310 U.S. 113 (1940), 593, Perkins v. Lukens Steel Co.

Docket NºNo. 593
Citation310 U.S. 113, 60 S.Ct. 869, 84 L.Ed. 1108
Party NamePerkins v. Lukens Steel Co.
Case DateApril 29, 1940
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 113

310 U.S. 113 (1940)

60 S.Ct. 869, 84 L.Ed. 1108



Lukens Steel Co.

No. 593

United States Supreme Court

April 29, 1940

Argued April 3, 1940




The Public Contracts Act of June 30, 1936, requires that all contracts with the United States for the manufacture or furnishing of materials (in amounts exceeding $10,000) shall include a stipulation that all persons employed by the contractor in the manufacture or furnishing of such materials will be paid not less than the prevailing minimum wages "as determined by the Secretary of Labor . . . for persons employed . . . in the particular or similar industries . . . in the locality." Producers of iron and steel sought to enjoin the Secretary of Labor, and other officials and agents authorized to make purchases for the Government, from continuing

Page 114

in effect a wage determination made by the Secretary for that industry. Complainants asserted that the construction given by the Secretary to the term "locality" was arbitrary, capricious, and unauthorized by law, and that if, in order to bid on Government contracts, they must abide by the wage determination thus made, they would suffer irreparable loss and damage, for which there was no plain, adequate, and complete remedy at law.

Held, that the complainants were without standing to maintain the suit. P. 125.

1. The bill failed to show that any legal rights of the complainants were invaded or threatened. P. 125.

2. In the absence of statute, damage resulting from action by the Government which does not invade any recognized legal right is irremediable. P. 125.

3. That the Secretary of Labor is charged with an erroneous interpretation of the term "locality" in making the wage determination is no basis for the suit. P. 125.

4. Complainants are not entitled to vindicate any general interest which the public may have in the Secretary's construction or administration of the Act. P. 125.

5. Neither R.S. § 3709, requiring advertising for proposals in respect of Government purchases and contracts, nor the Public Contracts Act itself, affords any basis for the suit. P. 126.

6. The Act does not provide for judicial review of wage determinations. P. 128.

7. The Act vests no right in prospective bidders. P. 127.

8. Congress has not by the Act exercised any regulatory power over private business or employment, and cases involving governmental regulation of private business are distinguishable. P. 128.

9. The defendants have not tortiously invaded private rights. P. 121.

10. Complainants were not entitled to a declaratory judgment. P. 132.

11. The conclusion that the complainants lack standing to sue is based upon principles implicit in the constitutional division of authority in our system of Government and the impropriety of judicial interpretations of law at the instance of those who show no more than a possible injury to the public. P. 132.

70 App.D.C. 354, 107 F.2d 627, reversed.

Certiorari, 309 U.S. 643, to review the reversal of a order of the District Court dismissing a bill in equity.

Page 116

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

In exercise of its authority to determine conditions under which purchases of Government supplies shall be made, Congress passed the Public Contracts Act of [60 S.Ct. 872] June 30, 1936.1 By virtue of that Act, sellers must agree to pay employees engaged in producing goods so purchased

not less than the minimum wages as determined by the Secretary of Labor to be the prevailing minimum wages for persons employed on similar work or in the particular

Page 117

or similar industries or groups of industries currently operating in the locality in which the . . . supplies . . . are to be manufactured or furnished under said contract.

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has held that the Secretary erroneously construed the term "locality" to include a larger geographical area than the Act contemplates, and has ordered six Members of the Cabinet, including the Secretary of Labor, the Director of Procurement, and all other officials responsible for purchases necessary in the operation of the Federal Government, not to abide by or give effect to the wage determination made by the Secretary for the iron and steel industry either as to the complaining companies or any others. In this vital industry, by action of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, the Act has been suspended and inoperative for more than a year.

