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Alabama Education Ass'n v. Chao

February 4, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


On March 31, 2005, this Court held that an organization that represents or is comprised entirely of public-sector employees, but that is subordinate to an entity that also represents private-sector employees, is not a "labor union" as that term is understood under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. ("LMRDA"), because such an interpretation "would slip the LMRDA loose from its moorings in the private sector and be contrary to the plain meaning of the statute, its legislative history, and the congressional purpose behind the law." Ala. Educ. Ass'n v. Chao, No. 03-0253 & 03-0682, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 5662, at *2 (D.D.C. Mar. 31, 2005) [Dkt. # 35]. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit concluded that although the Plaintiff state education associations ("SEAs") and state federations of teachers ("SFTs") "well may have the better reading of the statute," the Department of Labor's interpretation of the LMRDA is "by no means an impermissible one," and may therefore be entitled to Chevron*fn1 deference. Ala. Educ. Ass'n v. Chao, 455 F.3d 386, 395 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The D.C. Circuit further held, however, that "[a]lthough the Department's revised reading of the LMRDA is otherwise entitled to Chevron deference, the Department has failed to supply a reasoned analysis supporting its change of position." Id. at 397. When an agency adopts a materially changed interpretation of a statute, the agency must provide a reasoned analysis for its change of position in order for its new interpretation to be accorded Chevron deference by the courts. Id. at 392. The Court of Appeals therefore remanded the rule to the Department "for a reasoned explanation of" the Department's changed interpretation of the statute, and remanded the case to this Court to determine in the first instance whether the Department's explanation is reasoned. Id. at 397.

Determining that, on remand, it was tasked to decide the limited question of whether the Secretary of Labor "presents a reasoned analysis for her choice between two permissible interpretations of a statutory ambiguity," this Court granted the Department's Second Motions for Summary Judgment on March 27, 2008, concluding that the Secretary did provide a reasoned, after-the-fact explanation for her changed interpretation. See Ala. Educ. Ass'n v. Chao, 539 F. Supp. 2d 378, 379 (D.D.C. 2008) [Dkt. ## 54 & 55]. The SEAs and SFTs have filed motions for reconsideration, arguing that the Court's Opinion misconstrued the threshold issue remanded by the Court of Appeals, and were the Court to frame the issue as Plaintiffs have suggested, Plaintiffs would be entitled to summary judgment. See Pl. State Educ. Ass'ns' Mot. for Recons. [Dkt. # 56] & Pls. Del. Fed'n of Teachers Mot. for Recons. [Dkt. # 57]. The Court concludes that it properly framed the question presented to it on remand, and therefore will not reconsider the Plaintiffs' arguments that were already presented and considered in their cross motions for summary judgment.

Separately, the SEAs argue that the Court erred by not ruling on the question left open by the Court of Appeals: "whether 'associations of individual employees rather than associations of labor unions . . . are "conference[s], general committee[s], joint or system board[s], or joint council[s]" ' under 29 U.S.C. § 402(i)." Mem. in Supp. of Pl. State Educ. Ass'ns' Mot. for Recons. ("Pl. SEAs' Mem.") at 2 (quoting Ala. Educ. Ass'n, 355 F.3d at 397 n.*). The Court clarifies its ruling on this point but concludes that an association of individual employees constitutes a "labor organization" under 29 U.S.C. § 402(i). Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motions for reconsideration will be denied.


Rule 59(e) provides that "[a]ny motion to alter or amend a judgment shall be filed no later than 10 days after entry of the judgment." Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(e) (emphasis added). "A Rule 59(e) motion is discretionary and need not be granted unless the district court finds that there is an intervening change of controlling law, the availability of new evidence, or the need to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice." Fox v. Am. Airlines Inc., 389 F.3d 1291, 1296 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (quoting Firestone v. Firestone, 76 F.3d 1205, 1208 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). A Rule 59(e) motion is not "simply an opportunity to reargue facts and theories upon which a court has already ruled." New York v. United States, 880 F. Supp. 37, 38 (D.D.C. 1995). Nor is it an avenue for a "losing party . . . to raise new issues that could have been raised previously." Kattan v. Dist. of Columbia, 995 F.2d 274, 276 (D.C. Cir. 1993).


