Law School Case Brief
FedEx Home Delivery v. NLRB - 428 U.S. App. D.C. 49, 849 F.3d 1123 (2017)
Stare decisis compels adherence to a prior factually indistinguishable decision of a controlling court. Even the narrowest conception of stare decisis demands that two panels faced with the same legal question and identical facts reach the same outcome.
Petitioner FedEx operated a package-delivery terminal in Hartford, Connecticut. Drivers for FedEx delivered packages along certain "routes" designated by FedEx. A driver might serve a single route or multiple routes. Both single-route and multi-route drivers operated out of the Hartford location. In 2007, the Hartford single-route drivers elected Teamsters Local 671 ("Union") to represent them. FedEx subsequently filed objections to the election with respondent National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB). While that administrative appeal was pending, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“Court”) decided FedEx I, holding that FedEx drivers at the company's Wilmington, Massachusetts terminals were "independent contractors" within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act (“Act”). In the present action, however, the NLRB concluded that the single-route FedEx drivers based at the Hartford terminal were "employees" under the Act. FedEx filed a petition for review in the Court court, as well as a motion for reconsideration with the NLRB, which the NLRB denied. FedEx then filed a second petition for review challenging the NLRB's denial of reconsideration. The NLRB filed a cross-application for enforcement of its order.
Were the FedEx drivers independent contractors within the meaning of the National Labor Relations Act?
The Court granted FedEx's petitions or review, vacated the NLRB's orders, and denied the NLRB's cross-application for enforcement. The Court observed that in the present case, the NLRB held, on a materially indistinguishable factual record from FedEdx I, that single-route FedEx drivers were statutorily protected employees, not independent contractors, when located in Hartford, Connecticut. Both cannot be right, the ruled. Having already answered the same legal question involving the same parties and functionally the same factual record in FedEx I, the same was true in the present case. The Court noted that the instant case was the poster child for the Court's law-of-the-circuit doctrine, which ensured stability, consistency, and even-handedness in circuit law. Having chosen not to seek review in the Supreme Court of the United States in FedEx I, the NLRB cannot effectively nullify the FedEx I decision by asking a second panel of the Court court to apply the same law to the same material facts but give a different answer. The Hartford single-route FedEx drivers were independent contractors to whom the National Labor Relations Act's protections for collective action did not apply.
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