This afternoon, the US Supreme Court granted certiorari to the NAM’s petition in the challenge to the EPA’s Waters of the US regulation. We have asked the Supreme Court to review a decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where many suits challenging the WOTUS rule have been consolidated. The panel’s decision conflicts with decisions in similar cases by other federal appeals courts, which concluded that such challenges should be heard at the District Court level. The NAM outlined in detail why 33 U.S.C. Sec. 1369(b) does not allow courts of appeals to hear this challenge. The Sixth Circuit’s decision put challengers to the EPA rule in an untenable position — if that court does not actually have jurisdiction to hear the case, any action it takes could thereafter be overturned on appeal, without even considering the merits of the challenge, and we would have to start the case over at the trial court level. This would be a tremendous waste of resources for manufacturers and others parties affected by the rule, the Administration, and the courts. Delaying review of the jurisdictional question, which must ultimately be resolved in any case, makes no sense, so we are very pleased that the Supreme Court decided today to resolve this issue.
On November 23, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) released its decision in European Commission v. Stichting Greenpeace, setting aside a lower court judgment requiring disclosure of confidential business information (CBI). While the ECJ’s decision is certainly good news for manufacturers, it is not yet a clear victory.
The plaintiffs requested the public disclosure of a massive amount of CBI relating to certain pesticides used both in the United States and Europe, including how products were manufactured and their final composition in order to assess potential environmental emissions. The lower court broadly interpreted EU emissions disclosure rules in favor of the plaintiffs, which left two options for companies selling goods in the European Union. Either they accept that their trade secrets will be made public, meaning that their data can be used and abused anywhere in the world by competitors, or they decide not to market their products in the European Union altogether, with obvious adverse consequences for the companies and the European Union as a whole.
In 2015, the ECJ granted the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) intervener status, and in so doing, the court recognized the interest of the U.S. industry in this case. The NAM argued that the lower court’s interpretation was excessively broad and that the lack of adequate protection for the confidentiality of proprietary data in the European Union would be a significant barrier to market access for U.S. manufacturers of many products. The NAM is a strong supporter of global trade and investment rules that promote trade on a level playing field and provide a system in which all countries abide by core principles, including the protection of intellectual property. Governmental protection of CBI is needed to justify the considerable time, cost and effort involved in developing and marketing new technology as well as updating and improving older technologies.
The ECJ agreed with the NAM that the lower court erred by broadly interpreting EU disclosure for the emissions rule. The ECJ set aside the judgment and provided a more limited interpretation of EU disclosure rules. However, the ECJ did not assess whether the CBI in this case falls under that limited interpretation, and it sent the case back to the lower court to decide. Once the lower court decides whether the CBI at issue must be still disclosed under the limited interpretation, this case will potentially be appealed again. In the meantime unfortunately, the exact scope of the rule remains unclear. We prevailed on the larger attack against disclosing the CBI, but the fight will continue on this issue and in future cases concerning whether specific fact patterns fall within the emissions rule.
Have you ever had to buy two items packaged together when you only wanted one? Does your perfume or cologne spray too much at a time? Are you paying extra to put air in your tires when you only need a few seconds at the pump? Can you sue someone for this waste?
Innovative lawyers have come up with many creative ways to squeeze money from successful businesses, particularly with product liability class-action suits for very small individual claims which, when aggregated, can provide a large pool of nuisance settlement money to share with the class. One such case is now before a federal appeals court, raising the question whether prescription eye drop medications are administered with an eye dropper whose tip is too big. The theory is that the eye droppers dispense more medication than is really needed, depleting the bottle sooner and making the customer buy more medication.
That’s a little like saying you’re selling me a bigger adhesive bandage than I need because not all cuts are the size of the bandages in the box. It doesn’t hurt me to use a bigger bandage, but why should I pay more for the extra material that I don’t need?
The trial court dismissed this case, saying the alleged injury was too speculative. Undaunted, the plaintiffs appealed, and the Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action stepped in to support the court’s ruling. We argued that federal law prohibits changing the packaging without approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and even if the court could require smaller eye droppers, the company could price its medication by the number of doses without changing the total price to the consumer.
The case is Cottrell v. Alcon Laboratories, Inc. (3d Cir.). We argued that the plaintiffs received what they were promised: effective, FDA-approved prescription medications, and different packaging would not have guaranteed they would have paid less. But the biggest problem with this case is not that the claim is so speculative, but that product sellers have to hire a team of lawyers to defend it, including expensive appeals that can drag on for years. At risk is virtually any business practice that can be portrayed as inefficient, and the costs of fighting these claims are ultimately borne by customers, employees and investors. The waste alleged in this suit pales in comparison to the waste arising from the prosecution of lawsuits like this in the courts.