Plaintiff SEAs and SFTs argue that reconsideration of the Court's Opinion and Order granting summary judgment to the Secretary is necessary to "prevent manifest injustice." See Pl. SEAs' Mem. at 3. The SEAs request that the Court "address arguments made by the SEAs that the Court may have overlooked in framing and disposing of the threshold issue presented on remand from the Court of Appeals." Id. The SFTs join in this request. See Mem. in Support of Pls. Del. Fed'n of Teachers Mot. for Recons. ("Pl. SFTs' Mem.") at 4. The SEAs raise an additional argument that the Court did not "rule on a discrete and potentially dispositive issue unique to the SEAs that was timely raised by the SEAs in their summary judgment papers but not addressed by this Court in its Memorandum Opinion." Pl. SEAs' Mem. at 3.

A. Whether the Court Properly Framed the Issue on Remand

The SEAs and SFTs argue that the Court was led astray by the Department from the true "threshold issue" on remand from the D.C. Circuit. Their argument is summarized in the following two sentences:

[t]he threshold question on remand from the Court of Appeals is not-as the DOL urged based on a misstatement of the Court of Appeals' holding, and as this Court then assumed for purposes of its analysis-whether the DOL on remand made a rational "policy choice" in favor of a changed interpretation of § 3(j)(5) that the Court of Appeals had already determined is a "reasonable resolution" of the ambiguity in § 3(j)(5). Rather, the threshold question on remand is whether-taking full account of the new explanation tendered by the DOL on remand for its changed interpretation, and using "traditional tools of statutory interpretation" to evaluate the legal sufficiency of the new explanation . . .-the DOL's changed interpretation is a "reasonable resolution" of the ambiguity in § 3(j)(5) that is entitled to judicial deference under Chevron.

Pl. SEAs' Reply [Dkt. # 59] at 7-8 (emphasis in original).

The Court finds no support for Plaintiffs' interpretation of the D.C. Circuit's decision. Indeed, the D.C. Circuit's mandate to this Court was unambiguous. After determining in a clearly contained section of its opinion entitled "Chevron Step One" that Section 3(j)(5) is ambiguous, the Court of Appeals "proceed[ed] to . . . Chevron Step Two." See Ala. Educ. Ass'n, 455 F.3d at 393-95.

In its Chevron Step Two analysis, the Court of Appeals held that "the Department's position . . . is, from a purely grammatical standpoint, by no means an impermissible one. And we have made clear that '[a]n agency's interpretation of a statute is entitled to no less deference . . . simply because it has changed over time.'" Id. at 396 (quoting Nat'l Home Equity Mortgage Ass'n v. Office of Thrift Supervision, 373 F.3d 1355, 1360 (D.C. Cir. 2004)) (alterations in original). The Court of Appeals further stated that the "question raised by the change is whether the Department has supported its new reading of § 3(j)(5) with a 'reasoned analysis' sufficient to command our deference under Chevron." Ala. Educ. Ass'n, 455 F.3d at 396. It concluded that the Department had failed to do so. Id. at 397. The Court of Appeals summed up its Chevron Step Two analysis by stating that "we cannot say the Department's interpretation of § 3(j)(5) is impermissible, but neither can we say its decision to revise its reading of the [LMRDA] is supported by a reasoned analysis." Id. In its conclusion, the Court of Appeals remanded "'[the rule] to the Department . . . for a reasoned explanation of that change.'" Id. (quoting AFL-CIO v. Brock, 835 F.2d 912, 920 (D.C. Cir. 1987)) (alterations in original). The Court of Appeals' directive to this Court was clear and unambiguous; after agency remand, the Court was to determine whether the ...

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