Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit
No. 10–507. Argued October 11, 2011 —Decided January 11, 2012
Petitioner Pacific Operators Offshore, LLP (Pacific), operates two drilling platforms on the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) off the California coast and an onshore oil and gas processing facility. Employee Juan Valladolid spent 98 percent of his time working on an offshore platform, but he was killed in an accident while working at the onshore facility. His widow, a respondent here, sought benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), 33 U. S. C. §901 et seq., pursuant to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA), which extends LHWCA coverage to injuries “occurring as the result of operations conducted on the [OCS]” for the purpose of extracting natural resources from the shelf, 43 U. S. C. §1333(b). The Administrative Law Judge dismissed her claim, reasoning that §1333(b) did not cover Valladolid’s fatal injury because his accident occurred on land, not on the OCS. The Labor Department’s Benefits Review Board affirmed, but the Ninth Circuit reversed. Rejecting tests used by the Third and the Fifth Circuits, the Ninth Circuit concluded that a claimant seeking benefits under the OCSLA “must establish a substantial nexus between the injury and extractive operations on the shelf.”
Held: The OCSLA extends coverage to an employee who can establish a substantial nexus between his injury and his employer’s extractive operations on the OCS. Pp. 3–14.
(a) The Courts of Appeals have offered competing interpretations of §1333(b)’s scope. According to the Third Circuit, because Congress intended LHWCA coverage to be expansive, §1333(b) extends to all injuries that would not have occurred “but for” operations on the OCS. Thus, an employee who worked on a semisubmersible drill rig, but who died in a car accident on his way to board a helicopter to be flown to the rig, was eligible for benefits because he would not have been injured but for his traveling to the rig. In contrast, the Fifth Circuit has concluded that Congress intended to establish “a bright-line geographic boundary,” extending §1333(b) coverage only to employees whose injuries or death occurred on an OCS platform or the waters above the OCS. Under its “situs-of-injury” test, a welder injured on land while constructing an offshore oil platform was ineligible for §1333(b) benefits. In the decision below, the Ninth Circuit held that §1333(b) extends coverage to injured workers who can establish a “substantial nexus” between their injury and extractive operations on the OCS. The Solicitor General offers a fourth interpretation, which would provide coverage for off-OCS injuries only to those employees whose duties contribute to operations on the OCS and who perform work on the OCS itself that is substantial in both duration and nature. Pp. 3–6.
(b) Contrary to Pacific’s position, the Fifth Circuit’s “situs-of-injury” test is not the best interpretation of §1333(b). Pp. 6–12.
(1) Nothing in the text of §1333(b) suggests that an injury must occur on the OCS. The provision has only two requirements: The extractive operations must be “conducted on the [OCS],” and the employee’s injury must occur “as the result of” those operations. If, as Pacific suggests, the purpose of §1333(b) was to geographically limit the scope of OCSLA coverage to injuries that occur on the OCS, Congress could easily have achieved that goal by omitting from §1333(b) the words “as the result of operations conducted.” Moreover, Congress’ decision to specify situs limitations in other subsections, but not in §1333(b), indicates that it did not intend to so limit §1333(b). This conclusion is not foreclosed by Herb’s Welding, Inc. v. Gray, 470 U. S. 414, or Offshore Logistics, Inc. v. Tallentire, 477 U. S. 207, neither of which held that §1333(b) coverage was limited to on-OCS injuries. Section 1333(b)’s text also gives no indication that Congress intended to exclude OCS workers who are eligible for state benefits from LHWCA coverage. To the contrary, the LHWCA scheme incorporated by the OCSLA explicitly anticipates that injured employees might be eligible for both state and federal benefits. Pp. 6–10.
