Atlas Roofing Co. v. OSHRC

430 U.S. 442, 97 S. Ct. 1261 (1977)

 

RULE:

When Congress creates new statutory "public rights," it may assign their adjudication to an administrative agency with which a jury trial would be incompatible, without violating U.S. Const. amend. VII's injunction that jury trial is to be preserved in suits at common law. Congress is not required by U.S. Const. amend. VII to choke the already crowded federal courts with new types of litigation or prevented from committing some new types of litigation to administrative agencies with special competence in the relevant field. This is the case even if U.S. Const. amend. VII would have required a jury where the adjudication of those rights is assigned to a federal court of law instead of an administrative agency.

FACTS:

Petitioners were cited by the Secretary of Labor (Secretary) and ordered to immediately abate pertinent hazards after inspections of their respective work sites revealed conditions that violated a mandatory occupational safety standard promulgated by the Secretary under §5(a)(2) of OSHA, 29 U.S.C.S. § 654(a)(2). The appeals court affirmed the orders of the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission, rejecting petitioners' contention that the failure to afford the employer a jury trial on the question of whether he had violated OSHA was in violation of U.S. Const. amend. VII. Petitioners contended that a suit in federal court by the government for civil penalties for violation of a statute was a suit for a money judgment that was classically a suit at common law. The court affirmed.

ISSUE:

Could Congress create a new cause of action in the government for civil penalties enforceable in an administrative agency where there was no jury trial?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The  U.S. Const. amend. VII did not prevent Congress from assigning to an administrative agency the task of adjudicating violations of OSHA without a jury because U.S. Const. amend. VII was never intended to establish the jury as the exclusive mechanism for factfinding in civil cases. The court affirmed and held that petitioners' Seventh Amendment rights were not violated by orders of agency finding without a jury that petitioners violated the Occupational Safety and Health Act because Congress could assign to an agency the task of adjudicating violations of the statute without a jury.

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