Thursday, February 8, 2018

Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court, S222314

Labor law: Workplace safety: Cal/OSHA: Unfair competition: Unfair advertising: Consumer protection: Supremacy clause: Preemption: Equitable remedies:

(…) The federal OSH Act (29 U.S.C. § 651 et seq.) provides that the federal Secretary of Labor shall adopt standards for occupational safety and health, but federal law does not preempt state authority when (1) there is no federal standard or (2) there is a state plan for occupational safety and health that has been approved at the federal level.

The federal OSH Act grants the federal Department of Labor the authority to provide and enforce mandatory national standards. (29 U.S.C. § 651(b)(3); see also id., § 655 [calling for promulgation of standards].) The federal Secretary of Labor has delegated certain authority to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (hereafter sometimes federal OSHA) to adopt standards. (Gade v. National Solid Wastes Management Ass’n (1992) 505 U.S. 88, 92 (Gade) (plur. opn. of O’Connor, J.).) If the Secretary of Labor has not promulgated a federal standard with respect to an occupational safety or health issue, states may supply their own standards. (29 U.S.C. § 667(a) [“Nothing in this chapter shall prevent any State agency or court from asserting jurisdiction under State law over any occupational safety or health issue with respect to which no standard is in effect under section 655 of this title”].)

Moreover, even when there are federal standards on an issue relating to occupational safety and health, a state may assume responsibility for developing and enforcing state standards on such issues by developing and submitting to the Secretary of Labor a plan to “preempt” federal standards. In a provision entitled “Submission of State plan for development and enforcement of State standards to preempt applicable Federal standards,” the federal OSH Act states: “Any State which, at any time, desires to assume responsibility for development and enforcement therein of occupational safety and health standards relating to any occupational safety or health issue with respect to which a Federal standard has been promulgated under section 655 of this title shall submit a State plan for the development of such standards and their enforcement.” (29 U.S.C. § 667(b).)

The Secretary must give adequate notice and an opportunity for a hearing before rejecting a state plan. (Id., § 667(d).)

The Secretary of Labor retains some ongoing authority over state plans. For example, the Secretary must “make a continuing evaluation of the manner in which each State having a plan . . . is carrying out such plan.” (29 U.S.C. § 667(f).)

(…) Finally, the federal OSH Act contains a broad savings clause: “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to supersede or in any manner affect any workmen’s compensation law or to enlarge or diminish or affect in any other manner the common law or statutory rights, duties, or liabilities of employers and employees under any law with respect to injuries, diseases, or death of employees arising out of, or in the course of, employment” (29 U.S.C. § 653(b)(4).)

(…) The Department submitted a Cal/OSHA plan to the federal Secretary of Labor, and it was approved in May 1973. (29 C.F.R. § 1952.7(a) (2017).) The federal regulation provides: “(a) The California State plan received initial approval on May 1, 1973. (b) [federal] OSHA entered into an operational status agreement with California. (c) The plan covers all private sector employers and employees, with several notable exceptions, as well as State and Local government employers and employees, within the State. For current information on these exceptions and for additional details about the plan, please visit [a federal Department of Labor website].” (29 C.F.R. § 1952.7 (2017).)

(…) Here, there appears to be no dispute, however, that the Cal/OSHA standards, the violation of which was the basis for the district attorney’s UCL and FAL claims, were part of the approved California plan, nor does there appear to be any dispute that use of UCL and FAL claims by local prosecutors pursuing civil actions was not mentioned in the plan’s enforcement provisions. (See, e.g., Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, § 344.50 [Division of Occupational Safety and Health compliance personnel conduct civil inspections and enforcement actions but lack authority to initiate criminal proceedings].)

“ ‘The supremacy clause of the United States Constitution establishes a constitutional choice-of-law rule, makes federal law paramount, and vests Congress with the power to preempt state law.’ Similarly, federal agencies, acting pursuant to authorization from Congress, can issue regulations that override state requirements. Preemption is foremost a question of congressional intent: did Congress, expressly or implicitly, seek to displace state law?” (Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc. (2015) 62 Cal.4th 298, 307-308 (Quesada).)

The United States Supreme Court examined the preemptive effect of the federal OSH Act in Gade, supra, 505 U.S. 88. The high court’s plurality and concurring opinions offer helpful interpretive guidance, but as explained below, in Gade, there was no approved state plan, so the extent to which an approved state plan displaces federal authority was not at issue.

(…) Addressing the separate question whether preemption — still in the absence
of an approved state plan — reached state laws that directly regulated occupational safety and health but also were intended to protect public safety, the plurality concluded that the preemptive effect of the federal law extended to such “dual impact” state laws. (Gade, supra, 505 U.S. at pp. 104-105.)

“In sum, a state law requirement that directly, substantially, and specifically regulates occupational safety and health is an occupational safety and health standard within the meaning of the federal OSH Act. . . . If the State wishes to enact a dual impact law that regulates an occupational safety or health issue for which a federal standard is in effect, . . . the Act requires that the State submit a plan for the approval of the Secretary.” (Gade, supra, 505 U.S. at pp. 107-108).

We acknowledge that the Secretary of Labor has authority to approve modifications to a state’s plan (29 U.S.C. § 667(c)) and “shall . . . make a continuing evaluation of the manner in which each State having a plan . . . is carrying out such plan.” (Id., § 667(f).) Notwithstanding these provisions, the federal OSH Act as a whole does not suggest that the preempted field encompasses all means of enforcement not specifically included in the state’s approved plan.

