Elgin v. Department of the Treasury

PETITIONER: Michael B. Elgin, et al.
RESPONDENT: Department of the Treasury, et al.
LOCATION: US Office of Personnel Management

DOCKET NO.: 11-45
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

CITATION: 567 US (2012)
GRANTED: Oct 17, 2011
ARGUED: Feb 27, 2012
DECIDED: Jun 11, 2012

Eric J. Feigin - Assistant to the Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the respondents
Harvey A. Schwartz - for the petitioners

Facts of the case

Michael B. Elgin, Aaron Lawson, Henry Tucker, and Christon Colby, the petitioners, were all federal employees. Each man was terminated or constructively terminated under 5 U.S.C. § 3328, after the Office of Personnel Management determined that he was ineligible for federal employment under 5 U.S.C. § 3328 for failing to have registered for the selective service between the ages of 18 and 26.

Elgin initially challenged his termination before the Merit Systems Protection Board, which has jurisdiction over challenged terminations of federal employees under certain conditions under the Civil Service Reform Act. On November 16, 2007, the Merit Systems Protection Board dismissed Elgin's appeal because it lacked jurisdiction over appeals where employees were terminated under absolute statutory prohibitions and that it lacked the power to rule on the constitutionality of a statute.

On December 28, 2007, Elgin and the other petitioners joined and brought an action challenging the constitutionality of 5 U.S.C. § 3328 to the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. They claimed that the statute was an unlawful Bill of Attainder, and that the statute violated the petitioners' rights to equal protection based on sex. Both sides moved for summary judgment as to certain issues, and the court granted the petitioner's motion by finding that the law was a Bill of Attainder and granted part of the respondents' motion by finding that the law was not a violation of the petitioners' rights to equal protection. The government filed a motion for reconsideration as to whether the statute was a Bill of Attainder, and also argued that the district court did not have jurisdiction under the Civil Service Reform Act. The district court held that it did have jurisdiction, but, on reconsideration, determined that the statute was not a Bill of Attainder.

Petitioners appealed the district court's decisions dismissing the equal protection claim and granting the motion for reconsideration on the Bill of Attainder claim. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit Circuit confirmed the lower court's decision as to dismissal of the claims, and a divided court found that the district court did not have jurisdiction under the Civil Service Reform Act. The petitioners appealed in order to settle the question of jurisdiction.


If a federal employee has a constitutional claim for equitable relief, do the federal district courts have jurisdiction, or does the Civil Service Reform Act preclude that jurisdiction?

Media for Elgin v. Department of the Treasury

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 27, 2012 in Elgin v. Department of the Treasury

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 11, 2012 in Elgin v. Department of the Treasury

John G. Roberts, Jr.:

Justice Thomas has our opinion this morning in case 11-45, Elgin versus Department of the Treasury.

Clarence Thomas:

This case comes to us on a writ of certiorari to United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

The Civil Service Reform Act or CSRA established a comprehensive system of administrative and judicial review for federal employees who wished to challenge adverse employment actions, including removals from federal service.

A removed employee may appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board which is authorized to order reinstatement, back pay, and attorneys fees to prevailing employees.

If the employee is not satisfied with the Boards decision, he may seek judicial review in the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

Petitioners are former federal employees who were discharged pursuant to Section 3328 of Title 5, a statute that bars from federal employment, persons who fail to register for the drafts.

Only petitioner Elgin appealed his termination to the Merit Systems Protection Board.

Elgin argued that Section 3328 was an unconstitutional bill of attainder and unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of sex since only men are required to register for the draft.

The Board dismissed Elgins appeal for lack of jurisdiction, concluding that a person, whose employment was absolutely barred by statute, was not an employee with a right to review before the Board.

Rather than seek judicial review before the Federal Circuit, Elgin joined the other petitioners in filing this action in Federal District Court.

Petitioners raised the same constitutional claims to Section 3328 and sought reinstatement to federal employment and back pay.

The District Court denied petitioners' claims on the merits.

On appeal, the First Circuit vacated the judgment and remanded, instructing the District Court to dismiss petitioners suit for lack of jurisdiction.

In a holding that neither party challenges here, the Court of Appeals first included that despite the statutory bar to their employment, petitioners were federal employees entitled to review under the CSRA.

The Court of Appeals then concluded that the CSRA review scheme is the exclusive remedy for employees challenging removal, even those who do so by challenging the constitutionality of a federal statute.

The Court of Appeals acknowledged the Merit Systems Protection Board's past holding that it lacks jurisdiction to consider a statute's constitutionality, but the Court concluded that this did not exempt petitioners from the CSRAs exclusive scheme because the Federal Circuit could adjudicate -- Federal Circuit could adjudicate petitioners constitutional claims.

In an opinion filed with the clerk today, we affirm the judgment of the First Circuit.

Whereas here, a statute challenged -- channels judicial review of constitutional claims to a particular court that can perform meaningful review, we conclude that Congress intended that avenue of judicial review to be exclusive when Congress intent is fairly discernible in the statutory text structure and purpose.

The CSRA sets out an elaborate -- in elaborate detail the system of review before the Board and the Federal Circuit and this indicates that Congress did not intend employees to access another avenue of review in District Court.

There is no textual support for petitioners contention that Congress intended to exempt covered employees and employment actions from the CSRA scheme simply because the nature of the employee's claim is a constitutional challenge to a federal statute.

Under the CSRA, the availability of review turns on the type of employee and adverse action, not on the type of legal claim at issue.

Furthermore, the purpose of the CSRA was to provide a streamline review scheme that would eliminate employee challenges in federal courts across the country.

That purpose would severely undermined if employees with constitutional claims to challenge adverse employment action in District Courts.

We reject petitioner's contention that their claims cannot receive meaningful review within the CSRA scheme, even assuming that the Board cannot decide their constitutional challenges, the Federal Circuit can do so.

We also disagree with petitioner's argument that their claims are wholly collateral to the CSRA scheme and outside of the Boards expertise because they have nothing to do with supervisor employee disputes that the Board ordinarily adjudicates.

Petitioner's claims are the vehicle by which they seek to overturn their removal from federal employment and obtain reinstatement and back pay.

The Board routinely addresses challenges to removal and requests for such relief and petitioner's appeals present issues such as constructive discharge to which the Board may apply its expertise.

For these reasons, we conclude that the CSRA precludes District Court jurisdiction in this case.

Justice Alito has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justices Ginsburg and Kagan join.