)

97 S.Ct. 1261, 51 L.Ed.2d 464

Atlas Roofing Co., Inc.

v.

Occupational Safety and Health Commission

No. 75-746

United States Supreme Court

March 23, 1977

Argued November 29, 1976

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Upon finding that the existing state statutory remedies and common law actions for negligence and wrongful death were inadequate to protect employees from death and injury due to unsafe working conditions, Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA), under which a new statutory duty was imposed on employers to avoid maintaining unsafe working conditions. Two new remedies were provided by permitting the Federal Government, proceeding before an administrative agency, (1) to obtain abatement orders requiring employers to correct unsafe working conditions, and (2) to impose civil penalties on any employer maintaining any unsafe working condition. If an employer contests a penalty or abatement order, an evidentiary hearing is then held before an administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission (Commission), who is empowered to affirm, modify, or vacate the proposed abatement order and penalty. The judge's decision becomes the Commission's final, appealable order, subject to review by the full Commission. If such review is granted, the Commission's subsequent order directing abatement and payment of a penalty becomes final unless the employer petitions for judicial review in the appropriate court of appeals, but the Commission's findings of fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. If the employer fails to pay the assessed penalty, the Secretary of Labor may commence a collection action in a federal district court in which neither the fact of the violation nor the propriety of the penalty assessed may be retried. In the instant cases separate abatement orders were issued and penalties proposed against petitioners for violations of safety standards promulgated under OSHA. After hearings were held before Administrative Law Judges when petitioners each contested the orders

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and penalties, and the judges and later the Commission had affirmed the findings of violations and the abatement orders and had assessed penalties, petitioners sought judicial review in the Courts of Appeals, challenging both the Commission's factual findings that violations had occurred and the constitutionality of OSHA's enforcement procedures. Each Court of Appeals affirmed the Commission's orders over each petitioner's contention that the failure to afford the employer a jury trial on the question whether it had violated OSHA contravened the Seventh Amendment, which provides that, "[i]n Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved."

Held: The Seventh Amendment does not prevent Congress from assigning to an administrative agency the task of adjudicating violations of OSHA. When Congress creates new statutory "public rights," it may assign their adjudication to an administrative agency with which a jury trial would be incompatible, without violating the Seventh Amendment's injunction that jury trial is to be "preserved" in "suits at common law." That Amendment was never intended to establish the jury as the exclusive mechanism for factfinding in civil cases, but took the existing legal order as it found it, and hence there is little or no basis for now interpreting it as providing an impenetrable barrier to administrative factfinding under otherwise valid federal regulatory statutes. The Amendment did not render Congress powerless -- when it concluded that remedies available in courts of law were inadequate to cope with a problem within its power to regulate -- so to create such new public rights and remedies by statute and commit their enforcement, if it chose, to a tribunal other than a court of law (such as an administrative agency) in which facts are not found by juries. Pp. 449-461.

No. 75-746, 518 F.2d 990, and No. 75-748, 519 F.2d 1200, affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all Members joined except BLACKMUN, J., who took no part in the decision of the cases.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue in these cases is whether, consistent with the Seventh Amendment, Congress may create a new cause of action in the Government for civil penalties enforceable in an administrative agency where there is no jury trial.

I

After extensive investigation, Congress concluded, in 1970, that work-related deaths and injuries had become a "drastic" national problem.1 Finding the existing state statutory remedies

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as well as state common law actions for negligence and wrongful death to be inadequate to protect the employee population from death and injury due to unsafe working conditions, Congress enacted the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA or Act), 84 Stat. 1590, 29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq. The Act created a new statutory duty to avoid maintaining unsafe or unhealthy working conditions, and empowers the Secretary of Labor to promulgate health and safety standards.2 Two new remedies were provided -- permitting the Federal Government, proceeding before an administrative agency, (1) to obtain abatement orders requiring employers to correct unsafe working conditions and (2) to impose civil penalties on any employer maintaining any unsafe working condition. Each remedy exists whether or not an employee is actually injured or killed as a result of the condition, and existing state statutory and common law remedies for actual injury and death remain unaffected.

Under the Act, inspectors, representing the Secretary of

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Labor, are authorized to conduct reasonable safety and health inspections. 29 U.S.C. § 657(a). If a violation is discovered, the inspector, on behalf of the Secretary, issues a citation to the employer fixing a reasonable time for its abatement and, in his discretion, proposing a civil penalty. §§ 658, 659. Such proposed penalties may range from nothing for de minimis and nonserious violations to not more than $1,000 for serious violations, to a maximum of $10,000 for willful or repeated violations, §§ 658(a), 659(a), 666(a)-(c) and (j).

If the employer wishes to contest the penalty or the abatement order, he may do so by notifying the Secretary of Labor within 15 days, in which event the abatement order is automatically stayed. §§ 659(a), (b), 666(d). An evidentiary hearing is then held before an administrative law judge of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. The Commission consists of three members, appointed for six-year terms, each of whom is qualified "by reason of training, education or experience" to adjudicate contested citations and assess penalties. §§ 651(3), 659(c), 661, 666(i). At this hearing, the burden is on the Secretary to establish the elements of the alleged violation and the propriety of his proposed abatement order and proposed penalty, and the judge is empowered to affirm, modify, or vacate any or all of these items, giving due consideration in his penalty assessment to "the size of the business of the employer . . the gravity of the violation, the good faith of the employer, and the history of previous violations." § 666(i). The judge's decision becomes the Commission's final and appealable order unless, within 30 days, a Commissioner directs that it be reviewed by the full Commission.3 §§ 659(c), 661(i); see 29 CFR §§ 2200.90, 2200.91 (1976).

If review is granted, the Commission's subsequent order directing abatement and [97 S.Ct. 1265] the payment of any assessed penalty

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becomes final unless the employer timely petitions for judicial review in the appropriate court of appeals. 29 U.S.C. § 660(a). The Secretary similarly may seek review of Commission orders, § 660(b), but, in either case,

[t]he findings of the Commission with respect to questions of fact, if supported by substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole, shall be conclusive.

§ 660(a). If the employer fails to pay the assessed penalty, the Secretary may commence a collection action in a federal district court in which neither the fact of the violation nor the propriety of the penalty assessed may be retried. § 666(k). Thus, the penalty may be collected without the employer's ever being entitled to a jury determination of the facts constituting the violation.

II

Petitioners were separately cited by the Secretary and ordered immediately to abate pertinent hazards after inspections of their respective worksites conducted in 1972 revealed conditions that assertedly violated a mandatory occupational safety standard promulgated by the Secretary under § 5(a)(2) of the Act, 29 U.S.C. § 654(a)(2). In each case, an employee's death had resulted. Petitioner Irey was cited for a willful violation of 29 CFR § 1926.652(b) and Table P-1 (1976) -- a safety standard promulgated by the Secretary under the Act requiring the sides of trenches in "unstable or soft material" to be "shored, . . . sloped, or otherwise supported by means of sufficient strength to protect the employees working within them." The Secretary proposed a penalty of $7,500 for this violation, and ordered the hazard abated immediately.

Petitioner Atlas was cited for a serious violation of 29 CFR §§ 1926.500(b)(1) and (f)(5)(ii) (1976), which require that roof opening covers, be "so installed as to prevent accidental displacement." The Secretary proposed a penalty of $600 for this violation, and ordered the hazard abated immediately.

Petitioners timely contested these citations, and were afforded hearings before Administrative Law Judges of the

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Commission. The judges, and later the Commission, affirmed the findings of violations...

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