National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) Senior Vice President and General Counsel Linda Kelly issued the following statement after a federal judge temporarily halted the Obama administration’s final overtime regulation:
“The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action is the last line of defense from unreasonable regulations that harm not just job growth but also manufacturers’ ability to stay in business. Today’s decision is an important win for all manufacturers in America—halting what would have been a dramatic and devastating change in labor law that manufacturers could not afford. The rule would have vastly expanded the number of employees that would be eligible for overtime. The decision brings us a step closer to curbing regulations that have resulted in $80 billion in compliance costs and more than 25 million hours of paperwork.
“In the days and weeks ahead, the NAM looks forward to working with the Trump administration and the 115th Congress to right a regulatory and legal system that has pummeled the manufacturing industry in America. The fights are not yet over—and our work is just beginning.”
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action (MCLA) serves as the leading voice of manufacturers in the courts, representing the more than 12 million men and women who make things in the United States. The MCLA strategically engages in litigation as a direct party, intervenes in litigation important to manufacturers and weighs in as amicus curiae on important cases.
Manufacturers and their employees share a mutual goal of a safe, communicative and productive workplace, and good policy from Washington is part of the solution. To learn more, visit our website.
President Barack Obama has relied on, and expanded, the power of the administrative state by making substantial use of both executive orders and presidential memoranda to achieve policy objectives. Executive orders are appealing to any president because they can be quietly and quickly implemented without hearings, votes or substantive public feedback. President Obama has been direct in favoring this approach, stating, “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation in order to make sure that we’re providing Americans the kind of help they need. I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.”
The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) ramped up its litigation in response to the tsunami of regulations coming out of the White House. In this final year of the president’s term, the regulatory spigot has only been turned up. The NAM is currently suing the federal government in 16 cases for overregulation.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action has argued in the courts that the president overstepped his constitutional power in issuing many memoranda and executive orders affecting labor and environmental law. However, a presidential legacy implemented by the pen can be destroyed by the pen. First, an executive order can be revoked by another executive order, and it is common for presidents to revoke some of their predecessors’ executive orders. Second, Congress can revoke an executive order through legislation. Third, an executive order can be revoked by a federal appeals court or the Supreme Court.
This year’s election will have a profound impact on future NAM litigation efforts to limit executive overregulation through the courts. President-elect Donald Trump will fill the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and potentially two or more additional seats as justices retire. If multiple vacancies occur, the Supreme Court will shift from its previous makeup of five conservative and four liberal justices that shaped some of the nation’s most significant issues on social norms, individual rights, the balance of government powers and business and workplace matters. Several, if not all, of the cases in which the NAM is suing the government for executive overreach may end up in a newly configured Supreme Court, and the outcome of President Obama’s regulatory legacy will largely rest on the Supreme Court nominees of President-elect Trump.
The Supreme Court has not had a liberal majority since the retirement of Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1969, and during the past 48-year period, the Supreme Court has made a modest shift to curtail executive overreach. Without a majority conservative Supreme Court, many pro-business decisions on labor and environmental issues would likely not have been rendered. It is generally thought that President-elect Trump will support Supreme Court nominees who believe the Founders’ words in the Constitution mean what they say, not that the Constitution should be seen as a living document. Justices in this mold will likely not support broad deference to executive authority and agency actions. The issues at stake range from the ability of citizens to challenge regulations by administrative fiat to the ability of workers to unionize.
The morning after the election brought with it discussion of whether Democrats will filibuster the Trump administration’s Supreme Court nominees. The Senate confirmation process will offer a critical view into the Supreme Court’s future and the legacy of President Obama’s executive orders.
Last year, the Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action filed our lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over their expansive interpretation of their jurisdiction to require permits for the use of a wide variety of land across the country. More than 150 other business organizations, states and other groups have also challenged the “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule in various courts, and many of these challenges, including ours, have been consolidated in one federal appellate court—the Sixth Circuit. Some of this background, and the justification for our litigation, is summarized in this post from February.
Two key events have happened recently. First, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) asked the Supreme Court in September to review a splintered decision from the Sixth Circuit that allows that court to continue to hear arguments in the case, despite a widely held view among lawyers that the Clean Water Act requires the case to be heard by a trial court, not an appeals court, in the first instance. The administration will be filing its response next Monday. If the court agrees to review this issue, considerable time and effort could be saved in trying to resolve the underlying merits of the challenges to the WOTUS rule.
