Supreme Court Rejects Challenge to Workplace Safety Agency

By | July 2, 2024

The U.S. Supreme Court declined on Tuesday to hear a challenge by an Ohio company to the power of the federal workplace safety regulator as the justices avoided another legal effort to pare back the authority of federal agencies.

The justices turned away an appeal by Allstates Refractory Contractors after a lower court threw out the industrial furnace servicing company’s lawsuit against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The lawsuit had claimed that Congress ceded power to OSHA to issue workplace safety standards in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s separation of powers among the federal government’s executive, legislative and judicial branches.

In its lawsuit, Allstates claimed that a 1970 federal law that gave OSHA sweeping authority to set “reasonably necessary or appropriate” safety standards violates the Constitution’s Article I, which gives lawmaking powers to Congress, not the other branches of government.

The company has invoked the so-called non-delegation doctrine, a legal theory embraced by conservatives based on the principle that Congress cannot cede its legislative authority to other entities, such as executive branch agencies.

Justice Neil Gorsuch indicated on Tuesday that he would have heard the dispute, while fellow conservative Justice Clarence Thomas wrote an opinion dissenting from the decision to deny the case.

“If this far-reaching grant of authority does not impermissibly confer legislative power on an agency,” Thomas wrote, “it is hard to imagine what would.”

Allstates is represented Don McGahn, a lawyer with the firm Jones Day who previously worked as Republican former President Donald Trump’s White House counsel, where he spearheaded that administration’s deregulation efforts.

The company in 2019 was cited and fined by OSHA for safety violations related to power tools and falling objects. The company, which services the glass, metals, and petrochemical industries, sued in 2021, calling OSHA’s enforcement “abusive and arbitrary.”

Allstates said in its lawsuit that despite its “outstanding track record of workplace safety,” it is forced to spend “more money than it otherwise would” to comply with OSHA’s safety standards, which prevent Allstates from choosing “how best to keep its employees safe.”

The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2023 upheld the constitutionality of the power delegated to OSHA. The “reasonably necessary or appropriate” standard passes the Supreme Court’s requirement, set in 1928, that the law have an “intelligible principle” to guide and limit an agency’s delegated authority, the 6th Circuit concluded.

In 2022, the Supreme Court’s conservative majority blocked a COVID vaccination-or-test mandate for large businesses that had been issued by OSHA to make workplaces safer during the pandemic.

“Permitting OSHA to regulate the hazards of daily life -simply because most Americans have jobs and face those same risks while on the clock – would significantly expand OSHA’s regulatory authority without clear congressional authorization,” the court ruled.

Topics Commercial Lines Business Insurance

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