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Mosquera v. Solis

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 19, 2013

Chris MOSQUERA, Plaintiff,
v.
Hilda SOLIS, in her official capacity as Secretary of Labor, Defendant.

Glenn M. Taubman, William L. Messenger, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Springfield, VA, for Plaintiff.

Kristina Ann Wolfe, U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Division, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

Page 112

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH, Chief Judge.

Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis (" the Secretary" ) has moved to dismiss plaintiff Chris Mosquera's complaint or alternatively for summary judgment. Def.'s Mot., ECF No. 10. The Court will GRANT the motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 21, 2009, a final rule (the " January 2009 rule" or the " rescinded rule" ) was published requiring labor unions to disclose additional information in their financial reports filed annually with the Department of Labor pursuant to Section 208 of the Labor-Management Disclosure and Reporting Act of 1959 (" LMRDA" or " the Act" ), Pub.L. 86-257, 73 Stat. 529, 29 U.S.C. § 438. See 74 Fed.Reg. 3678 (Jan. 21, 2009). The rule was originally set to take effect on February 20, but that date was twice postponed: first to April; then to October. 74 Fed.Reg. 7814 (Feb. 20, 2009); 74 Fed.Reg. 18,132 (Apr. 21, 2009). Before it took effect, and after notice and comment rulemaking, the Secretary promulgated a rule relying on the same statutory authority rescinding the January 2009 rule. 74 Fed.Reg. 52,401-02.

Mr. Mosquera, a member of a labor union affected by the regulation, Compl. ¶ 4, asserts that the rescinding rule " exceed[ed the Secretary's] statutory authority under ... § 208 of the LMRDA," and is therefore unlawful under 5 U.S.C. § 706(2)(C), which prohibits agency actions that are " in excess of statutory ... authority...." [1] See Compl. ¶¶ 11-12.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

The sole issue presented is whether the Secretary exceeded her statutory authority under the LMRDA by rescinding the January 2009 rule in violation of § 706(2)(C). The two-part inquiry of Chevron, U.S.A., Inc. v. NRDC, 467 U.S. 837, 104 S.Ct. 2778, 81 L.Ed.2d 694 (1984) governs the review of an agency's interpretation of its authority under a statute. First, the Court must determine " whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue." Id. at 842, 104 S.Ct. 2778. " If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter; for the court, as well as the agency, must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress." Id. at 842-43, 104 S.Ct. 2778. Second, if " the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the question for the court is whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute." Id. at 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778.

III. ANALYSIS

The LMRDA requires unions to file annual financial reports with the Secretary.

Page 113

See 29 U.S.C. § 431(b). Section 201(b) of the Act provides outlines for what information should be contained in these reports, and gives the Secretary authority to " prescribe" categories for disclosure. [2] Id. Section 208 of the Act provides the Secretary with authority to " issue, amend, and rescind rules and regulations prescribing the form" of these reports. That section provides:

The Secretary shall have authority to issue, amend, and rescind rules and regulations prescribing the form and publication of reports required to be filed under this title and such other reasonable rules and regulations (including rules prescribing reports concerning trusts in which a labor organization is interested) as he may find necessary to prevent the circumvention or evasion of such reporting requirements. In exercising his power under this section the Secretary shall prescribe by general rule simplified reports for labor organizations or employers for whom he finds that by virtue of their size a detailed report would be unduly burdensome, but the Secretary may revoke such provision for simplified forms of any labor organization or employer if he determines, after such investigation as he deems proper and due notice and opportunity for a hearing, that the purposes of this section would be served thereby.

The first clause of this subsection's first sentence gives the Secretary " authority to issue, amend, and rescind rules and regulations prescribing the form and publication of reports required to be filed under this title...." Id. (emphasis added). Here, the Secretary rescinded the 2009 rule, which " prescribed the form ... of reports required to be filed under this title."

Mr. Mosquera argues that the final phrase of the provision's first sentence limits the authority granted in the first clause; that the Secretary's power to " rescind ... rules ... prescribing the form ... of reports required to be filed under this title" may only be exercised where the Secretary " find[s] [it] necessary to prevent the circumvention or evasion" of the reporting requirements. See Pl.'s Opp'n 3. He claims, in other words, that § 208 operates as a one-way ratchet.

Page 114

This interpretation is not warranted. Though it is ambiguous whether the restriction imposed in the final phrase modifies the whole sentence or only the second clause, which it follows directly, Congress's decision to grant the Secretary power not only to " issue" rules but also " rescind" them implies an intent to give her the authority to adjust reporting requirements both upwards and downwards. Imposing the final phrase's restriction on the first phrase's grant of power would eviscerate the Secretary's " rescind[ing]" power; if all promulgated rules serve to increase disclosure obligations (as they must under Mr. Mosquera's interpretation), the Secretary would be effectively stripped of her authority to rescind any rule. Reading the limitation of the final phrase as applying only to the second clause is bolstered by the statute's grant in section 201(b) to the Secretary of the power to " prescribe" " categories" of reporting obligations to impose on unions. See 29 U.S.C. § 431(b) (" Every labor organization shall file annually with the Secretary a financial report" containing six enumerated categories of information " in such detail as may be necessary accurately to disclose its financial condition and operations for its preceding fiscal year ... all in such categories as the Secretary may prescribe. " (emphasis added)). An interpretation that allowed the Secretary to only increase these requirements is unwarranted in light of the discretion afforded the Secretary by section 201.

Mr. Mosquera is incorrect that the Secretary's reading would render superfluous the second sentence of § 208 which empowers the Secretary to " prescribe by general rule simplified reports for labor organizations or employers for whom he finds that by virtue of their size a detailed report would be unduly burdensome." Pl.'s Opp'n 4; 29 U.S.C. § 438. The second sentence of § 208 gives the Secretary the authority to create a multi-tiered system under which unions of different sizes are subject to different reporting rules, and is not superfluous. See AFL-CIO v. Chao, 409 F.3d 377, 379-80 (D.C.Cir.2005) (describing the multi-tiered scheme).

Nor is the D.C. Circuit's opinion in AFL-CIO v. Chao to the contrary. 409 F.3d 377. In that case, the court upheld a rule imposing more stringent reporting requirements on unions against a § 706(2)(C) challenge, as a valid exercise of the Secretary's authority the Act. Id. at 386. The court, in upholding the action as a reasonable interpretation of the statute under Chevron step two, held that " section 201(b) authorizes the Secretary to require information ‘ in such detail’ ‘ in such categories,’ but only for the purpose of ‘ accurately ... disclos[ing] [a union's] financial conditions and operations." Id. (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 431(b)). But, the opinion says nothing about the Secretary's authority to " rescind" rules under section 208, and does not control here.

Mr. Mosquera has failed under Chevron step one to show that " Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue" by limiting the Secretary's power to " rescind" rules in the manner he proposes. Chevron, 467 U.S. at 842-43, 104 S.Ct. 2778. Under Chevron step two, in light of the ample statutory support for her actions reviewed above, the Secretary is entitled to deference as her actions were " based on a permissible construction of the statute." Id. at 843, 104 S.Ct. 2778. Mr. Mosquera's APA § 706(2)(C) claim fails, and his Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and will be dismissed.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS the Secretary's motion to dismiss.

Page 115

An Order shall issue with this opinion.


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