We must therefore decide whether a Federal court, upon complaint of individual iron and steel manufacturers, may restrain the Secretary and officials who do the Government's purchasing from carrying out an administrative wage determination by the Secretary not merely as applied to parties before the Court, but as to all other manufacturers in this entire nationwide industry. Involving, as it does, the marking of boundaries of permissible judicial inquiry into administrative and executive responsibilities, this problem can best be understood against the background of what took place before the Court of Appeals for the District acted:

July 11, 1938, all the iron and steel companies in the United States were given notice that the Secretary contemplated proceedings for determining the minimum prevailing wage for their industry. On the 25th and 26th of that month, hearings were had before the Public Contracts Board, also functioning under the Act. Many companies, and all of those involved here, were represented in the hearings. Companies from the entire United

Page 118

States filed briefs and submitted information and suggestions, and these producers who are parties here had notice of and actively participated in the various stages of the proceedings. After the hearing, time for filing of briefs was allowed. Following investigation of testimony, exhibits, letters, telegrams, briefs, data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and arguments of representatives of both labor and industry itself, the Board, October 27, 1938, made its findings of fact, conclusions and recommendations: (a), Accepting recommendations of industry and labor, the Board adopted -- with minor exceptions -- the definition of the steel industry previously in effect under the National Industrial Recovery Act, 48 Stat. 195; (b), "the base rates paid to the workers classified as common laborers" was utilized as a basis for finding the minimum wage prevailing in the industry and a common laborer was defined as "one who performs physical or manual labor of a general character and simple nature, requiring no special training, judgment nor skill;" (c), the view that municipalities be treated as the geographical limit of a "locality," and that different minimum prevailing wage standards be adopted for small, as distinguished from larger, companies, was rejected. The Board pointed out that "the main channels of trade in the industry take their course far beyond the confines of local producing areas;" that "conventional measurement of miles on the map to outline the marketing areas of the iron and steel producers" was unsuitable; that "geographic location does not limit the efforts of iron and steel manufacturers to secure Government business;" that "the workers being paid wages below the base rates are employed in large, medium and small size companies and in plants located in all parts of the country;" and that, in fixing a "locality," all these factors, as well as geographic and economic considerations, were relevant.

Page 119

The majority of the Board suggested two localities, one for the Southern States and another for the remainder of the steel producing States. One member disagreed, and insisted upon four localities throughout the [60 S.Ct. 873] nation, but noted that "the Board is agreed on all the essential facts before it in the case." He recognized that

the law . . . permits the division of the country into localities for the purpose of determining minimum wages. No rule is laid down to define the extent of any localities. . . . A too minute concept of locality would obviously nullify the law, for each plant must necessarily occupy a different locale or site from every other. To reduce the interpretation of locality to its most minute point would be to find a minimum wage prevailing in each plant. . . . When we depart from this interpretation, we are immediately thrown upon judgment. . . . Obviously we must look for wage patterns or uniformities. . . . Again, judgment must be relied upon for the answer.

Excepting to the Board's recommendations, the companies now before this Court urged that the Secretary make a finding of minimum prevailing wages with "locality" given the connotation of a subdivision of the respective States as originally provided in the Bacon-Davis Act.2

On December 20, 1938, the Assistant Secretary of Labor, acting for the Secretary, heard arguments and received briefs both from industry and labor organizations. He did not adopt the recommendations of the Board in full, but instead divided the industry of the entire country into six "localities," proceeding, however, upon the view that to construe "locality" to mean small political divisions of the States, as the Bacon-Davis Act had done in express terms, would render "effective administration of the Act . . . almost impossible." It was pointed out that

Page 120

this narrowly restricted construction of the word "locality" . . . is contrary to the administrative construction consistently adhered to by the Secretary of Labor in the administration of the Act,

and that, while Congress had closely followed the language of the Davis-Bacon Act in some respects, it had "carefully avoided the use of the more narrowly restrictive language of `city, town, village or other civil subdivision.'" In the twenty-two preceding wage...

To continue reading

Request your trial