330 U.S. 258 (1947), 759, United States v. United Mine Workers or America

Docket Nº:No. 759
Citation:330 U.S. 258, 67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884
Party Name:United States v. United Mine Workers or America
Case Date:March 06, 1947
Court:United States Supreme Court

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330 U.S. 258 (1947)

67 S.Ct. 677, 91 L.Ed. 884

United States


United Mine Workers or America

No. 759

United States Supreme Court

March 6, 1947

Argued January 14, 1947




1. Neither the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 47 Stat. 70, nor § 20 of the Clayton Act, 38 Stat. 738, deprives a federal district court of jurisdiction to issue a restraining order and preliminary injunction in a suit by the Government to prevent a union and its officers from precipitating a nationwide strike in the bituminous coal mines pending judicial interpretation of a labor contract between the Government and the union, at a time when the mines are being operated by the Government during a national emergency pursuant to an executive order issued by the President under his constitutional authority as President and as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy and authority conferred upon him by the War Labor Disputes Act, 57 Stat. 163. Pp. 269-289.

(a) The general term "employer," as used in the restrictive provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act and the Clayton Act, does not include the Government. Pp. 269-284.

(b) Neither the policy nor the legislative history of those Acts discloses any intention of Congress to make them applicable to disputes between the Government and its own employees. Pp. 273-280.

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(c) Views expressed in debates on the War Labor Disputes Act eleven years after the passage of the Norris-LaGuardia Act cannot be accepted as authoritative guides to the construction of the latter, when some of those making the statements were not members of Congress at the time of the passage of the Act and when none had been a member of the committee which reported the bill. Pp. 281-22.

(d) Neither the rejection of a substitute bill which would have authorized injunctions upon application of the Attorney General to restrain violations of the War Labor Disputes Act nor anything else in the legislative history of that Act constitutes an authoritative expression of Congress directing the courts to withhold injunctive relief from the Government in disputes with its own employees. Pp. 282-284.

(e) For the purpose of this case, the miners are employees of the Government, even though the private managers of the mines have been retained as operating managers for the Government and the regulations provide that none of the earnings or liabilities resulting from the operation of the mines are for the account or at the risk or expense of the Government. Pp. 284-288.

(f) In seizing and operating the mines, the Government was exercising a sovereign function. P. 289.

2. Even if the Norris-LaGuardia Act were applicable, the District Court, in the circumstances of this case, had power to issue a restraining order for the purpose of preserving existing conditions pending a decision upon its own jurisdiction; and disobedience is punishable as criminal contempt. Pp. 289-295.

3. In this case, none of the procedural aspects of the trial involved error so prejudicial as to require reversal of the judgments for civil and criminal contempt. Pp. 295-301.

(a) The proceedings complied with Rule 42(b) of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure requiring criminal contempt to be prosecuted on notice stating the essential facts constituting the contempt charged. P. 296.

(b) Rule 42(b) was not designed to cast doubt upon the propriety of instituting criminal contempt proceedings on pleadings resting only on information and belief. P. 296.

(c) Although the requirement of Rule 42(b) that the notice issuing to defendants describe the criminal contempt charged as such was not complied with, this did not result in substantial prejudice to defendants where they were fully aware that a criminal contempt was charged, acted accordingly in their motions and

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arguments, and actually enjoyed during the trial all the enhanced protections accorded defendants in criminal contempt proceedings. Pp. 297-298.

(d) Defendants were properly tried by the court without a jury, since their demand for a jury trial was based only on §11 of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, and this case was not one "arising under" that Act. P. 298.

(e) Having been accorded all rights and privileges owing to defendants in criminal contempt cases, defendants were not substantially prejudiced because their trial included a proceeding in civil contempt and was carried on in the main equity suit. Pp. 298-301.

(f) In the circumstances of this case, there was good cause for the extension of the temporary restraining order at a time when there was in progress argument on defendants' motion to vacate the rule to show cause in the contempt proceedings. P. 301.

