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Mayer Brown's Supreme Court and Appellate Practice Group distributes a Docket Report whenever the Supreme Court grants certiorari in a case of interest to the business community. We also email the Docket Report to our subscribed members and if you don't already subscribe to the Docket Report and would like to, please click here.

October Term 2008 - February 23, 2009

The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in one case of interest to the business community:

  • The Railway Labor Act—Scope of Judicial Review

The Railway Labor Act—Scope of Judicial Review

The Railway Labor Act (“RLA” or “Act”), 45 U.S.C. §§151 et seq., provides the framework for the resolution of labor disputes in the railroad and airline industries.  The grievance procedures established by the Act begin with a series of investigations, hearings, and conferences that take place on the railroad’s property and are collectively known as “on-property” proceedings.  If those procedures do not resolve the dispute, the parties may initiate arbitration proceedings, on the basis of the “on-property” record, before the National Railroad Adjustment Board (“Board”), which comprises four “divisions” (each having jurisdiction over different classes of employees).  If a party is dissatisfied with the Board’s decision, the RLA authorizes judicial review, but specifies only three grounds for such review:  (1) “failure of the division to comply with the requirements” of the Act; (2) “failure of the order to conform, or confine itself, to matters within the scope of the division’s jurisdiction”; or (3) “fraud or corruption by a member of the division making the order.”  45 U.S.C. §153 First (q).

Today, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in Union Pacific Railroad Company v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Committee of Adjustment, Central Region (08-604), to consider whether, in addition to the three enumerated grounds for review under the Act, an alleged violation of the Due Process Clause authorizes a court to set aside an arbitration decision by the Board.  The Court’s resolution of the question will define the permissible scope of judicial review of RLA arbitration awards. 

In this case, the union sought to initiate arbitration proceedings before the Board, but the record failed to include evidence memorializing the parties’ on-property conference.  The Board dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, based on a newly announced rule that the on-property record must contain evidence that a conference had occurred.  The district court denied the union’s petition for review, but the Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that retroactive enforcement of the Board’s new rule violated due process.  The Seventh Circuit’s decision deepened an existing disagreement among the circuits, several of which have held that judicial review of the Board’s decisions is limited to the three enumerated grounds in the RLA.  In its certiorari petition, the railroad asked the Court to resolve that conflict, and also raised the question whether retroactive application of the Board’s newly announced administrative rule in fact constitutes a violation of due process.

Absent extensions, which are likely, amicus briefs in support of the petitioner will be due on April 16, and amicus briefs in support of the respondent will be due on May 18.  Any questions about this case should be directed to Dan Himmelfarb (+1 202 263-3035) in our Washington, DC office.

Today, the Supreme Court also invited the Solicitor General to file a brief expressing the views of the United States in another case of interest to the business community:

American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, No. 08-661.  The questions presented are (1) whether the National Football League (“NFL”) and its teams are a single entity that is exempt from “rule of reason” antitrust claims under Section 1 of the Sherman Act and (2) whether an agreement of the NFL teams among themselves and with Reebok International concerning the licensing and sale of headwear and clothing decorated with the teams’ logos and trademarks is subject to such a “rule of reason” claim.

The general editor of the Docket Report is Andrew Tauber in our Washington, DC office, who can be reached at atauber@mayerbrown.com or +1 202 263 3324.

Mayer Brown Supreme Court Docket Reports provide information and comments on legal issues and developments of interest to our clients and friends. They are not a comprehensive treatment of the subject matter covered and are not intended to provide legal advice. Readers should seek specific legal advice before taking any action with respect to the matters discussed.

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