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Allstates Refractory Contractors, LLC filed suit against the Secretary of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, asking the Court to declare OSHA’s statutory power to promulgate permanent “safety standards” unconstitutional, and to issue a permanent injunction preventing OSHA from enforcing those standards.

The parties filed dueling Motions for Summary Judgment, which is appropriate only where “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Federal Civil Rule 56(a).

In ruling on the motions, Federal District Judge Jack Zouhary wrote that Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act in 1970, declaring the Act’s “purpose and policy” was “to assure so far as possible every working man and woman in the Nation safe and healthful working conditions. Under the Act, Congress gave the Secretary of Labor the power “to set mandatory occupational safety and health standards and vested the Secretary with “broad authority . . . to promulgate different kinds of standards” for health and safety in the workplace.

Allstates is a general contractor that provides furnace services to various glass, metal, and petrochemical facilities. The company has four full-time employees, but also hires “up to 100” part-time employees, depending on the job.

OSHA cited the company for standards violations, including a “serious violation after a catwalk brace fell and injured a worker below.” Allstates did not contest the citation or seek judicial review. Instead, it settled the violation for $5,967 in December 2019.

Allstates’ argument in support of an injunction is straightforward – it claims Congress violated the Constitution by delegating to OSHA the authority to write permanent safety standards. Article I of the Constitution states that “[a]ll legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.” This principle, known as the “nondelegation doctrine,” prevents Congress from “transfer[ing] to another branch powers which are strictly and exclusively legislative.”

In National Maritime Safety Association v. OSHA, plaintiff claimed that Congress did not provide an intelligible principal to guide OSHA’s promulgation of health and safety standards. 649 F. 743 (D.C. Cir. 2011). The D.C. Circuit flatly rejected the argument:

Thus, Judge Judge Zouhary concluded his opinion by saying that with “no binding or persuasive authority supporting its argument, Plaintiff falls short of demonstrating actual success on the merits. OSHA’s discretion is sufficiently limited. Plaintiff’s Motion is denied; Defendants’ Motion is granted.”

Allstates appealed the dismissal of their case to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. In doing so, this employer has attracted the attention of the California Attorney General, who just announced that he has joined a coalition of 19 attorneys general in filing an amicus brief arguing against the employer.

His announcement characterizes the employers case as “a cynical attempt to drastically undermine the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) ability to establish and enforce federal workplace safety protections.” And an “attempt to unwind more than half a century of legal precedent.”

In addition to the 19 states attorney’s general, the docket for the case in United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit shows 28 additional entities who have been granted the privilege to file briefs in the case as amicus. Notable amicus includes the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), the Sierra Club, National Safety Council, Buckeye Institute, National Federation of Independent Business, National Association of Home Builders, Pacific Legal Foundation among a growing list of many others.

National Association of Home Builders and the National Federation of Independent Business filed an amicus brief “to help explain the importance of applying a strong nondelegation doctrine.”

They go on to argue that the “nondelegation doctrine has seemingly evolved to a point where it is a virtual dead letter, as then-Professor Kagan wrote. Elena Kagan, Presidential Administration, 114 Harvard L. Rev. 2245, 2364 (2001) (“It is …. a commonplace that the nondelegation doctrine is no doctrine at all”). But serious application of the nondelegation doctrine is necessary to safeguard multiple aspects of the Framers’ constitutional design.”