Public Citizen Health Research Group v. Acosta (2018)

To improve workplace safety, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in 2016 issued a rule entitled “Improve Tracking of Workplace Injuries and Illnesses.” The rule requires certain covered establishments to submit electronically to OSHA by July 1, 2018, three forms detailing their 2017 injury and illness data—OSHA Forms 300, 301, and 300A. Despite the July 1 deadline in the rule, OSHA announced in June 2018 that it would not require, or even accept, the submission of OSHA Forms 300 and 301. Instead of following notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures required by the Administrative Procedure Act, OSHA simply announced the suspension on its website.

On July 25, 2018, Public Citizen, the American Public Health Association and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists filed suit, arguing that OSHA lacked the legal authority to suspend the deadline without first providing public notice and an opportunity to comment, and that OSHA’s stated reason for the suspension was arbitrary and capricious. The groups asked the court to order OSHA to require and accept the workplace injury and illness data, as required by the rule.

Plaintiffs moved for a preliminary injunction and OSHA filed a motion to dismiss. On December 12, 2018, the court denied OSHA’s motion to dismiss. The Court rejected OSHA’s arguments that plaintiffs lack standing and that the agency conduct at issue is a mere policy statement about enforcement discretion. The Court denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on the ground that plaintiffs had not shown a likelihood of irreparable harm because, if plaintiffs prevail on the merits of their claims, the Court can declare the suspension of the Rule unlawful, require OSHA to recognize the July 2018 submission deadline, and order OSHA to collect the data that employers should have been required to submit to OSHA by July 2018.

On December 17, 2018, plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment. In its opposition, OSHA acknowledged that the Court had already rejected its defense, but OSHA argued that the Court should enter a stay and postpone ordering relief pending resolution of a different case brought by plaintiffs to challenge OSHA’s subsequent rescission, following notice-and-comment rulemaking, of future reporting requirements.

In August 2019, the Court requested further briefing on whether OSHA’s rescission of the rule’s reporting requirements rendered moot our challenge to OSHA’s prior suspension of the rule. We argued that because the 2019 Rollback Rule is not retroactive it does not supersede the 2018 Suspension Rule and the Court retains the authority to grant effective relief to plaintiffs. The Court disagreed, and dismissed the case as moot.