359 U.S. 236 (1959), 66, San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon

Docket Nº:No. 66
Citation:359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775
Party Name:San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon
Case Date:April 20, 1959
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 236

359 U.S. 236 (1959)

79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775

San Diego Building Trades Council



No. 66

United States Supreme Court

April 20, 1959

Argued January 20, 1959



Although the National Labor Relations Board had declined to exercise jurisdiction, a California state court was precluded by the National Labor Relations Act from awarding damages to respondents under state law for economic injuries resulting from the peaceful picketing of their plant by labor unions which had not been selected by a majority of respondents' employees as their bargaining agents. Pp. 237-248.

(a) When an activity arguably subject to § 7 or § 8 of the National Labor Relations Act, as was the picketing here involved, the States, as well as the federal courts, must defer to the exclusive competence of the National Labor Relations Board. P. 245.

(b) Failure of the National Labor Relations Board to assume jurisdiction does not leave the States free to regulate activities they would otherwise be precluded from regulating. Pp. 245-246.

(c) Since the National Labor Relations Board has not adjudicated the status of the conduct here involved, and since such activity is arguably within the compass of § 7 or § 8 of the Act, the State's jurisdiction is displaced. P. 246.

(d) A different conclusion is not required by the fact that all that is involved here is an attempt by the State to award damages, since state regulation can be as effectively exerted through an award of damages as through some form of preventive relief. Pp. 246-247.

(e) United Automobile Workers v. Russell, 356 U.S. 634, and United Construction Workers v. Laburnum Corp., 347 U.S. 656, distinguished. Pp. 247-248.

49 Cal. 2d 595, 320 P.2d 473, reversed.

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FRANKFURTER, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case is before us for the second time. The present litigation began with a dispute between the petitioning unions and respondents, co-partners in the business of selling lumber and other materials in California. Respondents began an action in the Superior Court for the County of San Diego, asking for an injunction and damages. Upon hearing, the trial court found the following facts. In March of 1953, the unions sought from respondents an agreement to retain in their employ only those workers who were already members of the unions, or who applied for membership within thirty days. Respondents refused, claiming that none of their employees had shown a desire to join a union, and that, in any event, they could not accept such an arrangement until one of the unions had been designated by the employees as a collective bargaining agent. The unions began at once peacefully to picket the respondents' place of business, and to exert pressure on customers and suppliers in order to persuade them to stop dealing with respondents. The sole purpose of these pressures was to compel execution of the proposed contract. The unions contested this finding, claiming that the only purpose of their activities was to educate the workers and persuade them to become members. On the basis of its findings, the court enjoined the unions from picketing and from the use of other pressures to force an agreement, until one of

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them had been properly designated as a collective bargaining agent. The court also awarded $1,000 damages for losses found to have been sustained.

At the time the suit in the state court was started, respondents had begun a representation proceeding before the National Labor Relations Board. The Regional Director declined jurisdiction, presumably because the amount of interstate commerce involved did not meet [79 S.Ct. 776] the Board's monetary standards in taking jurisdiction.

On appeal, the California Supreme Court sustained the judgment of the Superior Court, 45 Cal.2d 657, 291 P.2d 1, holding that, since the National Labor Relations Board had declined to exercise its jurisdiction, the California courts had power over the dispute. They further decided that the conduct of the union constituted an unfair labor practice under § 8(b)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act, and hence was not privileged under California law. As the California court itself later pointed out, this decision did not specify what law, state or federal, was the basis of the relief granted. Both state and federal law played a part but, "[a]ny distinction as between those laws was not thoroughly explored." Garmon v. San Diego Bldg. Trades Council, 49 Cal.2d 595, 602, 320 P.2d 473, 477.

