Argued: March 21, 2019
from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Tennessee at Jackson. No. 1:16-cv-01319-S. Thomas
Anderson, District Judge.
Wilson, THE STEVE WILSON FIRM, Memphis, Tennessee, for
L. Holt, Jr., JACKSON, SHIELDS, YESIER & HOLT, Memphis,
Tennessee, for Appellee.
Wilson, THE STEVE WILSON FIRM, Memphis, Tennessee, Bryce
Ashby, DONATI LAW, PLLC, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellant.
L. Holt, Jr., Paula J. Jackson, JACKSON, SHIELDS, YESIER
& HOLT, Memphis, Tennessee, for Appellee. Christopher Ho,
Marisa Díaz, LEGAL AID AT WORK, San Francisco,
California, for Amicus Curiae.
Before: GRIFFIN, KETHLEDGE, and THAPAR, Circuit Judges.
THAPAR, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
courts are not in the business of answering hypothetical
questions. Let alone hypothetical questions of constitutional
law. In this case, the district court held that Tennessee law
was preempted. But in doing so, the court skipped past the
question whether state law had been violated in the first
place. Under well-established principles of constitutional
avoidance, we decline to address the hypothetical presented
by this appeal. Accordingly, we vacate the district
understand our decision, one need only know the procedural
history of this case. In 2016, Ricardo Torres sued his former
employer, Precision Industries, alleging that the company had
fired him for seeking benefits under Tennessee's
Workers' Compensation Law. Tenn. Code Ann. §
50-6-101 et seq. The district court held a bench
trial, during which Precision argued that it had not
retaliated against Torres and that, even if it had, the
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 preempted any
remedy because Torres had not been authorized to work in the
United States. Pub. L. No. 99-603, 100 Stat. 3359. At the end
of trial, the district court granted judgment to Precision on
the preemption ground without making any factual findings as
to the state law claim. We review that decision de novo.
See Kehoe Component Sales Inc. v. Best Lighting Prods.,
Inc., 796 F.3d 576, 585 (6th Cir. 2015).
usual in cases about preemption, we start with the
Constitution. The Supremacy Clause provides that "[the]
Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall
be made in Pursuance thereof . . . shall be the supreme Law
of the Land . . . any Thing in the Constitution or laws of
any state to the Contrary notwithstanding." U.S. Const.
art. VI, cl. 2. In theory, the Clause may "only
declare a truth, which flows immediately and necessarily
from the institution of a Federal Government." The
Federalist No. 33, at 207 (Alexander Hamilton) (J. Cooke ed.,
1961). But in practice, it supplies an important "rule
of decision," which instructs that courts "must not
give effect to state laws that conflict with federal
laws." Armstrong v. Exceptional Child Ctr.,
Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1378, 1383 (2015). That rule has come to
be known as the doctrine of preemption.
the years, the Supreme Court has constructed an elaborate
preemption taxonomy: express versus implied; field versus
conflict; impossibility versus obstacle. See, e.g.,
Oneok, Inc. v. Learjet, Inc., 135 S.Ct. 1591, 1595
(2015). Our decision, however, does not turn on any specific
category of preemption, so we can cut straight to the chase.
The question (as presented by the parties) is whether the
Immigration Reform and Control Act ...