Monday, February 27, 2006

SCOTUS Holds that Title VII's Employee-Numerosity Requirement Is Not Jurisdictional

The Supreme Court recently issued an opinion in Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp. dba The Moonlight Café, --- S.Ct. ----, 2006 WL 397863 (Feb. 22, 2006), in which it held, per Justice Ginsburg, that the employee-numerosity requirement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not jurisdictional and thus cannot not be raised defensively late in a lawsuit. Here's an excerpt from the Syllabus:

Title VII’s numerical threshold does not circumscribe federal-court subject-matter jurisdiction. Instead, the employee-numerosity requirement relates to the substantive adequacy of Arbaugh’s Title VII claim, and therefore could not be raised defensively late in the lawsuit. . . . Arbaugh invoked federal-question jurisdiction under §1331, but her case “aris[es]” under a federal law, Title VII, that specifies, as a prerequisite to its application, the existence of a particular fact, i.e., 15 or more employees. The Court resolves the question whether that fact is “jurisdictional” or relates to the “merits” of a Title VII claim mindful of the consequences of typing the 15-employee threshold a determinant of subject-matter jurisdiction, rather than an element of Arbaugh’s claim for relief. First, “subject-matter jurisdiction, because it involves the court’s power to hear a case, can never be forfeited or waived.” United States v. Cotton, 535 U. S. 625, 630. Moreover, courts, including this Court, have an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even in the absence of a challenge from any party. Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U. S. 574, 583. . . . Second, in some instances, if subject-matter jurisdiction turns on contested facts, the trial judge may be authorized to review the evidence and resolve the dispute on her own. If satisfaction of an essential element of a claim is at issue, however, the jury is the proper trier of contested facts. Reeves v. Sanderson Plumbing Products, Inc., 530 U. S. 133, 150–151. Third, when a federal court concludes that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the complaint must be dismissed in its entirety. Thus, the trial court below dismissed, along with the Title VII claim, pendent state-law claims fully tried by a jury and determined on the merits. In contrast, when a court grants a motion to dismiss for failure to state a federal claim, the court generally retains discretion to exercise supplemental jurisdiction, pursuant to §1367, over pendent state-law claims.

. . .

[W]hen Congress does not rank a statutory limitation on coverage as jurisdictional, courts should treat the restriction as nonjurisdictional in character. Applying that readily administrable bright line here yields the holding that Title VII’s 15-employee threshold is an element of a plaintiff’s claim for relief, not a jurisdictional issue.”


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