327 U.S. 633 (1946), 474, United States v. Carbone

Docket Nº:No. 474
Citation:327 U.S. 633, 66 S.Ct. 734, 90 L.Ed. 904
Party Name:United States v. Carbone
Case Date:March 25, 1946
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 633

327 U.S. 633 (1946)

66 S.Ct. 734, 90 L.Ed. 904

United States

v.

Carbone

No. 474

United States Supreme Court

March 25, 1946

Argued February 26, 27, 1946

APPEAL FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES

FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

Syllabus

1. The Kickback Act of June 13, 1934, provides that "whoever" shall induce any person employed on any federally financed work

to give up any part of the compensation to which he is entitled under his contract of employment by force, intimidation, threat of procuring dismissal from such employment, or by any other manner whatsoever,

shall be subject to the penalty therein prescribed. Appellees, union officials, were indicted for conspiring to violate the Act. The indictment charged, inter alia, that, by agreement between appellees and contractors engaged in construction of federal buildings, the contractors agreed to employ as laborers only such persons as were approved by appellees, and to discharge any such employees at appellees' request. Appellees approved for employment, besides union members, only such persons as paid appellees the sum of $5, which was to be regarded as an installment upon the union initiation fee. Payment to appellees of $5 per week thereafter was required until the full initiation fee had been paid, "or the person would not be permitted to continue work upon the said construction." Appellees, contrary to union rules, did not account to the union for moneys received from laborers who quit the employment before paying the initiation fee in full.

Held: that the indictment did not charge an offense punishable under the Kickback Act. P. 637.

2. The Kickback Act must be construed in the light of the evils which it was designed to remedy. P. 637.

3. The Kickback Act was not intended to affect legitimate union activity, nor to punish unlawful acts, though committed by union officials in violation of union rules, which are not in the nature of kickbacks. P. 639.

4. On appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act, this Court is bound by the District Court's interpretation of the indictment as dealing with ordinary union initiation fees, rather than with kickbacks. P. 641.

61 F.Supp. 882 affirmed.

Appeal under the Criminal Appeals Act from a judgment dismissing an indictment of the respondents for conspiring to violate the Kickback Act. Affirmed, p. 642.

Page 634

MURPHY, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MURPHY delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case comes to us under the Criminal Appeals Act1 directly from the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. It raises an important question as to the meaning and scope of § 1 of the Act of June 13, 1934,2 commonly known as the Kickback Act, making it unlawful to prevent anyone employed in construction or repair work of a public nature or financed in whole or in part by the United States from receiving the full compensation to which he is entitled.

Three of the appellees are officers of Local 39 of the International Hod Carriers' Building and Common Laborers' Union of America; the fourth appellee is president of the Eastern Massachusetts Laborers District Council, and is also employed by Local 39. They were indicted for conspiring to violate § 1 of the Kickback Act. It was charged

Page 635

that, during the period of the alleged conspiracy, October 1, 1940, to March 30, 1941, two contractors were engaged in the construction of various public buildings for the United States at Fort Devens, Massachusetts. The appellees, by virtue of their positions with Local 39, made an agreement with the contractors whereby the latter undertook to employ as laborers only such persons as were approved by appellees, and to discharge any such employees at appellees' request. The contractors also agreed to employ forty persons named by the appellees, known as stewards, to perform such duties as the appellees might direct, and to provide an office for the appellees on the site of the construction. About 7,500 laborers were employed during the course of the construction.

Pursuant to this agreement, the appellees approved to the contractors for employment as laborers members of Local 39 or of other locals of the International Union, and only such other persons as paid the appellees the sum of $5.00. The appellees represented to the latter persons that this payment would be regarded as an installment upon the initiation fee of Local 39 and the International Union, and that each such employee would be required to pay the appellees $5.00 per week until the total initiation fee was paid "or the person would not be permitted to continue work upon the said construction." Receipts were given for each weekly payment. The initiation fee was originally $50.00, but it was later reduced to $40.00, and then to $20.00.

It was further charged that the appellees directed the stewards each week to go among the laborers and demand of each nonmember of the union either that he display a receipt showing that he had paid the $5.00 for the current week or that he immediately pay that sum to the stewards or to the appellees "under threat of procuring his dismissal from his employment" if he did not do so. The appellees allegedly were able to carry out this threat by reason of

Page 636

their agreement with the contractors, the appellees

well knowing and intending that the laborers would pay the said five dollars out of the compensation to which they were entitled under their contracts of employment with the said contractors.

The indictment also stated that the appellees kept no records of those who made payments to them. But, if a laborer should present receipts showing payment of the initiation fee in full, his name was recorded and sent to the headquarters of the International Union with the sum of $5.35, representing the share of the fee to which the [66 S.Ct. 736] International was entitled under its rules. And the appellees

made no report to the Local 39, or to anyone, of the amount they had received from laborers paying less than the full initiation fee as aforesaid, or the total sums they had collected in this way, nor did they cause any of the sums collected in this way and received by them to be recorded in the Financial Secretary's book as the rules of the said International Union require, the defendants [appellees] well knowing that the majority of those who paid the initial five dollars would not and did not complete payment of the full initiation fee.

The indictment concluded by charging that the appellees acted in concert in these matters, that they induced the laborers to give up part of the compensation to which they were entitled under their contracts, that they represented that they were acting for Local 39 and the International, and that they concealed from these organizations the sums they thus collected from laborers who did not pay the initiation fee in full.

The appellees moved to dismiss the indictment, alleging as one ground that it did not state an offense cognizable in law. Relying upon this Court's decision in United States v. Laudani, 320 U.S. 543, the District Court granted the motions. 61 F.Supp. 882, 883. It plainly was of the view that the facts as alleged in the indictment fell

Page 637

outside the scope of the Kickback Act. It stated that it did not believe that

either the history or the purpose of the Kickback legislation warrants an extension of its scope to include these defendants. . . . The closed shop is within the legitimate objectives of trade unionism. Implementation of this objective by the means used by these defendants should not expose them to the risk of criminal prosecution.

From this judgment, the United States appeals.

We agree with the District Court. Section 1 of the Kickback Act punishes "whoever" induces another person employed on a federally financed project

to give up any part of the compensation to which he is entitled under his contract of employment, by force, intimidation, threat of procuring dismissal from such employment, or by any other manner whatsoever.

The United States contends that this provision applies to the instant situation inasmuch as the appellees induced certain workers on a federal project to give up part of the compensation to which they were entitled by threatening to procure dismissal from their employment. Emphasis is placed upon the allegation in the indictment that the appellees had power to enforce this threat by reason of the closed shop agreement with the contractors, and upon the further allegation that the appellees neglected to report or to turn over to Local 39 of the International Union all of the money collected, as required by the rules of those organizations.

But, as is apparent from our discussion in the Laudani case, not every person or act falling within the literal sweep of the language of the Kickback Act necessarily comes within its intent and purpose. That language must be read and applied in light of the evils which gave rise to the statute and the aims which the proponents sought to achieve. When that is done, the inapplicability of the Act to the facts set forth in the indictment becomes clear.

Page 638

The statute grew out of an investigation of so-called rackets by a subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce pursuant to S.Res. 74, 73d Cong., 2d Sess. This investigation

revealed that large sums of money have been extracted from the pockets of American labor, to enrich contractors, subcontractors, and their officials.

S.Rep. No. 803, 73d Cong., 2d Sess. It was found that laborers, especially those pursuing the building trades, often were paid the prevailing rate of wages, but were compelled by their employers to give back or kick back a...

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