Second, today, business and municipal groups filed a detailed 93-page brief describing point by point the numerous concerns of all the petitioners about the rule. The brief contains textbook examples of arguments that are all too frequently made about government regulations: the rule was promulgated in violation of basic principles of notice-and-comment rulemaking, the agencies failed to comply with the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the rule is inconsistent with the statutory language of the statute (the Clean Water Act), the rule is unconstitutionally vague, and it violates the Commerce Clause and federalism principles. There are also more unusual arguments arising from EPA’s “covert propaganda” efforts in support of the rule.
Courts give agencies considerable deference when interpreting their statutory authority, but the Supreme Court has weighed in several times to try to provide some constitutional limits on the EPA’s jurisdiction, and a significant part of our brief is dedicated to it. The brief argues that the agencies relied too heavily on Justice Kennedy’s concurring opinion in the Rapanos case, which cannot be reconciled with the other justices’ views in the way attempted by the EPA. The EPA’s approach brings into its jurisdiction countless features that lack the volume of flow and proximity needed to ensure that effects on navigable waters are more than insubstantial or speculative.
The scope of the agencies’ jurisdiction is one of the most fundamental issues affecting the regulation of land use in the United States. Today’s brief brings us one step closer to resolving the allocation of regulatory power among federal, state and local governments.
An unusual statutory restraint on the appointment process for the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is at the heart of a significant case about to be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. The provision is part of the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998. The court will decide whether Lafe Solomon, a long-serving NLRB official and former acting general counsel of the board for several years, could actually serve as acting general counsel in the face of statutory language prohibiting such service if he was nominated to be general counsel but had not served long enough as first assistant general counsel.
It’s a technical provision with a “notwithstanding” clause that has caused all the confusion. That clause only refers to one subsection of the law, but the rest of the statutory language refers to the entire section. A federal appeals court ruled that Solomon was prohibited from serving as acting general counsel after his nomination and that the unfair labor practice complaint that was issued on his authority was invalid.
The NLRB issues more than 1,200 complaints each year, so thousands of decisions were made by the general counsel or those to whom he delegated decision-making authority from January 5, 2011, to November 4, 2013. This challenge could allow many of those cases to be revisited.
But the case will have an impact on many other federal agencies, arguably going back to 1998. In April, the administration warned the Supreme Court that “Decisions of many former acting officers, including senior officers in the HHS Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, DOJ, DOT, Department of Defense, the Export-Import Bank and General Services Administration could be open to question under the court of appeals’ reasoning. Moreover, the decision below casts a cloud over the service of about half a dozen current acting high-level officers, including in the DOT, HHS, EPA and OPM.”
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action is on the front lines challenging a variety of NLRB actions that skew policy and law against manufacturers in the United States. We look forward to oral arguments at the court on November 7 and a decision thereafter.
The entire bench of the federal appeals court in the District of Columbia is hearing nearly four hours of arguments tomorrow in 39 lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan regulation. The challengers represent a broad swath of industries, including mining, transportation, electric utilities, manufacturers and consumers of energy, as well as 27 states.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action, joined by a manufacturing coalition of more than a dozen other national trade groups, is involved in this case because we are very concerned that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has imposed a set of regulations on electric utility companies that is not authorized by, and contradicts specific provisions of, the Clean Air Act. The rule’s goal is to restructure the power sector by imposing emissions limits that are unachievable without switching fuel inputs. This could undermine the reliability of the electric grid and cause higher energy rates for consumers, including manufacturers in the United States. A ruling in favor of the rule would set the EPA up to impose greenhouse gas regulations on many other sectors of manufacturing.
This case has all the earmarks of a major case that will wind up in the Supreme Court, probably in the fall of 2017. Normally only three judges would hear this first round of arguments, but the appellate court decided to go straight to the full panel of 10 (not counting Chief Judge Garland, who is not participating). This unusual step signals that the judges consider this case extraordinary, and the court has set aside its largest courtroom and two overflow rooms for the large anticipated attendance from litigants and the public.
This regulation is of existential importance for certain sectors and will put substantial upward pressure on energy costs for many manufacturers and other consumers. But beyond raising legal issues of statutory construction, administrative procedure and constitutional compliance, the Clean Power Plan is a prototype for the kind of regulation that tests the limits of the executive branch. Whoever wins the upcoming election, the next administration will have to live within the contours of decisions like the one in this case. The power to regulate comes from the Constitution and the laws enacted in compliance with it, and the courts stand as the final judge on how far that authority goes.
