517 U.S. 544 (1996), 95-340, Food And Commercial Workers v. Brown Group, Inc.

Docket Nº:Case No. 95-340
Citation:517 U.S. 544, 116 S.Ct. 1529, 134 L.Ed.2d 758, 64 U.S.L.W. 4330
Case Date:May 13, 1996
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 544

517 U.S. 544 (1996)

116 S.Ct. 1529, 134 L.Ed.2d 758, 64 U.S.L.W. 4330




Case No. 95-340

United States Supreme Court

May 13, 1996

Argued February 20, 1996



Petitioner union filed this suit, alleging that respondent company began to lay off 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.


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.

2. The union has standing to bring this action. Pp. 551-558.

(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 requirement

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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, NathanielI. Spiller, and Mark S. Flynn.

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

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60 days' notice before a plant closing or mass layoff. If an employer fails to give the notice, the employees may sue for backpay for each day of the violation, and, in the alternative, the union is ostensibly authorized to sue on their behalf. See North Star Steel Co. v. Thomas, 515 U.S. 29 (1995); Part II, infra.

Permitting a union to sue under the Act on behalf of its employee-members raises a question of standing. In Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Comm'n, 432 U.S. 333 (1977), we described a three-prong test for an association's standing to sue based on injury to one of its members. The third element, at issue here, would bar such a suit when "the claim asserted [or] the relief requested requires the participation of individual members in the lawsuit." Id., at 343. Relying on Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490 (1975), Hunt held that "individual participation" is not normally necessary when an association seeks prospective or injunctive relief for its members, but indicated that such participation would be required in an action for damages to an association's members, thus suggesting that an association's action for damages running solely to its members would be barred for want of the association's standing to sue. See Hunt, supra, at 343.

The questions presented here are whether, in enacting the WARN Act, Congress intended to abrogate this otherwise applicable standing limitation so as to permit the union to sue for damages running to its workers, and, if it did, whether it had the constitutional authority to do so. We answer yes to each question.


On January 17, 1992, respondent Brown Shoe Company wrote to a representative of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, stating that Brown Shoe would shut down its Dixon, Missouri, plant and permanently lay off 277 employees beginning on March 20, 1992. App. 62-63. The complaint filed by petitioner United Food and

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Commercial Workers Union Local 751 charged that Brown Shoe's representations were false insofar as they are relevant here, and that in fact, even before sending the letter, Brown Shoe had begun the layoffs, which continued through February and into March. App. 8-9.[1] The union accordingly claimed a violation of the WARN Act and sought the statutory remedy of 60-days' backpay for each of its affected members.

The District Court dismissed the complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), saying that "when an organization seeks to recover monetary relief on behalf of its members, courts have found that such claims necessarily require participation of individual members in the suit." 820F. Supp. 1192, 1193-1194 (ED Mo. 1993). The Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit affirmed, concluding that "[e]ach union member who wishes to recover WARN Act damages from Brown Shoe must participate in the suit so that his or her right to damages can be determined and the quantum of damages can be calculated by the court on the basis of particularized proof. Therefore, the union cannot meet the third part of the Hunt test and is precluded from asserting associational standing." 50 F.3d 1426, 1432 (1995).[2] We granted certiorari, 516 U.S. 930 (1995), and now reverse.

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At the outset, Brown Shoe argues that the WARN...

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