McLANE CO., INC. v. EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit

No. 15-1248. Argued February 21, 2017--Decided April 3, 2017

Damiana Ochoa worked for eight years in a physically demanding job for petitioner McLane Co., a supply-chain services company. McLane requires employees in those positions—both new employees and those returning from medical leave—to take a physical evaluation. When Ochoa returned from three months of maternity leave, she failed the evaluation three times and was fired. She then filed a sex discrimination charge under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC) began an investigation, but McLane declined its request for so-called “pedigree information”: names, Social Security numbers, addresses, and telephone numbers of employees asked to take the evaluation. After the EEOC expanded the investigation’s scope both geographically (to cover McLane’s national operations) and substantively (to investigate possible age discrimination), it issued subpoenas, as authorized by 42 U. S. C. 2000e–9, requesting pedigree information relating to its new investigation. When McLane refused to provide the information, the EEOC filed two actions in Federal District Court—one arising out of Ochoa’s charge and one arising out of the EEOC’s own age-discrimination charge—seeking enforcement of its subpoenas. The District Judge declined to enforce the subpoenas, finding that the pedigree information was not relevant to the charges, but the Ninth Circuit reversed. Reviewing the District Court’s decision to quash the subpoena de novo, the court concluded that the lower court erred in finding the pedigree information irrelevant.

Held: A district court’s decision whether to enforce or quash an EEOC subpoena should be reviewed for abuse of discretion, not de novo. Pp. 6–12.

(a) Both factors that this Court examines when considering whether such decision should be subject to searching or deferential appellate review point toward abuse-of-discretion review. First, the longstanding practice of the courts of appeals is to review a district court’s decision to enforce or quash an administrative subpoena for abuse of discretion. Title VII confers on the EEOC the same authority to issue subpoenas that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) confers on the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). During the three decades between the NLRA’s enactment and the incorporation of its subpoena-enforcement provisions into Title VII, every Circuit to consider the question had held that a district court’s decision on enforcement of an NLRB subpoena is subject to abuse-of-discretion review. Congress amended Title VII to authorize EEOC subpoenas against this uniform backdrop of deferential appellate review, and today, nearly every Court of Appeals reviews a district court’s decision whether to enforce an EEOC subpoena for abuse of discretion. This “long history of appellate practice,” Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U. S. 552, carries significant persuasive weight.

Second, basic principles of institutional capacity counsel in favor of deferential review. In most cases, the district court’s enforcement decision will turn either on whether the evidence sought is relevant to the specific charge or whether the subpoena is unduly burdensome in light of the circumstances. Both of these tasks are well suited to a district judge’s expertise. The first requires the district court to evaluate the relationship between the particular materials sought and the particular matter under investigation—an analysis “variable in relation to the nature, purposes and scope of the inquiry.” Oklahoma Press Publishing Co. v. Walling, 327 U. S. 186. And whether a subpoena is overly burdensome turns on the nature of the materials sought and the difficulty the employer will face in producing them—“ ‘fact-intensive, close calls’ ” better suited to resolution by the district court than the court of appeals. Cooter & Gell v. Hartmarx Corp., 496 U. S. 384.

Other functional considerations also show the appropriateness of abuse-of-discretion review. For one, the district courts’ considerable experience in making similar decisions in other contexts, see Buford v. United States, 532 U. S. 59, gives them the “institutional advantag[e],” id., at 64, that comes with greater experience. Deferential review also “streamline[s] the litigation process by freeing appellate courts from the duty of reweighing evidence and reconsidering facts already weighed and considered by the district court,” Cooter & Gell, 496 U. S., at 404, something particularly important in a proceeding designed only to facilitate the EEOC’s investigation. Pp. 6–9.

(b) Court-appointed amicus’ arguments in support of de novo review are not persuasive. Amicus claims that the district court’s primary task is to test a subpoena’s legal sufficiency and thus requires no exercise of discretion. But that characterization is not inconsistent with abuse-of-discretion review, which may be employed to insulate the trial judge’s decision from appellate review for the same kind of functional concerns that underpin the Court’s conclusion that abuse of discretion is the appropriate standard.

It is also unlikely that affording deferential review to a district court’s subpoena decision would clash with Court of Appeals decisions that instructed district courts to defer to the EEOC’s determination about the relevance of evidence to the charge at issue. Such decisions are better read as resting on the established rule that the term “relevant” be understood “generously” to permit the EEOC “access to virtually any material that might cast light on the allegations against the employer.” EEOC v. Shell Oil Co., 466 U. S. 54–69. Nor do the constitutional underpinnings of the Shell Oil standard require a different result. While this Court has described a subpoena as a “ ‘constructive’ search,” Oklahoma Press, 327 U. S., at 202, and implied that the Fourth Amendment is the source of the requirement that a subpoena not be “too indefinite,” United States v. Morton Salt Co., 338 U. S. 632, not every decision touching on the Fourth Amendment is subject to searching review. See, e.g., United States v. Nixon, 418 U. S. 683. Cf. Illinois v. Gates, 462 U. S. 213; Ornelas v. United States, 517 U. S. 690, distinguished. Pp. 9–11.

