RBG: “This Court has placed less weight on captions.”

March 4th, 2014

Here’s a discussion you don’t see often in statutory interpretation cases: what is the value of captions in a statute. RBG opines in Lawson v. FMR LLC:

Second, FMR argues that the statutory headings support the exclusion of contractor employees from §1514A’s protections. Although §1514A’s own heading is broad (“Civil action to protect against retaliation in fraud cases”), subsection (a) is captioned “Whistleblower Protec- tion for Employees of Publicly Traded Companies.” Simi- larly, the relevant public law section, §806 of Sarbanes- Oxley, is captioned “Protection for Employees of Publicly Traded Companies Who Provide Evidence of Fraud.” 116 Stat. 802. The Court of Appeals described the latter two headings as “explicit guides” limiting protection under §1514A to employees of public companies. 670 F. 3d, at 69.

This Court has placed less weight on captions. In Trainmen v. Baltimore & Ohio R. Co., 331 U. S. 519 (1947), we explained that where, as here, “the [statutory] text is complicated and prolific, headings and titles can do no more than indicate the provisions in a most general manner.” Id., at 528. The under-inclusiveness of the two headings relied on by the Court of Appeals is apparent. The provision indisputably extends protection to employ- ees of companies that file reports with the SEC pursuant to §15(d) of the 1934 Act, even when such companies are not “publicly traded.” And the activity protected under §1514A is not limited to “provid[ing] evidence of fraud”; it also includes reporting violations of SEC rules or regula- tions. §1514A(a)(1). As in Trainmen, the headings here are “but a short-hand reference to the general subject matter” of the provision, “not meant to take the place of the detailed provisions of the text.” 331 U. S., at 528. Section 1514A is attended by numerous indicators that the statute’s prohibitions govern the relationship between a contractor and its own employees; we do not read the headings to “undo or limit” those signals. Id., at 529.12