(2) Also unpersuasive is Pacific’s alternative argument that §1333(b) imports the LHWCA’s strict situs-of-injury requirement, which provides benefits only for injuries occurring “upon the navigable waters” of the United States, 33 U. S. C. §903(a). It is unlikely that Congress intended to restrict the scope of the OCSLA workers’ compensation scheme through a nonintuitive and convoluted combination of two separate legislative Acts. In addition, under Pacific’s alternative theory, LHWCA coverage would not be extended to the navigable waters above the shelf. Thus, even employees on a crew ship immediately adjacent to an OCS platform who are injured in a platform explosion would be excluded from §1333(b) coverage. That view cannot be squared with §1333(b)’s language. Pp. 11–12.
(3) Pacific’s policy concerns also cannot justify an interpretation of §1333(b) that is inconsistent with the OCSLA’s text. P. 12.
(c) Neither the Solicitor General’s status-based inquiry nor the Third Circuit’s “but for” test are compatible with §1333(b). The Solicitor General’s inquiry has no basis in the OCSLA’s text, because §1333(b)’s “occurring as the result of operations” language plainly suggests causation. And when taken to its logical conclusion, the Third Circuit’s test, though nominally based on causation, is essentially a status-based inquiry because it would extend coverage to all employees of a business engaged in extracting natural resources from the OCS, no matter where those employees work or what they are doing at the time of injury. Because LHWCA coverage was extended only to injuries “occurring as the result of operations conducted on the [OCS],” §1333(b)’s focus should be on injuries resulting from those “operations.” Pp. 12–14.
(d) The Ninth Circuit’s “substantial-nexus” test is more faithful to §1333(b)’s text. This Court understands that test to require the injured employee to establish a significant causal link between his injury and his employer’s on-OCS extractive operations. The test may not be the easiest to administer, but Administrative Law Judges and courts should be able to determine if an injured employee has established the required significant causal link. Whether an employee injured while performing an off-OCS task qualifies will depend on the circumstances of each case. It was thus proper for the Ninth Circuit to remand this case for the Benefits Review Board to apply the “substantial-nexus” test. P. 14.
604 F. 3d 1126, affirmed and remanded.
Thomas, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which Alito, J., joined.
Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Sixth Circuit
No. 10–553. Argued October 5, 2011—Decided January 11, 2012
Petitioner Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School is a member congregation of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The Synod classifies its school teachers into two categories: “called” and “lay.” “Called” teachers are regarded as having been called to their vocation by God. To be eligible to be considered “called,” a teacher must complete certain academic requirements, including a course of theological study. Once called, a teacher receives the formal title “Minister of Religion, Commissioned.” “Lay” teachers, by contrast, are not required to be trained by the Synod or even to be Lutheran. Although lay and called teachers at Hosanna-Tabor generally performed the same duties, lay teachers were hired only when called teachers were unavailable.
After respondent Cheryl Perich completed the required training, Hosanna-Tabor asked her to become a called teacher. Perich accepted the call and was designated a commissioned minister. In addition to teaching secular subjects, Perich taught a religion class, led her students in daily prayer and devotional exercises, and took her students to a weekly school-wide chapel service. Perich led the chapel service herself about twice a year.
Perich developed narcolepsy and began the 2004–2005 school year on disability leave. In January 2005, she notified the school principal that she would be able to report to work in February. The principal responded that the school had already contracted with a lay teacher to fill Perich’s position for the remainder of the school year. The principal also expressed concern that Perich was not yet ready to return to the classroom. The congregation subsequently offered to pay a portion of Perich’s health insurance premiums in exchange for her resignation as a called teacher. Perich refused to resign. In February, Perich presented herself at the school and refused to leave until she received written documentation that she had reported to work. The principal later called Perich and told her that she would likely be fired. Perich responded that she had spoken with an attorney and intended to assert her legal rights. In a subsequent letter, the chairman of the school board advised Perich that the congregation would consider whether to rescind her call at its next meeting. As grounds for termination, the letter cited Perich’s “insubordination and disruptive behavior,” as well as the damage she had done to her “working relationship” with the school by “threatening to take legal action.” The congregation voted to rescind Perich’s call, and Hosanna-Tabor sent her a letter of termination.