(c) The case is remanded so that the Court of Appeals can review the District Court’s decision under the appropriate standard in the first instance. In doing so, the Court of Appeals may consider, as and to the extent it deems appropriate, any of McLane’s arguments regarding the burdens imposed by the subpoena. Pp. 11–12.

804 F. 3d 1051, vacated and remanded.

Sotomayor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Roberts, C. J., and Kennedy, Thomas, Breyer, Alito, and Kagan, JJ., joined. Ginsburg, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part.


DEAN v. UNITED STATES

Certiorari To The United States Court Of Appeals For The Eighth Circuit

No. 15-9260. Argued February 28, 2017--Decided April 3, 2017

Petitioner Dean and his brother committed two robberies of drug dealers. During each robbery, Dean’s brother threatened and assaulted the victim with a gun, while Dean searched the premises for valuables. Dean was convicted of multiple robbery and firearms counts, as well as two counts of possessing a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, in violation of 18 U. S. C. 924(c). Section 924(c) criminalizes using or carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence or drug trafficking crime, or possessing a firearm in furtherance of such an underlying crime. That provision mandates a distinct penalty to be imposed “in addition to the punishment provided for [the predicate] crime,” 924(c)(1)(A). Further, 924(c) says that any sentence mandated by that provision must run consecutively to “any other term of imprisonment imposed on the person,” including any sentence for the predicate crime, 924(c)(1)(D)(ii). A first conviction under 924(c) carries a five-year mandatory minimum penalty, 924(c)(1)(A)(i), while a second conviction carries an additional 25-year mandatory minimum, 924(c)(1)(C)(i). For Dean, that meant a 30-year mandatory minimum, to be served after and in addition to any sentence he received for his other counts of conviction.

At sentencing, Dean urged the District Court to consider his lengthy mandatory minimum sentences when calculating the sentences for his other counts and to impose concurrent one-day sentences for those counts. The judge said he would have agreed to Dean’s request but understood 924(c) to preclude a sentence of 30 years plus one day. On appeal, Dean argued that the District Court had erred in concluding that it could not vary from the Guidelines range based on the mandatory minimum sentences he would receive under 924(c). The Court of Appeals ruled that Dean’s argument was foreclosed by Circuit precedent and that his sentence was otherwise substantively reasonable.

Held: Section 924(c) does not prevent a sentencing court from considering a mandatory minimum imposed under that provision when calculating an appropriate sentence for the predicate offense. Pp. 3–8.

(a) Sentencing courts have long enjoyed discretion in the sort of information they may consider when setting an appropriate sentence, and they continue to do so even as federal laws have required them to evaluate certain factors when exercising their discretion. Pepper v. United States, 562 U. S. 476–489. Section 3553(a) specifies the factors courts are to consider when imposing a sentence. They include “the nature and circumstances of the offense and the history and characteristics of the defendant,” as well as “the need for the sentence imposed” to serve the four overarching aims of sentencing: just punishment, deterrence, protection of the public, and rehabilitation. The 3553(a) factors are used to set both the length of separate prison terms, 3582(a), and an aggregate prison term comprising separate sentences for multiple counts of conviction, 3584(b). As a general matter, these sentencing provisions permit a court imposing a sentence on one count of conviction to consider sentences imposed on other counts.

The Government argues that district courts should calculate the appropriate term of imprisonment for each individual offense, disregarding whatever sentences a defendant may face on other counts. Only when determining an aggregate prison sentence, the Government maintains, should a district court consider the effect of those other sentences. Nothing in the law requires such an approach. There is no reason that the 3553(a) factors may not also be considered when determining a prison sentence for each individual offense in a multicount case. The Government’s interpretation is at odds not only with the text of those provisions but also with the Government’s own practice in “sentencing package cases.” Greenlaw v. United States, 554 U. S. 237. Pp. 3–6.

(b) The Government points to two limitations in 924(c) that, in its view, restrict the authority of sentencing courts to consider a sentence imposed under 924(c) when calculating a just sentence for the predicate count. Neither limitation supports the Government’s position. First, that a mandatory sentence under 924(c) must be imposed “in addition to the punishment provided” for the predicate crime says nothing about the length of a non-924(c) sentence, much less about what information a court may consider in determining that sentence. Second, nothing in the requirement of consecutive sentences prevents a district court from imposing a 30-year mandatory minimum sentence under 924(c) and a one-day sentence for the predicate crime, provided those terms run one after the other.

The Government would, in effect, have this Court read into 924(c) the limitation explicitly made in 1028A(b)(3), which provides that in determining the appropriate length of imprisonment for a predicate felony, “a court shall not in any way reduce the term to be imposed for such crime so as to compensate for, or otherwise take into account, any separate term of imprisonment imposed or to be imposed for a violation of this section.” But “[d]rawing meaning from silence is particularly inappropriate” where, as demonstrated in 1028A, “Congress has shown that it knows how to direct sentencing practices in express terms.” Kimbrough v. United States, 552 U. S. 85. Pp. 6–8.

810 F. 3d 521, reversed and remanded.

Roberts, C. J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.