United Food & Commercial Workers' v. Brown Group

Citation134 L.Ed.2d 758,517 U.S. 544,116 S.Ct. 1529
Decision Date13 May 1996
Docket Number95340
PartiesUNITED FOOD AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION LOCAL 751 v. BROWN GROUP, INC., dba BROWN SHOE CO.
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.

No. 95-340.

Supreme Court of the United States

Argued February 20, 1996

Decided May 13, 1996

Syllabus *

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 (the 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.

Held:

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. ___, ___; the writ of certiorari therefore was not improvidently granted. Pp. 3-6.

2. The union has standing to bring this action. Pp. 6-15.

(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. 6-10.

(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 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 an 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, , 42 U. S. C. Section(s) 2000e-5(f)(1). Pp. 10-15. 50 F. 3d 1426, reversed and remanded.

Souter, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

Justice Souter delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (the WARN Act), 102 Stat. 890, 29 U. S. C. Section(s) 2101 ., obligates certain employers to give workers or their union 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. ___ (1995); Part II, .

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." ., 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, , 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.

I

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 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 Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 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." 820 F. 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. ___ (1995), and now reverse.

II

At the outset, Brown Shoe argues that the WARN Act grants a union no authority to sue for damages on behalf of its members. Because the question on which we granted certiorari (whether Congress has the constitutional authority to alter the third prong of the associational standing enquiry) assumes that the WARN Act does grant the union such authority, Brown Shoe urges us to declare the writ of certiorari improvidently granted. In North Star Steel, however, we noted, contrary to Brown Shoe's position, that "[t]he class of plaintiffs" who may sue for backpay under the WARN Act "includes aggrieved employees (or their unions, as representatives)." 515 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 2), and on further consideration we have no doubt that we were reading the statute correctly.

The key requirement of the Act is found in Section(s) 2102, which prohibits an employer from ordering "a plant closing or mass layoff until the end of a 60-day period" running from the date of the employer's written notice of the closing or layoff "(1) to each representative of the affected employees as of the time of the notice or, if there is no such representative at that time, to each affected employee," and "(2) to the State dislocated worker unit . . . and the chief elected official of the unit of local government within which such closing or layoff is to occur." 29 U. S. C. Section(s) 2102(a). Congress defined the "representative" to which Section(s) 2102(a)(1) refers as the employees' union, "an exclusive representative of employees within the meaning of section 9(a) or 8(f) of the National Labor Relations Act (29 U. S. C. 159(a), 158(f)) or section 2 of the Railway Labor Act (45 U. S. C. 152)." 102 Stat. 890, 29 U. S. C. Section(s) 2101(a)(4).

Enforcement of the Section(s) 2102 notice requirement is addressed in Section(s) 2104(a), the following provisions of which answer Brown Shoe's argument. Section 2104(a)(1) makes a violating employer liable to "each aggrieved employee" for backpay and benefits for each day of the violation. 3 Section 2104(a)(5) provides that "[a] person seeking to enforce such liability, including a representative of employees . . . aggrieved under paragraph (1) . . . may sue either for such person or for other persons similarly situated, or both [in an appropriate district court]." Since the union is the "representative of employees . . . aggrieved," it is a person who may sue on behalf of the "persons similarly situated" in order to "enforce such liability." "[S]uch liability" must refer to liability under Section(s) 2104, since its remedies are exclusive. See 29 U. S. C. Section(s) 2104(b). Because the section makes no provision for liability to the union itself, any "such liability" sought by the union must (so far as concerns us here) be liability to its employee-members, so long as they can be understood to be "persons similarly situated" for the...

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