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Long Island Radio Co. v. National Labor Relations Board

decided: March 8, 1988.

THE LONG ISLAND RADIO COMPANY, D/B/A ALL SHORES RADIO COMPANY, PETITIONER,
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, RESPONDENT



Petition for review of an order of the National Labor Relations Board dismissing belated application for fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. § 504, for lack of jurisdiction. Petition denied.

Timbers, Kearse, and Mahoney, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kearse

KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

Petitioner Long Island Radio Corp., d/b/a/ All Shores Radio Company (the "Company"), petitions for review of an order of respondent National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB" or the "Board") dismissing the Company's application for attorneys' fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. § 504 (1982) ("EAJA" or the "Act"). The Board, having previously granted the Company an extension of time to file its application, dismissed the application filed during the period of the extension, ruling that the time limitation imposed by the EAJA for the filing of such applications is jurisdictional and that the purported grant of an extension was a nullity. On this petition for review, the Company argues (1) that the Act should be construed broadly to achieve its remedial purposes, and (2) that even if the Act's time limitation is jurisdictional, we should require the Board to entertain the Company's application on grounds of estoppel or "unique circumstances." We conclude that the Board lacked jurisdiction to grant the extension and that neither "unique circumstances" nor principles of estoppel permit the Board to entertain the application.

BACKGROUND

The events leading to this petition for review have been stipulated by the parties or do not otherwise appear to be in dispute. In 1980, a regional director of the NLRB filed a complaint against the Company, alleging violations of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. (1982). On October 16, 1981, the complaint was finally dismissed in its entirety.

Under the EAJA, any application by the Company for attorneys' fees was required to be filed on or before Monday, November 16. On Friday, November 13, Andrew A. Peterson, counsel for the Company, contacted several Board officials in an effort to obtain a one-month extension of time to file an application.

First Peterson wrote to the Board's Associate Chief Administrative Law Judge ("Chief ALJ") formally requesting an extension and telephoned the Chief ALJ to advise him that the written request had been transmitted. In their telephone conversation, the Chief ALJ advised Peterson that he believed he lacked the authority to grant the Company's request. He advised Peterson to contact the Board's Executive Secretary.

Peterson then sent a telegram to the Executive Secretary and telephoned that office, reaching the Associate Executive Secretary, who at first assured Peterson that some extension, though probably less than a month, would be granted. He stated that he would pursue the matter and call Peterson back. The Associate Executive Secretary spoke with Peterson later that day, stating that he was less certain whether an extension would be granted He advised Peterson to speak with the Executive Secretary.

The Executive Secretary told Peterson that in the six weeks since the Act had become effective, the Board had received only a few EAJA applications and no requests for extensions of time to file the applications. The Executive Secretary granted the Company a one-week extension until November 23, 1981, The extension was confirmed in writing. The Company's application was filed on November 23.

Several weeks later, the Board's General Counsel advised the Company that he had researched the law and concluded that no extensions of time in which to file EAJA applications could be granted, In the proceedings before the administrative law judge ("ALJ") to whom the application was assigned, the General Counsel eventually moved to dismiss the application on the ground that the Board lacked jurisdiction to grant it because the application was filed more than 30 days after the final order dismissing the complaint.

The ALJ denied the General Counsel's motion to dismiss and eventually recommended that the Company be awarded fees in the amount of $149,039. On September 30, 1987, the Board reversed the ALJ's decision and dismissed the application, stating that it was "not insensitive to [the] harshness" of its decision, the Board concluded that the EAJA's 30-day filing requirement "is jurisdictional and cannot be waived or extended." This petition for review followed, For the reasons below, we deny the petition.

Discussion

It is well established that "[t]he United States, as sovereign, is immune from suit save as it consents to be sued . . . ." United States v. Sherwood, 312 U.S. 584, 586, 85 L. Ed. 1058, 61 S. Ct. 767 (1941). "[T]he terms of its consent to be sued in any court define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit." Id. Any waiver of the government's sovereign immunity is to be strictly construed in favor of the government. See Library of Congress v. Shaw, 478 U.S. 310, 106 S. Ct. 2957, 2963-65, 92 L. Ed. 2d 250 (1986); Ruckelshaus v. Sierra ...


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