BROCK V. ROADWAY EXPRESS, INC., 481 U. S. 252 (1987)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Brock v. Roadway Express, Inc., 481 U.S. 252 (1987)

Brock v. Roadway Express, Inc.

No. 85-1530

Argued December 3, 1986

Decided April 22, 1987

481 U.S. 252


Section 405 of the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1982 forbids the discharge of employees in the commercial motor transportation industry in retaliation for refusing to operate motor vehicles that do not comply with applicable safety standards or for filing complaints alleging such noncompliance. The statute provides for the Secretary of Labor's initial investigation of an employee's discharge and, upon a finding of reasonable cause to believe that the employee was discharged in violation of the Act, requires the Secretary to order the employee's temporary reinstatement by the employer, who may then request an evidentiary hearing and a final decision from the Secretary. This request does not operate to stay the preliminary reinstatement order. The statute requires that the employer be notified of the employee's complaint, but does not specify procedures for employer participation in the Secretary's initial investigation. After appellee, a trucking company subject to § 405's requirements, discharged one of its drivers for allegedly intentionally damaging his assigned truck, the employee unsuccessfully sought relief under a governing collective bargaining agreement, contending that he was discharged in retaliation for having previously complained of safety violations. He then filed a complaint with the Department of Labor alleging that his discharge violated § 405. Appellee was notified of the complaint, and a field investigator, pursuant to pertinent Department rules, interviewed the discharged employee and other employees, obtaining statements substantiating the retaliatory discharge claim. Appellee was afforded an opportunity to meet with the investigator and submit a written statement detailing the basis for the employee's discharge, but it was not provided with the substance of the evidence collected by the investigator. Ultimately, a preliminary administrative order was issued ordering the employee's reinstatement with backpay. Appellee then filed this action in Federal District Court, seeking injunctive relief and a declaratory judgment that § 405, to the extent it empowered the Secretary to order temporary reinstatement without first conducting an evidentiary hearing, deprived appellee of procedural due process under the Fifth Amendment. The court granted an injunction and, later, summary judgment for appellee.

Page 481 U. S. 253

Held: The judgment is affirmed in part and reversed in part.

624 F.Supp.197, affirmed in part and reversed in part.


1. The Secretary's issuance, after entry of the District Court's judgment, of a final reinstatement order following an evidentiary hearing requested by appellee pursuant to § 405 does not render this appeal moot. Although appellee's obligation to reinstate the employee with backpay now flows from the Secretary's final order, not the preliminary order to which the District Court's injunction and order of summary judgment were directed, the controversy between appellee and the Secretary as to the constitutional adequacy of the Secretary's procedures prior to the issuance of the preliminary reinstatement order falls within the "capable of repetition, yet evading review" exception to the actual case-and-controversy requirement. Pp. 481 U. S. 257-258.

2. The District Court properly held that the Secretary's § 405 procedures unconstitutionally deprived appellee of Fifth Amendment procedural due process by failing to provide appellee with the substance of the evidence supporting the employee's complaint before ordering the employee's temporary reinstatement. However, the lack of an evidentiary hearing before temporary reinstatement did not deny procedural due process. Pp. 481 U. S. 258-268.

(a) Determining the adequacy of the preliminary reinstatement procedures requires consideration of the Government's interests in promoting highway safety and protecting employees from retaliatory discharge; the employer's interest in controlling the makeup of its workforce and, in this case, appellee's property interest -- concededly entitled to due process protections -- in its contractual right to discharge employees for cause; the employee's interest in not being discharged for having complained about unsafe conditions; the risk of erroneous deprivations through the challenged procedures; and the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards. Pp. 481 U. S. 262-263.

(b) In view of the legislative balancing of interests here, due process requires pre-reinstatement notice of the employee's allegations, notice of the substance of the relevant supporting evidence, an opportunity to submit a written response, and an opportunity to meet with the investigator and present statements from rebuttal witnesses. These procedures provide a reliable initial check against mistaken decisions, cf. Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U. S. 532; Arnett v. Kennedy, 416 U. S. 134, and minimum due process in this context does not require employer confrontation and cross-examination of witnesses before preliminary reinstatement, where a prompt post-reinstatement evidentiary hearing is available. Appellee's contention that requiring

Page 481 U. S. 254

an evidentiary hearing as part of the process leading to preliminary reinstatement would not impose a significant additional burden on the Secretary, since § 405 provides that a subsequent evidentiary hearing, if requested by the employer, must be "expeditiously conducted" in any event, is not persuasive. Pp. 481 U. S. 263-267.

JUSTICE BRENNAN agreed that the Secretary's procedures unconstitutionally deprived appellee of procedural due process by failing to inform it of the substance of the evidence supporting the employee's complaint, but concluded that where, as here, there are factual disputes pertaining to the validity of a deprivation of a property interest, and there is no assurance that adequate final process will be prompt, the pre-reinstatement procedures are unconstitutional unless they give the employer an opportunity to test the strength of the evidence by confronting and cross-examining adverse witnesses and by presenting witnesses on its own behalf. Pp. 481 U. S. 269-271.

JUSTICE WHITE, joined by THE CHIEF JUSTICE and JUSTICE SCALIA, concluded that the District Court erred in holding that a full trial-type hearing was necessary prior to termination, so long as the employer was afforded an adequate post-termination hearing at a meaningful time, and also expressed the view that withholding the witnesses' names and statements prior to ordering the temporary reinstatement, in light of § 405's purpose, did not violate appellee's due process rights. Pp. 481 U. S. 271-272.

JUSTICE STEVENS agreed with the Court's judgment insofar as it affirmed the District Court, but concluded that the District Court's judgment should be affirmed in toto, expressing the view that, in this case, the Government's interest in highway safety did not justify the entry of a reinstatement order on the basis of evidence that was not disclosed to the employer and tested by cross-examination in an adversary proceeding before the order became effective. Pp. 481 U. S. 273-278.

MARSHALL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, post. p. 481 U. S. 269. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and SCALIA, J., joined, post, p. 481 U. S. 271. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 481 U. S. 273.

Page 481 U. S. 255

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