Perich filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, claiming that her employment had been terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The EEOC brought suit against Hosanna-Tabor, alleging that Perich had been fired in retaliation for threatening to file an ADA lawsuit. Perich intervened in the litigation. Invoking what is known as the “ministerial exception,” Hosanna-Tabor argued that the suit was barred by the First Amendment because the claims concerned the employment relationship between a religious institution and one of its ministers. The District Court agreed and granted summary judgment in Hosanna-Tabor’s favor. The Sixth Circuit vacated and remanded. It recognized the existence of a ministerial exception rooted in the First Amendment, but concluded that Perich did not qualify as a “minister” under the exception.
1. The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment bar suits brought on behalf of ministers against their churches, claiming termination in violation of employment discrimination laws. Pp. 6–15.
(a) The First Amendment provides, in part, that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Familiar with life under the established Church of England, the founding generation sought to foreclose the possibility of a national church. By forbidding the “establishment of religion” and guaranteeing the “free exercise thereof,” the Religion Clauses ensured that the new Federal Government—unlike the English Crown—would have no role in filling ecclesiastical offices. Pp. 6–10.
(b) This Court first considered the issue of government interference with a church’s ability to select its own ministers in the context of disputes over church property. This Court’s decisions in that area confirm that it is impermissible for the government to contradict a church’s determination of who can act as its ministers. See Watson v. Jones, 13 Wall. 679; Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U. S. 94; Serbian Eastern Orthodox Diocese for United States and Canada v. Milivojevich, 426 U. S. 696. Pp. 10–12.
(c) Since the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other employment discrimination laws, the Courts of Appeals have uniformly recognized the existence of a “ministerial exception,” grounded in the First Amendment, that precludes application of such legislation to claims concerning the employment relationship between a religious institution and its ministers. The Court agrees that there is such a ministerial exception. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments. According the state the power to determine which individuals will minister to the faithful also violates the Establishment Clause, which prohibits government involvement in such ecclesiastical decisions.
The EEOC and Perich contend that religious organizations can defend against employment discrimination claims by invoking their First Amendment right to freedom of association. They thus see no need—and no basis—for a special rule for ministers grounded in the Religion Clauses themselves. Their position, however, is hard to square with the text of the First Amendment itself, which gives special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations. The Court cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers. The EEOC and Perich also contend that Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872, precludes recognition of a ministerial exception. But Smith involved government regulation of only outward physical acts. The present case, in contrast, concerns government interference with an internal church decision that affects the faith and mission of the church itself. Pp. 13–15.
2. Because Perich was a minister within the meaning of the ministerial exception, the First Amendment requires dismissal of this employment discrimination suit against her religious employer. Pp. 15–21.
(a) The ministerial exception is not limited to the head of a religious congregation. The Court, however, does not adopt a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister. Here, it is enough to conclude that the exception covers Perich, given all the circumstances of her employment. Hosanna-Tabor held her out as a minister, with a role distinct from that of most of its members. That title represented a significant degree of religious training followed by a formal process of commissioning. Perich also held herself out as a minister by, for example, accepting the formal call to religious service. And her job duties reflected a role in conveying the Church’s message and carrying out its mission: As a source of religious instruction, Perich played an important part in transmitting the Lutheran faith.
In concluding that Perich was not a minister under the exception, the Sixth Circuit committed three errors. First, it failed to see any relevance in the fact that Perich was a commissioned minister. Although such a title, by itself, does not automatically ensure coverage, the fact that an employee has been ordained or commissioned as a minister is surely relevant, as is the fact that significant religious training and a recognized religious mission underlie the description of the employee’s position. Second, the Sixth Circuit gave too much weight to the fact that lay teachers at the school performed the same religious duties as Perich. Though relevant, it cannot be dispositive that others not formally recognized as ministers by the church perform the same functions—particularly when, as here, they did so only because commissioned ministers were unavailable. Third, the Sixth Circuit placed too much emphasis on Perich’s performance of secular duties. Although the amount of time an employee spends on particular activities is relevant in assessing that employee’s status, that factor cannot be considered in isolation, without regard to the other considerations discussed above. Pp. 15–19.