The UCL concerns unfair competition, a term that “means and includes any unlawful, unfair or fraudulent business act or practice and unfair, deceptive, untrue or misleading advertising and any act prohibited by [the false advertising law].” (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200.) The purpose of the UCL “is to protect both consumers and competitors by promoting fair competition in commercial markets for goods and services.” (Kasky v. Nike, Inc. (2002) 27 Cal.4th 939, 949.) As we have said, “the act provides an equitable means through which both public prosecutors and private individuals can bring suit to prevent unfair business practices and restore money or property to victims of these practices.” (Zhang v. Superior Court (2013) 57 Cal.4th 364, 371.)

The FAL, for its part, makes actionable “untrue or misleading” statements made to “induce the public to enter into any obligation” to purchase goods and services. (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17500.) Actions to enforce the UCL or FAL, which may be brought by government officials and by individuals who have suffered injury in fact (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17203), address the “overarching legislative concern . . . to provide a streamlined procedure for the prevention of ongoing or threatened acts of unfair competition.” (Zhang, supra, 57 Cal.4th at p. 371.) And the remedies are “cumulative . . . to the remedies or penalties available under all other laws of this state.” (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17205.)

(…) As noted above, under state law, these actions are not considered on their face to be a means of enforcing the underlying law. “ ‘By proscribing “any unlawful” business practice, “the UCL ‘borrows’ violations of other laws and treats them as unlawful practices” that the UCL makes independently actionable. ’ ” (Rose v. Bank of America, N.A. (2013) 57 Cal.4th 390, 396.) We have explained that “by borrowing requirements from other statutes, the UCL does not serve as a mere enforcement mechanism. It provides its own distinct and limited equitable remedies for unlawful business practices, using other laws only to define what is ‘unlawful.’ The UCL reflects the Legislature’s intent to discourage business practices that confer unfair advantages in the marketplace to the detriment of both consumers and law-abiding competitors.” (Id. at p. 397; see People ex rel. Harris v. Pac Anchor Transportation, Inc. (2014) 59 Cal.4th 772, 783).

(…) To recall, “Obstacle preemption permits courts to strike state law that stands as ‘an obstacle to the accomplishment and execution of the full purposes and objectives of Congress.’ It requires proof Congress had particular purposes and objectives in mind, a demonstration that leaving state law in place would compromise those objectives, and reason to discount the possibility the Congress that enacted the legislation was aware of the background tapestry of state law and content to let that law remain as it was.” (Quesada, supra, 62 Cal.4th at p. 312.)

(…) Under the circumstances, there is no “clear and manifest evidence” (Quesada, supra, 62 Cal.4th at p. 315) of a congressional intent to displace state authority over unfair competition and consumer claims that are premised on Cal/OSHA standards (p. 34).

(…) We conclude that the federal act does not preempt unfair competition and consumer protection claims based on workplace safety and health violations when, as in California, there is a state plan approved by the federal Secretary of Labor. The district attorney’s use of UCL and FAL causes of action does not encroach on a field fully occupied by federal law, nor does it stand as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the federal objective of ensuring a nationwide minimum standard of workplace protection. In addition, the federal act’s structure and language do not reflect a clear purpose of Congress to preempt such claims.

(Cal. S.C., Feb. 8, 2018, Solus Industrial Innovations, LLC v. Superior Court, S222314)

Protection de la santé et de la sécurité au travail, principe de préemption en faveur du droit fédéral, sauf pour les questions que ce droit ne règle pas et pour les questions réglées par un plan d'un état muni de l'approbation fédérale. L'exécution de ces plans est évaluée par le Secrétaire fédéral au Travail.

Le droit statutaire formel ou déduit de la Common law et s'appliquant à l'indemnisation des employés en cas d'incapacité, ou s'appliquant aux droits et obligations des employeurs et employés en cas de maladie, d'accident ou de décès professionnels, continue sans restriction de déployer ses effets, en sus des dispositions OSH fédérales.

L'Etat de Californie a soumis un tel plan, approuvé une première fois en mai 1973. Il s'applique à tous les employeurs et employés du secteur privé, sous réserve d'exceptions listées sur le site du Département fédéral du Travail.

En cas de violation des dispositions Cal/OSHA, le Procureur est compétent pour initier des procédures en concurrence déloyale et en publicité mensongère.

Les rapports entre le droit fédéral régissant les questions précitées et le droit des états s'examinent à la lumière de la "Supremacy clause". Savoir si le principe de préemption s'applique où non implique de déterminer l'intention du Congrès.

De manière générale, la préemption empêchera un acte étatique en matière de santé et de sécurité au travail de déployer ses effets si la question qu'il traite est déjà réglée par le droit fédéral. Dans une telle situation, l'état pourra faire approuver son plan, en vue de lever l'obstacle de la péremption.

En particulier, la législation fédérale ne suggère nullement que la préemption engloberait tous les moyens d'exécution mis en œuvre par les états et non inclus dans les plans approuvés. De la sorte, "l'action publique" menée par le Procureur, et basée sur la législation étatique contre la concurrence déloyale et sur les dispositions de Cal/OSHA, n'est pas barrée par le principe de préemption. Les mesures et sanctions permis par ce droit étatique de la concurrence déloyale sont cumulatives aux autres mesures et sanctions prévues ailleurs dans le droit de l'état.

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