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Utica Mutual Insurance Co. v. Vincent

decided: March 14, 1967.


Moore, and Friendly, Circuit Judges, and Bryan, District Judge.

Author: Friendly


This action was brought in the District Court for the Northern District of New York by Utica Mutual Insurance Company ("Utica"), a New York corporation, against the Regional Director of the Third Region of the NLRB. The complaint alleged that Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO, had filed a petition seeking certification as exclusive bargaining representative of the office clerical, maintenance and cafeteria workers in Utica's main office; that the Regional Director had thereupon caused to be served a notice of a representation hearing pursuant to § 9(c) of the National Labor Relations Act and § 102.63 et seq. of the Board's Rules and Regulations; and that such a hearing had begun before a hearing officer. The gravamen of the complaint was that the provision in § 9(c)(1) that the hearing officer "shall not make any recommendations with respect thereto" deprived Utica "of its valuable property rights to a full and fair hearing on the matter of an 'appropriate bargaining unit'" without the due process of law guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, whether decision were to be made by the Regional Director or by the Board, see Rules and Regulations § 102.67. The complaint sought a declaratory judgment of invalidity and interlocutory injunctive relief. Finding that the complaint raised no substantial constitutional question, Judge Brennan declined to convoke a court of three judges under 28 U.S.C. § 2282 and dismissed the action.

When a complaint for an injunction makes a claim of unconstitutionality which on its face would require a court of three judges under 28 U.S.C. § 2281 or 2282, the single district judge should consider whether the claim is substantial and, if he finds it is not, refuse to convoke a court of three judges and dismiss the action. Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 78 L. Ed. 152, 54 S. Ct. 3 (1933); California Water Service Co. v. City of Redding, 304 U.S. 252, 254-55, 82 L. Ed. 1323, 58 S. Ct. 865 (1938); Wicks v. Southern Pacific Co., 231 F.2d 130 (9 Cir.), cert. denied, 351 U.S. 946, 76 S. Ct. 845, 100 L. Ed. 1471 (1956); White v. Gates, 102 U.S. App. D.C. 346, 253 F.2d 868 (D.C. Cir.), cert. denied, 356 U.S. 973, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1147, 78 S. Ct. 1136 (1958); Carrigan v. Sunland-Tujunga Telephone Co., 263 F.2d 568 (9 Cir.), cert. denied, 359 U.S. 975, 3 L. Ed. 2d 841, 79 S. Ct. 893 (1959); Bell v. Waterfront Comm., 279 F.2d 853, 857-58 (2 Cir. 1960); Powell v. Workmen's Compensation Board, 327 F.2d 131, 138 (2 Cir. 1964).*fn1 This is not merely a power confided to the single district judge but an important responsibility, since the requirement of three judges "entails a serious drain upon the federal judicial system particularly in regions where, despite modern facilities, distance still plays an important part in the effective administration of justice," Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 250, 85 L. Ed. 800, 61 S. Ct. 480 (1941), a burden not only on the inferior courts but, if the three judges retain the case, upon the Supreme Court by virtue of the provision for direct appeal, 28 U.S.C. § 1253.*fn2 Appeal from a dismissal by a single judge lies to the court of appeals. Bell v. Waterfront Comm., supra, 279 F.2d at 858, and cases there cited; cf. Idlewild Bon Voyage Liquor Corp. v. Epstein, 370 U.S. 713, 8 L. Ed. 2d 794, 82 S. Ct. 1294 (1962). We hold that Judge Brennan properly performed his duty in this case.

As to the substantiality of Utica's constitutional objection, we take as our criterion the Supreme Court's statement, "The lack of substantiality in a federal question may appear either because it is obviously without merit or because its unsoundness so clearly results from the previous decisions of this court as to foreclose the subject." California Water Service Co. v. City of Redding, supra, 304 U.S. at 255. Utica finds in the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment a requirement that when there are issues of credibility, as was assumed to be true here, no determination of fact may be made unless the decider has either seen the witnesses himself or has been furnished with a report as to credibility by another who has, save when circumstances such as the death of a deposed witness unavoidably prevent. We discern no such absolute in the history laden words of the Fifth Amendment; Utica would freeze what is usually a sensible rule of judicial administration into a constitutional imperative.