(b) Because Perich was a minister for purposes of the exception, this suit must be dismissed. An order reinstating Perich as a called teacher would have plainly violated the Church’s freedom under the Religion Clauses to select its own ministers. Though Perich no longer seeks reinstatement, she continues to seek frontpay, backpay, compensatory and punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. An award of such relief would operate as a penalty on the Church for terminating an unwanted minister, and would be no less prohibited by the First Amendment than an order overturning the termination. Such relief would depend on a determination that Hosanna-Tabor was wrong to have relieved Perich of her position, and it is precisely such a ruling that is barred by the ministerial exception.
Any suggestion that Hosanna-Tabor’s asserted religious reason for firing Perich was pretextual misses the point of the ministerial exception. The purpose of the exception is not to safeguard a church’s decision to fire a minister only when it is made for a religious reason. The exception instead ensures that the authority to select and control who will minister to the faithful is the church’s alone. Pp. 19–20.
(c) Today the Court holds only that the ministerial exception bars an employment discrimination suit brought on behalf of a minister, challenging her church’s decision to fire her. The Court expresses no view on whether the exception bars other types of suits. Pp. 20–21.
597 F. 3d 769, reversed.
Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion. Alito, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which Kagan, J., joined.
Certiorari To The Supreme Court Of New Hampshire
No. 10–8974. Argued November 2, 2011—Decided January 11, 2012
Around 3 a.m. on August 15, 2008, the Nashua, New Hampshire Police Department received a call reporting that an African-American male was trying to break into cars parked in the lot of the caller’s apartment building. When an officer responding to the call asked eyewitness Nubia Blandon to describe the man, Blandon pointed to her kitchen window and said the man she saw breaking into the car was standing in the parking lot, next to a police officer. Petitioner Barion Perry’s arrest followed this identification.
Before trial, Perry moved to suppress Blandon’s identification on the ground that admitting it at trial would violate due process. The New Hampshire trial court denied the motion. To determine whether due process prohibits the introduction of an out-of-court identification at trial, the Superior Court said, this Court’s decisions instruct a two-step inquiry: The trial court must first decide whether the police used an unnecessarily suggestive identification procedure; if they did, the court must next consider whether that procedure so tainted the resulting identification as to render it unreliable and thus inadmissible. Perry’s challenge, the court found, failed at step one, for Blandon’s identification did not result from an unnecessarily suggestive procedure employed by the police. A jury subsequently convicted Perry of theft by unauthorized taking.
On appeal, Perry argued that the trial court erred in requiring an initial showing that police arranged a suggestive identification procedure. Suggestive circumstances alone, Perry contended, suffice to require court evaluation of the reliability of an eyewitness identification before allowing it to be presented to the jury. The New Hampshire Supreme Court rejected Perry’s argument and affirmed his conviction.
Held: The Due Process Clause does not require a preliminary judicial inquiry into the reliability of an eyewitness identification when the identification was not procured under unnecessarily suggestive circumstances arranged by law enforcement. Pp. 6–19.
(a) The Constitution protects a defendant against a conviction based on evidence of questionable reliability, not by prohibiting introduction of the evidence, but by affording the defendant means to persuade the jury that the evidence should be discounted as unworthy of credit. Only when evidence “is so extremely unfair that its admission violates fundamental conceptions of justice,” Dowling v. United States, 493 U. S. 342 (internal quotation marks omitted), does the Due Process Clause preclude its admission.