The Manufacturers’ Center for Legal Action filed a complaint with a coalition of other associations on September 20 to challenge the Department of Labor’s (DOL) new overtime rule, asserting the new rule exceeds the authority of the DOL under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Unless a court stops it, this unprecedented rule will impair employers’ ability to classify as exempt from overtime executive, administrative, professional and computer employees. The new rule will go into effect on December 1, 2016, causing economic harm to both employers and the employees who will be subject to the new overtime requirements.
The new overtime rule drastically alters the DOL’s minimum salary requirements—increasing the minimum by 100 percent, from $23,660 to $47,476 annually—so as to impose new overtime payment requirements on businesses of all sizes. This directly effects those individuals who have historically been considered exempt from overtime pay. Due to the drastic rise in the salary threshold, employees will have to be reclassified and will inevitably lose many of the benefits and flexibilities that go along with being an exempt employee, such as flexible work schedules that permit employees to sometimes work outside of the normal business hours due to personal obligations.
In addition, the DOL’s new rule permits employers for the first time to count nondiscretionary bonuses, incentives and commissions toward up to 10 percent of the minimum salary level for exemption; however, this provision is so restricted by the DOL as to be meaningless. It also establishes an unprecedented automatic “escalator” provision that will dramatically increase the minimum salary every three years without a rulemaking. Congress has provided for automatic increases in other areas, such as the cost of living for Social Security benefits, but Congress has never provided for automatic increases of the minimum wage. The escalator provision exacerbates the detrimental impact on businesses, both large and small, by automatically updating the minimum salary requirements to even higher levels every three years.
The DOL has failed to recognize the infeasibility, costs and real-world impacts of the new overtime rule. As noted in our press release, manufacturers of all sizes will bear the burden of this costly regulation that will force many employers to cut critical programming, staffing and services to the public. Many of these employers will lose the ability to effectively manage their workforces and provide flexibility to valued employees on the pathway to the middle class. This new rule will injure employers and employees across many industries, job categories and geographic areas by denying them opportunities for advancement and hindering performance of their jobs. We are hopeful that the court will understand the importance of this issue and overturn the DOL’s new overtime rule.
A bedrock principle of tort law in this country is that the party who causes the damage is the one who should be liable for fixing the damage. Even under a standard of “strict liability” where a defendant is liable without a finding of fault, courts require a showing that the damage in question was actually caused by the defendant at the table.
A lawsuit recently filed in Rhode Island, led by the state’s Attorney General and staffed by hired-gun private plaintiff’s lawyers who stand to make a mint if the lawsuit is successful, seeks to break from this foundational principle. That should be of concern to any manufacturer that could become the target of creative plaintiffs’ lawyer lawsuits—which is to say, to every manufacturer.
The lawsuit involves the gasoline oxygenate MTBE, which was for a time blended with motor fuel in order to meet federal emissions standards. The problem with MTBE is that it is highly water soluble, and if underground storage tanks containing gasoline leak, the MTBE stored in them can contaminate groundwater. Of course, the owners of these tanks, if they can be identified, have always been, and continue to be, responsible for cleaning up such leaks. On top of that, Congress created a special trust fund to pay for cleanups when the owner or cause is unknown, or where the owner may not have the wherewithal to pay. The fund, which has been around since the mid-1980s, is paid for by a tax levied on the petroleum industry on every gallon of fuel sold.
Unfortunately, many of the states where MTBE was most heavily used are also states that have suffered poor economic growth and have faced major budget challenges in recent years. This has led many of these states, including Rhode Island, to raid their cleanup funds for other state budget priorities, thus creating the need to find alternative sources of funds to handle these cleanups. Cue the trial bar, who have shopped MTBE lawsuits to several state Attorneys General and have found fertile hunting ground in the cash-strapped northeastern states.
The Rhode Island legal filing includes a smorgasbord of legal theories intended to bypass the inconvenient need to show that the defendants in the case actually caused the damage the lawsuit seeks to remedy. The case seeks to pin liability on any company that sold reformulated fuel in the state—regardless of whose actions or whose storage tanks actually caused contamination. It is remarkably a sanction based on simply doing business in the state of Rhode Island, which the state seeks to allocate according to the market share held by industry participants during the relevant time period. Beyond the tort law implications of this case, it is remarkable that a state so badly in need of economic investment would target an industry simply for doing business there.
No matter how much money defendants have paid into the state fund to cover such cleanups and regardless of the extensive efforts they may have already gone through to prevent leaks and to remediate those that occurred under their watch, the companies are targeted in this lawsuit because they are perceived as most able to pay. This is a case about targeting deep pockets, not about remedying past wrongs, and certainly not about justice.