Legal Memorandum: Doctrine of Primary Jurisdiction in MA

Issue: Under Massachusetts law, does the doctrine of ‘primary jurisdiction’ apply to instances that do not involve regulatory matters entrusted to the Department of Industrial Accidents or require the exercise of special expertise or experience?

Area of Law: Administrative Law, Administrative Law & Regulation (Federal and State), Employee Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Doctrine of Primary Jurisdiction; Application
Jurisdiction: Massachusetts
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: None
Date: 01/01/2014

In Leahy v. Local 1526, 399 Mass. 341 (1987),  TA s "Leahy v. Local 1526 (1987)" an employee sued his union in superior court for breach of the duty of fair representation.  The union claimed that primary jurisdiction over the employee’s claim lay with the Labor Relations Commission, to which the employee’s claim must be first presented.  Over the union’s objection, the superior court granted the employee’s motion for summary judgment, which the union appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court on direct review.  Noting the benefits of judicial deference to administrative agencies in matters of labor relations, the Court nonetheless refused to apply the doctrine of primary jurisdiction to that case. 

[T]he absence of dispute over the facts establishing the union’s fault removes one of the principal reasons for the doctrine of primary jurisdiction. Where facts are in dispute, and their resolution requires the application of the agency’s expertise, it is particularly appropriate that the agency first decide the issue.  Where the agency does not have such a fact finding role, or the dispute does not require peculiar expertise, there is less call for invoking primary jurisdiction.  In this case, there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and therefore we do not violate the commission’s unique role by not requiring the plaintiff to have his case heard first by the commission.


Leahy v. Local 1526, 399 Mass. at 350 TA s "Leahy v. Local 1526 (1987)"  (internal citations omitted).


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