Contending that the Due Process Clause is implicated here, Perry relies on a series of decisions involving police-arranged identification procedures. See Stovall v. Denno, 388 U. S. 293; Simmons v. United States, 390 U. S. 377; Foster v. California, 394 U. S. 440; Neil v. Biggers, 409 U. S. 188; and Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U. S. 98. These cases detail the approach appropriately used to determine whether due process requires suppression of an eyewitness identification tainted by police arrangement. First, due process concerns arise only when law enforcement officers use an identification procedure that is both suggestive and unnecessary. Id., at 107, 109; Biggers, 409 U. S., at 198. Even when the police use such a procedure, however, suppression of the resulting identification is not the inevitable consequence. Brathwaite, 432 U. S., at 112–113; Biggers, 409 U. S., at 198–199. Instead, due process requires courts to assess, on a case-by-case basis, whether improper police conduct created a “substantial likelihood of misidentification.” Id., at 201. “[R]eliability [of the eyewitness identification] is the linchpin” of that evaluation. Brathwaite, 432 U. S., at 114. Where the “indicators of [a witness’] ability to make an accurate identification” are “outweighed by the corrupting effect” of law enforcement suggestion, the identification should be suppressed. Id., at 114, 116. Otherwise, the identification, assuming no other barrier to its admission, should be submitted to the jury. Pp. 6–10.
(b) Perry argues that it was mere happenstance that all of the cases in the Stovall line involved improper police action. The rationale underlying this Court’s decisions, Perry asserts, calls for a rule requiring trial judges to prescreen eyewitness evidence for reliability any time an identification is made under suggestive circumstances. This Court disagrees.
If “reliability is the linchpin” of admissibility under the Due Process Clause, Brathwaite, 432 U. S., at 114, Perry contends, it should not matter whether law enforcement was responsible for creating the suggestive circumstances that marred the identification. This argument removes Brathwaite’s statement from its mooring, attributing to it a meaning that a fair reading of the opinion does not bear. The due process check for reliability, Brathwaite made plain, comes into play only after the defendant establishes improper police conduct.
Perry’s contention also ignores a key premise of Brathwaite: A primary aim of excluding identification evidence obtained under unnecessarily suggestive circumstances is to deter law enforcement use of improper procedures in the first place. This deterrence rationale is inapposite in cases, like Perry’s, where there is no improper police conduct. Perry also places significant weight on United States v. Wade, 388 U. S. 218, describing it as a decision not anchored to improper police conduct. But the risk of police rigging was the very danger that prompted the Court in Wade to extend a defendant’s right to counsel to cover postindictment lineups and showups.
Perry’s position would also open the door to judicial preview, under the banner of due process, of most, if not all, eyewitness identifications. There is no reason why an identification made by an eyewitness with poor vision or one who harbors a grudge against the defendant, for example, should be regarded as inherently more reliable than Blandon’s identification here. Even if this Court could, as Perry contends, distinguish “suggestive circumstances” from other factors bearing on the reliability of eyewitness evidence, Perry’s limitation would still involve trial courts, routinely, in preliminary examinations, for most eyewitness identifications involve some element of suggestion. Pp. 10–14.
(c) In urging a broadly applicable rule, Perry maintains that eyewitness identifications are uniquely unreliable. The fallibility of eyewitness evidence does not, without the taint of improper state conduct, warrant a due process rule requiring a trial court to screen the evidence for reliability before allowing the jury to assess its creditworthiness. The Court’s unwillingness to adopt such a rule rests, in large part, on its recognition that the jury, not the judge, traditionally determines the reliability of evidence. It also takes account of other safeguards built into the adversary system that caution juries against placing undue weight on eyewitness testimony of questionable reliability. These protections include the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights to counsel and to confront and cross-examine the eyewitness, eyewitness-specific instructions warning juries to take care in appraising identification evidence, and state and federal rules of evidence permitting trial judges to exclude relevant evidence if its probative value is substantially outweighed by its prejudicial impact or potential for misleading the jury. Many of these safeguards were availed of by Perry’s defense. Given the safeguards generally applicable in criminal trials, the introduction of Blandon’s eyewitness testimony, without a preliminary judicial assessment of its reliability, did not render Perry’s trial fundamentally unfair. Pp. 14–18.
Ginsburg, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion. Sotomayor, J., filed a dissenting opinion.