Universal Camera Corp v. National Labor Relations Board

Decision Date26 February 1951
Docket NumberNo. 40,40
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 474-475 intentionally omitted] Mr. Frederick R. Livingston, New York City, pro hac vice by special leave of Court, for petitioner.

Mr. Mozart G. Ratner, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

The essential issue raised by this case and its companion, National Labor Relations Board v. Pittsburgh Steamship Co., 340 U.S. 498, 71 S.Ct. 453, infra, is the effect of the Administrative Procedure Act and the legislation colloquially known as the Taft-Hartley Act, 5 U.S.C.A. § 1001 et seq.; 29 U.S.C.A. § 141 et seq., 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, 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq., 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 roder. 2 Cir., 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 Circuit1 we brought both cases here. 339 U.S. 951, 70 S.Ct. 842 and 339 U.S. 962, 70 S.Ct. 998. The clash of opinion obviously required settlement by this Court.


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), 29 U.S.C.A. § 160(e). This Court read 'evidence' to mean 'substantial evidence,' Washington, V. & M. Coach Co. v. Labor Board, 301 U.S. 142, 57 S.Ct. 648, 81 L.Ed. 965, 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. National Labor Relations Board, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 217, 83 L.Ed. 126. Accordingly, it 'must do more than create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established. * * * it 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.' National Labor Relations Board v. Columbian Enameling &! Stamping Co., 306 U.S. 292, 300, 59 S.Ct. 501, 505, 83 L.Ed. 660.

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 that it was enough that the evidence supporting the Board's result was 'substantial' when considered by itself. If is fair to say that by imperceptible steps regard for the fact-finding 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 National Labor Relations Board v. Waterman Steamship Corp., 309 U.S. 206, 60 S.Ct. 493, 84 L.Ed. 704; National Labor Relations Board v. Bradford Dyeing Ass'n, 310 U.S. 318, 60 S.Ct. 918, 84 L.Ed. 1226; and see National Labor Relations Board v. Nevada Consolidated Copper Corp., 316 U.S. 105, 62 S.Ct. 960, 86 L.Ed. 1305. 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 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 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 pressurs 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

The final report of the Attorney General's Committee was submitted in January, 1941. The majority concluded that '(d)issatisfaction with the existing standards as to the scope of judicial review derives largely from dissatisfaction with the fact-finding procedures now employed by the administrative bodies.'11 Departure from the 'substantial evidence' test, it thought, would either create unnecessary uncertainty or transfer to courts the responsibility for ascertaining and assaying matters the significance of which lies outside judicial competence. Accordingly, it recommended against Legislation embodying a general scheme of judicial review.12

Three members of the Committee registered a dissent. Their view was that the 'present system or lack of system of judicial review' led to inconsistency and uncertainty. They reported that under a 'prevalent' interpretation of the 'substantial evidence' rule 'if what is called 'substantial evidence' is found anywhere in the record to support conclusions of fact, the courts are said to be obliged to sustain the decision without reference to how heavily the countervailing evidence may preponderate—unless indeed the stage of arbitrary decision is reached. Under this interpretation, the courts need to read only one side of the case and, if they find any evidence there, the administrative action is to be sustained and the record to the contrary is to be ignored.' 13 Their view led them to recommend that Congress enact principles of review applicable to all agencies not excepted by unique characteristics. One of these principles was expressed by the formula that judicial review could extend to 'findings, inferences, or conclusions of fact unsupported, upon the whole record, by substantial evidence.'14 So far as the history of this movement for enlarged review reveals, the phrase 'upon the whole record' makes its first appearance in this recommendation of the minority of the Attorney General's Committee. This evidence of the close relationship between the phrase and the criticism out of which it arose is important, for the substance of this formula for judicial review found its way into the statute books when Congress with unquestioning—we might even say uncritical—unanimity enacted the Administrative Procedure Act.15

Once is tempted to say 'uncritical' because the legislative history of that Act hardly speaks with that clarity of purpose which Congress supposedly furnishes courts in order to enable them to enforce its true will. On the one hand, the sponsors of the legislation indicated that they were reaffirming the prevailing 'substantial evidence' test.16 But with equal clarity they expressed disapproval of the manner in which the courts were applying their own standard. The committee reports of both houses refer to the practice of agencies to rely upon 'suspicion, surmise, implications, or plainly incredible evidence,' and indicate that courts are to exact higher standards 'in the exercise of their independent judgment' and on consideration of 'the whole record.'17

Similar dissatisfaction with too restricted application of the 'substantial evidence' test is reflected in the legislative history of the Taft-Hartley Act. 18 The bill as reported to the House provided that the 'findings of the Board as to the facts shall be conclusive unless it is made to appear to the satisfaction of the court either (1) that the findings of fact are against the manifest weight of the evidence, or (2) that the findings of fact are not supported by substantial evidence.'19 The bill left the House with this provision. Early committee prints in the Senate provided for review by 'weight of...

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