American Hospital Association v. National Labor Relations Board
United States Supreme Court
AMERICAN HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD
No. 90-97 Argued: Feb. 25, 1991. --- Decided: April 23, 1991
The National Labor Relations Board has promulgated a rule providing that, with exceptions for, inter alia, cases presenting "extraordinary circumstances," eight, and only eight, defined employee units are appropriate for collective bargaining in acute care hospitals. Petitioner, American Hospital Association, brought this action challenging the rule's facial validity on the grounds that (1) § 9(b) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) requires the Board to make a separate bargaining unit determination "in each case" and therefore prohibits the Board from using general rules to define bargaining units; (2) the rule violates a congressional admonition to the Board to avoid the undue proliferation of bargaining units in the health care industry; and (3) the rule is arbitrary and capricious. The District Court agreed with petitioner's second argument and enjoined the rule's enforcement, but the Court of Appeals found no merit in any of the three arguments and reversed.
Held: The Board's rule is not facially invalid. Pp. 609-620.
(a) The Board's broad rulemaking powers under § 6 of the NLRA authorize the rule and are not limited by § 9(b)'s mandate that the Board decide the appropriate bargaining unit "in each case." Contrary to petitioner's reading, the clear and more natural meaning of the "in each case" requirement is simply to indicate that whenever there is a disagreement between employers and employees about the appropriateness of a bargaining unit, the Board shall resolve the dispute. In doing so, the Board is entitled to rely on rules that it has developed to resolve certain issues of general applicability. See, e.g., United States v. Storer Broadcasting Co., 351 U.S. 192, 205, 76 S.Ct. 763, 771-772, 100 L.Ed. 1081. The rule at issue does not differ significantly from the Board's many prior rules establishing general principles for the adjudication of bargaining unit disputes. This interpretation is reinforced by the NLRA's structure and policy. Nor is petitioner aided by § 9(b)'s sparse legislative history. Even if any ambiguity could be found in § 9(b) after application of the traditional tools of statutory construction, this Court would still defer to the Board's reasonable interpretation of the statutory text. Pp. 609-614.
(b) The rule is not rendered invalid by the admonition, contained in congressional Reports accompanying the 1974 extension of NLRAcover age to all acute care hospitals, that the Board should give "[d]ue consideration . . . to preventing proliferation of bargaining units in the health care industry." The argument that the admonition-when coupled with Congress' 1973 rejection of a bill that would have placed a general limit of five on the number of hospital bargaining units-evinces an intent to emphasize the importance of § 9(b)'s "in each case" requirement is no more persuasive than petitioner's reliance on § 9(b) itself. Moreover, even if this Court accepted petitioner's further suggestion that the admonition is an authoritative statement of what Congress intended by the 1974 legislation, the admonition must be read to express the desire that the Board consider the special problems that proliferation might create in acute care hospitals. An examination of the rulemaking record reveals that the Board gave extensive consideration to this very issue. In any event, the admonition is best understood as a congressional warning to the Board, and Congress is free to fashion a remedy for noncompliance if it believes that the Board has not given "due consideration" to the problem of proliferation in this industry. Pp. 614-617.
(c) The rule is not, as petitioner contends, arbitrary and capricious because it ignores critical differences among the many acute care hospitals in the country. The Board's conclusion that, absent extraordinary circumstances, such hospitals do not differ in substantial, significant ways relating to the appropriateness of units was based on a "reasoned analysis" of an extensive rulemaking record and on the Board's years of experience in the adjudication of health care cases. Pp. 617-619.
899 F.2d 651 (CA7 1990), affirmed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
James D. Holzhauer, Chicago, Ill., for petitioner.
David L. Shapiro, Chicago, Ill., for respondents.
Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.