4. The Government was entitled to obtain relief in this case by way of civil contempt, and was not limited to a proceeding in criminal contempt. Pp. 301-302.

5. The contempt continued for 15 days from issuance of the restraining order until the finding of guilty. Its willfulness was not qualified by any concurrent attempt of defendants to challenge the order. Immediately following the finding of guilty, defendant Lewis, president of the union, stated openly in court that defendants would adhere to their policy of defiance. This policy was causing economic paralysis which was rapidly spreading from the coal mines to practically every other major industry. It constituted a serious threat to orderly constitutional government and to the economic and social welfare of the nation. While Lewis was the aggressive leader, he acted as the representative of the union; and it was the members of the union who executed the nationwide strike.


(a) The trial court properly found both Lewis and the union guilty of both civil and criminal contempt. Pp. 303-304.

(b) The record clearly warrants a fine of $10,000 against Lewis for criminal contempt; and that fine is sustained. P. 304.

(c) The record does not warrant the unconditional imposition of a fine of $3,500,000 against the union, and the judgment against the union is modified so as to require it (1) to pay a fine of $700,000 and (2) to pay an additional fine of $2,800,000, unless it shows within five days after the issuance of the mandate herein that it has fully complied with the temporary restraining order and the preliminary injunction. Pp. 304-305.

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6. In imposing a fine for criminal contempt, a trial judge may properly take into consideration the extent of the willful and deliberate defiance of the court's order, the seriousness of the consequences of the contumacious behavior, the necessity of effectively terminating the defendant's defiance as required by the public interest, and the importance of deterring such acts in the future. P. 303.

7. Because of the nature of these standards, great reliance must be placed upon the discretion of the trial judge. P. 303.

8. Where the purpose of judicial sanctions in civil contempt proceedings is to coerce the defendant into compliance with the court's order, the court must consider the character and magnitude of the harm threatened by continued contumacy and the probable effectiveness of any suggested sanction in bringing about the desired result. P. 304.

9. A court which has returned a conviction for contempt must, in fixing the amount of a fine to be imposed as a punishment or as a means of securing future compliance, consider the amount of defendant's financial resources and the consequent seriousness of the burden to that particular defendant. P. 304.

70 F.Supp. 42, modified and affirmed.

In a Federal District Court, a union and its president were adjudged guilty of criminal and civil contempt and fined for violation of a temporary restraining order issued in a suit by the Government in a labor dispute arising while the coal mines were in the possession of, and were being operated by, the Government pursuant to Executive Order 0728, 11 F.R. 5593, issued under the President's constitutional authority as Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy and authority conferred upon him by the War Labor Disputes Act, 57 Stat. 163. 70 F.Supp. 42. While an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia was pending, this Court granted certiorari pursuant to § 240(a) of the Judicial Code. 329 U.S. 708, 709, 710. Affirmed, except that the fine imposed on the union is modified conditionally, p. 307.

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VINSON, J., lead opinion

MR. CHIEF JUSTICE VINSON delivered the opinion of the Court.

In October, 1946, the United States was in possession of, and operating, the major [67 S.Ct. 681] portion of the country's bituminous coal mines.1 Terms and conditions of employment

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were controlled "for the period of Government possession" by an agreement2 entered into on May 29, 1946, between Secretary of Interior Krug, as Coal Mines Administrator, and John L. Lewis, as President of the United Mine Workers of America.3 The Krug-Lewis agreement embodied far-reaching changes favorable to the miners,4 and, except as amended and supplemented therein, the agreement carried forward the terms and conditions of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of April 11, 1945.5

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On October 21, 1946, the defendant Lewis directed a letter to Secretary Krug and presented issues which led directly to the present controversy. According to the defendant Lewis, the Krug-Lewis agreement carried forward § 15 of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of April 11, 1945. Under that section, either party to the contract was privileged to give ten days' notice in writing of a desire for a negotiating conference which the other party was required to attend; fifteen days after the beginning of the conference, either party might give notice in writing of the termination of the agreement, effective five days after receipt of such notice. Asserting authority under this clause, the defendant...

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