Skidmore v. Swift & Co.

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Skidmore v. Swift & Co.
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued October 13, 1944
Decided December 4, 1944
Full case name John Skidmore, et al. v. Swift & Company
Citations 323 U.S. 134 (more)
65 S.Ct. 161, 89 L.Ed. 124
Prior history Judgment for defendant, 53 F.Supp. 1020 (N.D. Texas 1942); affirmed, 136 F.2d 112 (5th Cir. 1943)
Holding
Nothing in the Fair Labor Standards Act or Court holdings precludes waiting time from also being working time. Reversed and remanded.
Court membership
Case opinions
Majority Jackson, joined by unanimous
Laws applied
Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938.

Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134, 65 S.Ct. 161 (1944), is a United States Supreme Court decision holding that an administrative agency's interpretative rules deserve deference according to their persuasiveness. The court adopted a case-by-case test that considers the rulings, interpretations and opinions of the Administrator. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Background[edit]

Seven employees of the Swift & Company packing plant in Fort Worth, Texas, brought an action under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 to recover overtime, liquidated damages, and attorneys' fees, totaling approximately $77,000 (equivalent to $1.05 million in 2016). The employees were required to stay on the packing plant's premises when not on the clock. In the action brought by the employees to recover overtime for the periods they spent on-call, the district court ruled that the time the employees spent waiting to respond to alarms did not constitute hours worked. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision.

Petitioner sought certiorari review of a judgment from the Court of Appeals affirming the denial of the employees' claim for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938

Issue[edit]

The case examined the deference that was due to the interpretative rules of an administrative agency.

Decision[edit]

The Court decided that no principle of law found either in the Act or in Court decisions precludes waiting time from also being working time. Moreover, the Court did not to attempt to lay down a legal formula to resolve similar cases based on their facts. Whether waiting time falls within or without the Act is a question of fact to be resolved by the trial courts. Congress created the office of the Administrator, providing him with responsibilities and empowering him to implement them subject to the act. In pursuit of his duties, the Administrator has gathered considerable experience in the problems of ascertaining working time in employments involving periods of inactivity and knowledge of how to resolve disputes over working time. The Administrator has set forth views of the application of the Act under different circumstances. These views, under Wage and Hour Division Interpretative Bulletin No. 13., provide a guide on how to settle such disputes. As the court states in resolving this particular dispute:

The Administrator thinks the problems presented by inactive duty require a flexible solution...and his Bulletin endeavors to suggest standards and examples to guide in particular situations….[In general, the calculation of working time] depends ‘upon the degree to which the employee is free to engage in personal activities during periods of idleness when he is subject to call and the number of consecutive hours that the employee is subject to call without being required to perform active work.’

…the conclusion of the Administrator is that the general tests which he has suggested point to the exclusion of sleeping and eating time of these employees from the work-week and the inclusion of all other on-call time: although the employees were required to remain on the premises during the entire time, the evidence shows that they were very rarely interrupted in their normal sleeping and eating time, and these are pursuits of a purely private nature which would presumably occupy the employees’ time whether they were on duty or not and which apparently could be pursued adequately and comfortably in the required circumstances; the rest of the time is different because there is nothing in the record to suggest that, even though pleasurably spent, it was spent in the ways the men would have chosen had they been free to do so.

The court stated that there was no statutory provision as to what deference courts should pay to the Administrator’s guidance. However, the court states that, “we consider that the rulings, interpretations and opinions of the Administrator under this Act, while not controlling upon the courts by reason of their authority, do constitute a body of experience and informed judgment to which courts and litigants may properly resort for guidance.”

The court developed a test to determine the deference to be given to an administrative agency's rules based on the following:

  • The thoroughness of the agency's investigation
  • The validity of its reasoning
  • The consistency of its interpretation over time
  • Other persuasive powers of the agency

Subsequent developments[edit]

Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 467 U.S. 837 (1984), was a landmark case in which the United States Supreme Court set forth the legal test for determining whether to grant deference to a government agency's interpretation of a statute which it administers. Chevron is the Court's clearest articulation of the doctrine of "administrative deference," to the point that the Court itself has used the phrase "Chevron deference" in more recent cases.[1] The Court, in an opinion by Justice John Paul Stevens, upheld the EPA's interpretation. A two-part analysis was born from the Chevron decision (called the "Chevron two-step test"), where a reviewing court determines: First, always, is the question whether Congress has directly spoken to the precise question at issue. If the intent of Congress is clear, that is the end of the matter because the court and the agency must give effect to the unambiguously expressed intent of Congress. If, however, the court determines Congress has not directly addressed the precise question at issue and the statute is silent or ambiguous with respect to the specific issue, the court does not simply impose its own construction on the statute, but rather determine whether the agency's answer is based on a permissible construction of the statute.

Christensen v. Harris County, 529 U.S. 576 (2000) is a Supreme Court of the United States case holding that a county's policy of requiring employees to schedule time off to avoid accruing time off was not prohibited by the Fair Labor Standards Act. The Court held that an opinion letter from the Department of Labor, stating that an employer had to get the employee to agree first before it required the employee to schedule time off, did not receive Chevron deference and instead should receive the less deferential standard of Skidmore v. Swift & Co. The majority attempted to draw a bright line between formal agency documents (such as legislative rules) and less formal ones (such as opinion letters). Therefore, the opinion letter of the Department of Labor was not binding on the court. The court went on to state that there is nothing in the FLSA that prohibited the forced use of compensation time. Justice Thomas delivered the 6-3 decision of the court in favor of Harris County and ruled that an agency's interpretation of a statute, announced in more informal agency papers (such as an opinion letter), is entitled to Skidmore deference, not Chevron deference.

The continuing vitality of Skidmore deference has been questioned by Justice Scalia, but is still used when agency actions do not carry the force of law. Justice Scalia, in his concurrence in Christensen v. Harris County, argued that Skidmore has no place since Chevron. However, the majority in Christensen held that an agency's interpretation of a statute, announced in more informal agency papers (such as an opinion letter), is entitled to Skidmore deference, not Chevron deference. United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218 (2001) explicitly reaffirms Skidmore, and reiterates deference to agency interpretations that do not have statutory authority resulting from a rule-making process are based on "the agency's care, its consistency, formality, and relative expertness, and to the persuasiveness of the agency's position."[2]

See also[edit]

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ United States v. Mead Corp., 533 U.S. 218, 226 (2001).
  2. ^ United States v Mead Corp., 533 US 218, 228 (2001).

External links[edit]

  • Text of Skidmore v. Swift & Co., 323 U.S. 134 (1944) is available from:  Findlaw  Justia