Third Circuit Court of Appeals Holds That Craig Becker's Recess Appointment to NLRB Was Unconstitutional
May 18, 2013
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals, in NLRB v. New Vista Nursing and Rehabilitation, LLC, held on May 16 that the March 27, 2010 recess appointment of former National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") member Craig Becker was unconstitutional. The Third Circuit is the second appeals court to weigh in on the validity of President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB, but is the first to specifically address the validity of Craig Becker's appointment. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals held, on January 25, 2013, that the January 2012 recess appointments of Sharon Block, Terence Flynn, and Richard Griffin were unconstitutional.
In the New Vista case, a three-member panel of the NLRB, which included Craig Becker, Wilma Liebman, and Brian Hayes, issued a decision and order in August 2011 requiring New Vista to bargain with the union that had won an election to represent a bargaining unit of New Vista's licensed practical nurses ("LPNs"). New Vista had previously argued unsuccessfully that its LPNs were supervisors who were not entitled to unionize.
In analyzing the issue of whether Craig Becker's recess appointment on March 27, 2010 was unconstitutional, the Third Circuit considered three potential interpretations of the word "recess" in the Recess Appointments Clause of the U.S. Constitution: (1) intersession breaks (breaks between sessions of the Senate); (2) intersession breaks and intrasession breaks (breaks during a session of the Senate) that last a non-negligible period of time (historically considered to be at least 10 days); or (3) any period of time when the Senate is not open to conduct business, and therefore cannot act upon nominations. The Third Circuit determined that the word "recess" applies only to intersession breaks. Accordingly, Craig Becker's appointment was held to be invalid at its inception because he was appointed during a two-week intrasession recess in March 2010. The Third Circuit vacated the NLRB's decision and order because the panel that issued the decision and order did not have three validly appointed members.
The Third Circuit's decision could have far-reaching consequences that go beyond the D.C. Circuit's Noel Canning decision. The D.C. Circuit's Noel Canning decision called into question the validity of every decision issued by the NLRB from January 4, 2012 to the present because the NLRB lacked a quorum of three validly appointed members during that entire period of time. The Third Circuit's decision now also calls into question the validity of every NLRB decision from March 27, 2010 to the present that was issued by a three-member panel on which Craig Becker was a participant.
The Supreme Court may soon take up the issue of the validity of President Obama's recess appointments to the NLRB. On April 25, the NLRB filed a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court from the D.C. Circuit's Noel Canning decision. In light of the fact that the Third Circuit's decision addressed the issue in a slightly different context from the D.C. Circuit's decision, and in light of the additional NLRB decisions that could be impacted by the Third Circuit's decision, it is expected that the NLRB will file a petition for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to review the Third Circuit's decision as well.