The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the government can impose civil penalties on violators of the Occupational Safety and Health Act without entitling them to a jury trial.
The 8-to-0 decision clears the way for Congress to empower various administrative agencies in addition to the job-safety agency to enforce their orders with civil penalties.
The Seventh Amendment to the Constitution preserves the right to a jury trial in suits at common law involving more than $20.
But it does not require Congress "to choke the already crowded federal courts with new types of litlgation" or prevent it "from committion some new types of litigation to administrative agencies with special competence in the relevant field," justice byron R. White said in an opirion for the court. Justice Harry A. Blackmun did not take part.
The decision is a major victory for the Labor Department, which was directed by a 1970 law to assure safe and healthful workplaces and to appoint regulatory tribunals to provide speedy and expert resoulutions of disputes.
The Seventh Amendment "is no bar to the creation of new rights" such as health and safety at work or to the enforcement of these rights "outside the regular courts of law," White said.
The decision affirmed rulings by the Third and Fifth U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal that rejected challenges by Frank Irey Jr., a general contractor in Monongahela, Pa., and the Atlas Rooding Co. of Atlanta.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Irey $8,835 after a workman died in a cave-in and Atlas $600 after a temporary employee fell to his death.