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National Labor Relations Board v. Sears, Roebuck & Co.

United States Supreme Court
421 U.S. 132 (1975)


Under the National Labor Relations Act, any charge that an employer has committed an “unfair labor practice” must originate with a complaint filed with the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB). Congress has delegated to the NLRB General Counsel authority to decide on whether to file a complaint with the labor board. The NRLB has set up procedures to exercise this authority. When a regional director decides not to file a complaint, the complainant can appeal to the Office of General Counsel. The disposition of the appeal (either affirming the regional director’s decision or ordering the regional director to prosecute) is embodied in an Appeals Memorandum. In addition, regional directors can request advice from the Office of General Counsel on whether to file a complaint. In response, the Office of General Counsel sends an Advice Memorandum directing the regional director to file or not file a complaint. On July 14, 1971, Sears, Roebuck & Co. (Sears) (plaintiff) requested by letter pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) that the NLRB General Counsel disclose all Advice and Appeals Memoranda issued in the previous five years on a particular issue. The General Counsel refused the request, because Advice Memoranda are guides, not final, and are “intra-agency memorandum” that reflect the thought process of staff and are thus exempt from disclosure under Exemption 5 to the FOIA. Sears filed a complaint in the federal district court. The district court granted Sears’ motion for summary judgment and denied the General Counsel’s motion for summary judgment. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed. The NLRB appealed to the Supreme Court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (White, J.)

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