Preemption decisions

Occupational Safety and Health
Appeals Board

Appeals board issues preemption decisions

On June 23, 1999, the Occupational Safety and Health Appeals Board issued four decisions on the board’s view of the jurisdiction of Cal OSHA in relation to that of other federal and state agencies:

Yellow Freight System, Inc., OSHAB 94-2565
Southern Pacific Transportation, OSHAB 94-3142
Southern California Gas Company, OSHAB 94-586
Shea-Kiewit-Kenny, OSHAB 94-2768.

To access the full text of a decision with a summary, click on the link to the case (above).

Summary's of decisions after reconsideration

The cases presented the board with a recurring issue in the delicate and complex relationship of the states to the national government under our federal system. On the one hand, Article VI of the U.S. Constitution provides that the laws of the United States enacted pursuant to the powers granted Congress in the Constitution shall be "the supreme law of the Land . . . anything in the Constitution or laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding." On the other hand, "[t]he Constitution, in all of its provisions, looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible States." The board’s approach follows that of the United States Supreme Court and is grounded in the recognition that the Constitution, explicitly, in the Tenth Amendment and, implicitly, in its structural assumptions and tacit postulates, requires due deference to legitimate state interests.

The Supreme Court, mindful that "[t]he constitution . . . looks to an indestructible Union, composed of indestructible states," has developed the doctrine of federal preemption - a doctrine which recognizes that legitimate state interests should yield to countervailing federal interests only where no other solution is possible. The preeminent goal is the reconciliation of state and federal interests.

The assumption that the Constitution presupposes the existence of the states as entitles independent of the national government with their own separate and legitimate interests lies just below the surface of many constitutional provisions and becomes explicit in the language of the Tenth Amendment, which declares; "[t]he powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." The Tenth Amendment is a source of the constitutional policy that Congress may not exercise power in a fashion that impairs states’ integrity or their ability to function effectively in a federal system. Thus, federal laws and regulations which treat the states in a manner inconsistent with this policy are subject to challenge, not because they violate any specific constitutional provision or transgress the explicit boundaries of any definite grant of authority, but because they ignore the guarantees of the Tenth Amendment and impinge upon the structural "assumptions" and "tacit postulates" of the Constitution as a whole.

Preemption analysis

Preemption analysis begins only after there is a preliminary determination that Congress is acting within the powers allotted to it in the Constitution. Once that is established, the inquiry becomes whether the federal statute at issue reaches the conduct in question. If it does, traditional analysis begins and the ultimate question is one of intent: Did Congress intend to oust the states of jurisdiction over that conduct?

Congressional intent can be express or implied. Where the statute contains a clear and explicit statement of the extent to which state regulation is prohibited, the supremacy clause controls and the analysis ceases. In the absence of a clear and express statement of intent, preemption may be implied if state law "stands as an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress."

State law can frustrate congressional purposes or objectives when the scheme of federal regulation is so pervasive as to make reasonable the inference that Congress left no room for the states to supplement it or when an Act of Congress touches a field in which the federal interest is so dominant that the federal system will be assumed to preclude enforcement of state laws on the same subject.

Another situation occurs where an act of Congress is in actual conflict with the law of the state, or where compliance with both federal and state regulations is a physical impossibility.

Preemption analysis involves four presumptions. The first is that Congress did not intend to displace state law. Second, the presumption is strengthened if the state interest is strong, traditional, and local in character. Third, the Supreme Court does not give the same deference to regulations as it does to statues. Finally, in analyzing the state interest involved, the court will defer to the state’s own determination of the meaning and purpose of the questioned statute or regulation.

In summary, a legitimate state interest should yield to a countervailing federal interest only where no other solution is possible.

Each one of the decisions after reconsideration raised different preemption issues and was treated separately.

Occupational Safety & Health Appeals