The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has invalidated the appointments of three members of the National Labor Relations Board who were designated on January 4, 2012. On January 25, 2013, the Court issued its ruling in Noel Canning v. NLRB, et al. Docket No. 12-1115.$file/12-1115-1417096.pdf. In Noel Canning, the employer sought to prohibit enforcement of a February 8, 2012 NLRB decision concluding it violated the National Labor Relations Act.

The Court granted the Petition of Noel Canning on the basis that the NLRB lacked a sufficient quorum of members when it reached its decision. In February 2012, the NLRB was putatively staffed with a full complement of five members. However, three of those members were appointed by the President, without confirmation by the Senate, on January 4, 2012. The NLRB maintained the appointments were legitimate “recess” appointments made while the Senate was out of session. The Petitioner argued that, in fact, the Senate was in pro forma session and as such, the President had no constitutional authority to make “recess appointments” of the NLRB members.

The D.C. Circuit agreed with the Petitioner that the President’s appointments were “constitutionally invalid.” As such, the Board did not have a “quorum for the conduct of business” on the date of its decision as only two members of the NLRB were properly seated.

The impact of the decision is likely substantial. In an appearance before the Oversight Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives on February 1, 2012, Dinsmore Labor Practice Group Chair Mark Carter testified, that if the recess appointments on January 4, 2012 were determined to be improper “every administrative decision and every administrative rule or regulation implemented by the National Labor Relations Board will be subject to appeal or attack.”

Carter testified that if the appointments were invalidated, as they have been, “the actions of the NLRB will be ultra vires” and every decision and regulation will be subject to attack. The NLRB has been active both in the arenas of decision-making and regulatory action over the past year. If the decision of the D.C. Circuit is upheld, the decisions of the Agency since January 4, 2012 may have no mandatory impact on employers, unions or employees.

The NLRB reacted to the decision on the afternoon of January 25 by insisting that the remaining recess appointees, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block, will continue to perform their statutory duties and issue decisions along with Chairman Mark Pearce. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R – CA) called upon the NLRB to “take the responsible course and cease issuing further opinions until a constitutionally-sound quorum can be established.” Chairman Issa stated “(t)he unconstitutionally appointed members of the NLRB should do the right thing and step down.”