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Starbucks Corp. v. McKinney (US 23-367 6/13/24) NLRB | Unfair Labor Practices

By June 13, 2024June 24th, 2024Uncategorized

After several Starbucks employees announced plans to unionize, they invited a news crew from a local television station to visit the store after hours to promote their unionizing effort. Starbucks fired multiple employees involved with the media event for violating company policy. The National Labor Relations Board filed an administrative complaint against Starbucks alleging that it had engaged in unfair labor practices. The Board’s regional Director then filed a petition under §10( j) of the National Labor Relations Act seeking a preliminary injunction for the duration of the administrative proceedings that would, among other things, require Starbucks to reinstate the fired employees. The District Court assessed whether the Board was entitled to a preliminary injunction by applying a two-part test that asks whether “there is reasonable cause to believe that unfair labor practices have occurred,” and whether injunctive relief is “just and proper.” McKinney v. Ozburn-Hessey Logistics, LLC, 875 F. 3d 333, 339. Applying this standard, the District Court granted the injunction, and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Held: When considering the NLRB’s request for a preliminary injunction under §10( j), district courts must apply the traditional four factors articulated in Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U. S. 7. Pp. 4–11.

(a) Section 10( j) authorizes a federal district court “to grant . . . such temporary relief     . . . as it deems just and proper” during the pendency of the Board’s administrative proceedings. §160( j). When Congress empowers courts to grant equitable relief, there is a strong presumption that courts will exercise that authority in a manner consistent with traditional principles of equity. For preliminary injunctions, the four criteria identified in Winter encompass the relevant equitable principles. Nothing in §10( j) displaces the presumption that those traditional principles govern. Pp. 4–5.

(b) The traditional rule is that a plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must make a clear showing that “he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest.” Winter, 555 U. S., at 20, 22. “These commonplace considerations applicable to cases in which injunctions are sought in the federal courts reflect a ‘practice with a background of several hundred years of history.’ ” Weinberger v. Romero-Barcelo, 456 U. S. 305, 313. When interpreting a statute that authorizes federal courts to grant preliminary injunctions, the Court “do[es] not lightly assume that Congress has intended to depart from established principles.” Ibid. Absent a clear command from Congress, then, courts must adhere to the traditional four-factor test articulated in Winter.

Section 10( j)’s statutory directive to grant injunctive relief when the district court “deems” it “just and proper” does not jettison the normal equitable rules; it simply invokes the discretion that courts have traditionally exercised when faced with requests for equitable relief. Furthermore, §10( j)’s text bears no resemblance to the language that Congress has employed when it has altered the normal equitable rules. Pp. 5–8.

(c) The Board argues that statutory context requires district courts evaluating §10( j) petitions to apply the traditional criteria in a less exacting way, consistent with the Sixth Circuit’s reasonable-cause standard. But, the reasonable-cause standard goes far beyond simply fine tuning the traditional criteria to the §10( j) context—it substantively lowers the bar for securing a preliminary injunction by requiring courts to yield to the Board’s preliminary view of the facts, law, and equities. Under the traditional standard, for example, the Board would have to make a clear showing that it “is likely to succeed on the merits.” Winter, 555 U. S., at 20. By contrast, the Board may obtain a §10( j) injunction under the reasonable-cause standard by merely showing “reasonable cause to believe that unfair labor practices have occurred.” Ozburn-Hessey Logistics, 875 F. 3d, at 339. Section 10( j)’s statutory context does not compel this watered-down approach to equity.

The Board suggests that district courts risk supplanting its adjudicatory authority by conducting an independent assessment of the merits and equitable factors. But no matter how searching the district court’s merits inquiry or what evidence it considers or credits, the Board remains free to reach its own legal conclusions and develop its own record in its administrative proceedings. And, since irreparable harm and the other equitable factors are not part of the unfair-labor-practice claim, a district court’s assessment of those factors is irrelevant to the Board’s adjudicatory authority. The Board also reasons that district courts should apply a deferential standard because the Board’s final decisions are reviewed deferentially by a court of appeals. But the views advanced in a §10( j) petition are preliminary and do not represent the Board’s formal position. Deference to what is “nothing more than an agency’s convenient litigating position” is “entirely inappropriate.” Bowen v. Georgetown Univ. Hospital, 488 U. S. 204, 213. The Board’s attempt to salvage the reasonable-cause standard using statutory context thus fails. Pp. 8–10.

77 F. 4th 391, vacated and remanded.

THOMAS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and ALITO, SOTOMAYOR, KAGAN, GORSUCH, KAVANAUGH, and BARRETT, JJ., joined. JACKSON, J., filed an opinion concurring in part, dissenting in part, and concurring in the judgment.