We granted certiorari, 351 U.S. 923, and decided the case together with Guss v. Utah Labor Relations Board, 353 U.S. 1, and Amalgamated Meat Cutters, etc. v. Fairlawn Meats, Inc., 353 U.S. 20. In those cases, we held that the refusal of the National Labor Relations Board to assert jurisdiction did not leave with the States power over activities they otherwise would be preempted from regulating. Both Guss and Fairlawn involved relief of an equitable nature. In vacating and remanding the judgment of the California court in this case, we pointed out that those cases controlled this one "in its major aspects." 353 U.S. at 28. However, since it was not clear whether the

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judgment for damages would be sustained under California law, we remanded to the state court for consideration of that local law issue. The federal question, namely, whether the National Labor Relations Act precluded California from granting an award for damages arising out of the conduct in question, could not be appropriately decided until the antecedent state law question was decided by the state court.

On remand, the California court, in accordance with our decision in Guss, set aside the injunction, but sustained the award of damages. Garmon v. San Diego Bldg. Trades Council, 49 Cal.2d 595, 320 P.2d 473 (three judges dissenting). After deciding that California had jurisdiction to award damages for injuries caused by the union's activities, the California court held that those activities constituted a tort based on an unfair labor practice under state law. In so holding, the court relied on general tort provisions of the California Civil Code, §§ 1667, 1708, as well as state enactments dealing specifically with labor relations, Calif. Labor Code, § 923 (1937); ibid., §§ 1115-1118 (1947).

We again granted certiorari, 357 U.S. 925, to determine whether the California court had jurisdiction to award damages arising out of peaceful union activity which it could not enjoin.

The issue is a variant of a familiar theme. It began with Allen-Bradley v. Wisconsin Board, 315 U.S. 740, was greatly intensified by litigation flowing from the Taft-Hartley Act, and has recurred here in almost a score of cases during the last decade. The comprehensive regulation of industrial relations by Congress, novel federal legislation twenty-five years ago but now an integral part of our economic life, inevitably gave rise to difficult problems of federal-state relations. To be sure, in the abstract, these problems came to us as ordinary questions of statutory construction. But they involved a more complicated

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and perceptive process than [79 S.Ct. 777] is conveyed by the delusive phrase, "ascertaining the intent of the legislature." Many of these problems probably could not have been, at all events were not, foreseen by the Congress. Others were only dimly perceived, and their precise scope only vaguely defined. This Court was called upon to apply a new and complicated legislative scheme, the aims and social policy of which were drawn with broad strokes, while the details had to be filled in, to no small extent, by the judicial process. Recently we indicated the task that was thus cast upon this Court in carrying out with fidelity the purposes of Congress, but doing so by giving application to congressional incompletion. What we said in Weber v. Anheuser-Busch Inc., 348 U.S. 468, deserves repetition, because the considerations there outlined guide this day's decision:

By the Taft-Hartley Act, Congress did not exhaust the full sweep of legislative power over industrial relations given by the Commerce Clause. Congress formulated a code whereby it outlawed some aspects of labor activities and left others free for the operation of economic forces. As to both categories, the areas that have been preempted by federal authority, and thereby withdrawn from state power, are not susceptible of delimitation by fixed metes and bounds. Obvious conflict, actual or potential, leads to easy judicial exclusion of state action. Such was the situation in Garner v. Teamsters Union, supra. But as the opinion in that case recalled, the Labor Management Relations Act "leaves much to the states, though Congress has refrained from telling us how much." 346 U.S. at 488. This penumbral area can be rendered progressively clear only by the course of litigation.

348 U.S. at 480-481.

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The case before us concerns one of the most teasing and frequently litigated areas of industrial relations, the multitude of activities regulated by §§ 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act. 61 Stat. 140, 29 U.S.C. §§ 157, 158. These broad provisions govern both protected "concerted activities" and unfair labor practices. They regulate the vital, economic instruments of the strike and the picket line, and impinge on the clash of the still unsettled claims between employers and labor unions. The extent to which the variegated laws of the several States are displaced by a single, uniform, national rule has been a matter of frequent and recurring concern. As we pointed out the other day,

the statutory implications concerning what has been taken from the States and what has been left to them are of a Delphic nature, to be translated into concreteness by the process of litigating elucidation.

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