Even on issues where due process requires a "trial type" hearing, the due process clause makes no such inexorable command as Utica asserts.*fn3 Chief Justice Hughes' ringing pronouncement in the first Morgan case, "The one who decides must hear," was preceded by a statement that "while it would have been good practice to have the examiner prepare a report and submit it to the Secretary and the parties . . . we cannot say that that particular type of procedure was essential to the validity of the hearing," and was followed by the explanation:

"This necessary rule does not preclude practicable administrative procedure in obtaining the aid of assistants in the department. Assistants may prosecute inquiries. Evidence may be taken by an examiner. Evidence thus taken may be sifted and analyzed by competent subordinates. Argument may be oral or written. The requirements are not technical. But there must be a hearing in a substantial sense. And to give the substance of a hearing, which is for the purpose of making determinations upon evidence, the officer who makes the determinations must consider and appraise the evidence which justifies them." Morgan v. United States, 298 U.S. 468, 478, 481-82, 80 L. Ed. 1288, 56 S. Ct. 906 (1936).

Nothing in this suggests that the decider must actually hear the witnesses or be furnished a report on their credibility; the thrust is quite the opposite.*fn4 Although the respondent in NLRB v. Mackay Radio & Tel. Co., 304 U.S. 333, 350-51, 82 L. Ed. 1381, 58 S. Ct. 904 (1938), did not raise the precise argument advanced by Utica, the Supreme Court there sanctioned the Labor Board's transferring a case to itself at the conclusion of the testimony and deciding it without an examiner's report; Mr. Justice Roberts said, "The Fifth Amendment guarantees no particular form of procedure; it protects substantial rights," and cited Morgan I. Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 226-29, 83 L. Ed. 126, 59 S. Ct. 206 (1938), is in accord. With this background the framers of the Administrative Procedure Act could scarcely have doubted the validity of the provision of § 8(a) which permits an agency to require the record to be certified to it and to dispense with a hearing officer's report not only in rule making but in determining applications for initial licenses "in any case in which the agency finds upon the record that due and timely execution of its functions imperatively and unavoidably so requires." Yet the provision in § 9(c)(1) of the National Labor Relations Act here attacked is simply a general declaration by Congress, see fn. 6, that due and timely execution of the NLRB's functions in representation cases invariably requires what § 8(a) of the APA authorizes on a finding in a particular case. Courts of Appeals have ruled that when a trial examiner who had heard the evidence dies or retires before preparing his report and another examiner is designated to do this, there is no denial of due process, NLRB v. Stocker Mfg. Co., 185 F.2d 451, 453 (3 Cir. 1950); Gamble-Skogmo, Inc. v. FTC, 211 F.2d 106, 113 (8 Cir. 1954).*fn5 And we on our own part have recognized "that the due process clause does not require under all circumstances that factual determinations be made by the person hearing the evidence." United States v. Vater, 259 F.2d 667, 673 (2 Cir. 1958) (dictum).

In fact, however, we entertain the gravest doubt that the hearing directed in § 9(c)(1) must be of the trial type. The existing statute derives from § 9(c) of the Wagner Act, 49 Stat. 453 (1935), which had provided:

"Whenever a question affecting commerce arises concerning the representation of employees, the Board may investigate such controversy and certify to the parties, in writing, the name or names of the representatives that have been designated or selected. In any such investigation, the Board shall provide for an appropriate hearing upon due notice, either in conjunction with a proceeding under section 10 or otherwise, and may take a secret ballot of employees, or utilize any other suitable method to ascertain such representatives."

The Supreme Court held in Inland Empire Dist. Council, etc. v. Millis, 325 U.S. 697, 706, 89 L. Ed. 1877, 65 S. Ct. 1316 (1945), that the hearing need not precede the election but could follow it; commenting on the nature of the hearing, the Court said that "obviously great latitude concerning procedural details is contemplated," that "requirements of formality and rigidity are altogether lacking," that the proceeding "is not technical" but "is an 'investigation,' essentially informal, not adversary," and that "the investigation is not required to take any particular form or confined to the hearing." This seems to mean that although the Board was required to hear relevant evidence proffered by interested parties, it was not limited to such evidence or by traditional trial type hearing requirements. While the Court directed its remarks to the construction of the Wagner Act, it also noted, as would have been implicit in any event, that the Act as so construed did not violate due process. 325 U.S. at 710.

The Taft-Hartley Act, 61 Stat. 144 (1947) considerably elaborated the simple provision of its predecessor, amending § 9(c)(1) to read as follows:

"(c)(1) Whenever a petition shall have been filed, in accordance with such regulations as may be prescribed by the Board --

"(A) by an employee or group of employees or any individual or labor organization acting in their behalf alleging that a substantial number of employees (i) wish to be represented for collective bargaining and that their employer declines to recognize their representative as the representative defined in section 9(a), or (ii) assert that the individual or labor organization, which has been certified or is being currently recognized ...

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