368 U.S. 502 (1962), 33, Charles Dowd Box Co., Inc. v. Courtney

Docket Nº:No. 33
Citation:368 U.S. 502, 82 S.Ct. 519, 7 L.Ed.2d 483
Party Name:Charles Dowd Box Co., Inc. v. Courtney
Case Date:February 19, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 502

368 U.S. 502 (1962)

82 S.Ct. 519, 7 L.Ed.2d 483

Charles Dowd Box Co., Inc.



No. 33

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 19, 1962

Argued November 7, 1961



Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, which confers on federal district courts jurisdiction over suits for violation of contracts between employers and labor organizations representing employees in industries affecting interstate commerce, does not divest state courts of jurisdiction over such suits. Pp. 502-514.

341 Mass. 337,169 N.E.2d 885, affirmed.

STEWART, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 provides:

(a) Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy

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or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.1

The sole question presented by this case is whether this federal statute operates to divest a state court of jurisdiction over a suit for violation of a contract between an employer and a labor organization.

The petitioner is an employer engaged in an industry affecting commerce as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. The United Steelworkers of America, an international union, was the collective bargaining representative of the petitioner's production and maintenance employees, organized in Local 5158. A few

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weeks before the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement in 1957, negotiations were initiated between representatives of the union and of the petitioner with respect to proposals which the union had submitted for a new agreement. After a number of negotiating sessions, a "Stipulation" was signed by representatives [82 S.Ct. 521] of each party, continuing in effect many provisions of the old agreement, but providing for wage increases and making other changes with respect to holidays and vacations. The terms of the "Stipulation" were later embodied in a draft of a proposed new agreement. The petitioner originally announced to its employees that it would put into effect the wage changes and other provisions covered by the "Stipulation" and draft agreement, but, a few weeks later, notified its employees of its intention to terminate these changes and return "to the rates in effect as of May 18, 1957." It was the petitioner's position that its bargaining representatives had acted without authority in negotiating the new agreement, and that the union had been so advised before any contract had actually been concluded.

The present action was then brought in the Superior Court of Massachusetts for Worcester County by the respondents, local union officers and a staff representative of the International Union. The complaint alleged that the plaintiffs "fairly and adequately represent the interests of the entire membership" of the union and Local 5158, and asked for a judgment declaring that there existed a valid and binding collective bargaining agreement, for an order enjoining the company from terminating or violating it, and for an accounting and damages. Responding to the complaint, the petitioner interposed several defenses, among them the contention that, by reason of § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, the state court had no jurisdiction over the controversy.

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The trial court rejected this attack upon its jurisdiction, determined on the merits that the collective bargaining agreement was "valid and binding on the parties thereto," and entered a money judgment in conformity with the wage provisions of the agreement.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed, 341 Mass. 337, 169 N.E.2d 885, expressly ruling that § 301(a) has not made the federal courts the exclusive arbiters of suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce. As Chief Justice Wilkins put it,

We do not accept the contention that State courts are without jurisdiction. The statute does not so declare. The conferring of jurisdiction in actions at law upon the appropriate District Courts of the United States is not, in and of itself, a deprivation of an existing jurisdiction both at law and in equity in State courts. The case principally relied upon by the defendant, Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, does not so state. In the absence of a clear holding by the Supreme Court of the United States that Federal jurisdiction has been made exclusive, we shall not make what would be tantamount to an abdication of the hitherto undoubted jurisdiction of our own courts.2

Certiorari [82 S.Ct. 522] was granted to consider

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the important question of federal law thus presented. 365 U.S. 809. We agree with the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts that the courts of that Commonwealth had jurisdiction in this case, and we accordingly affirm the judgment before us.

It has not been argued, nor could it be, that § 301(a) speaks in terms of exclusivity of federal court jurisdiction over controversies within the statute's purview. On its face, § 301(a) simply gives the federal district courts jurisdiction over suits for violation of certain specified types of contracts. The statute does not state nor even suggest that such jurisdiction shall be exclusive. It provides that suits of the kind described "may" be brought in the federal district courts, not that they must be.

The petitioner points out, however, that this Court held in Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, that § 301(a) is more than jurisdictional -- that it authorizes federal courts to fashion, from the policy of our national labor laws, a body of federal law for the enforcement of agreements within its ambit. The Court recognized in that case that

state law, if compatible with the purpose of § 301, may be resorted to in order to find the rule that will best effectuate the federal policy,


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emphasized that "[a]ny state law applied . . . will be absorbed as federal law. . . ." 353 U.S. at 457.

It is argued that the rationale of Lincoln Mills would be frustrated if state courts were allowed to exercise concurrent jurisdiction over suits within the purview of § 301(a). The task of formulating federal common law in this area of labor management relations must be entrusted exclusively to the federal courts, it is said, because participation by the state courts would lead to a disharmony incompatible with the Lincoln Mills concept of an all-embracing body of federal law. Only the federal judiciary, the argument goes, possesses both the familiarity with federal labor legislation and the monolithic judicial system necessary for the proper achievement of the creative task envisioned by Lincoln Mills. An analogy is drawn to our decisions which have recognized the necessity of withdrawing from the state courts jurisdiction over controversies arguably subject to the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board.3

Whatever the merits of this argument as a matter of policy, we find nothing to indicate that Congress adopted such a policy in enacting § 301. The legislative history of the enactment nowhere suggests that, contrary to the clear import of the statutory language, Congress intended in enacting § 301(a) to deprive a party to a collective bargaining contract of the right to seek redress for its violation in an appropriate state tribunal.

We start with the premise that nothing in the concept of our federal system prevents state courts from enforcing rights created by federal law. Concurrent jurisdiction has been a common [82 S.Ct. 523] phenomenon in our judicial history, and exclusive federal court jurisdiction over cases arising under federal law has been the exception, rather than the

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rule.4 This Court's approach to the question of whether Congress has ousted state courts of jurisdiction was enunciated by Mr. Justice Bradley in Claflin v. Houseman, 93 U.S. 130, and has remained unmodified through the years.

The general question, whether State courts can exercise concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal courts in cases arising under the Constitution, laws, and treaties of the United States has been elaborately discussed both on the bench and in published treatises . . . , [and] the result of these discussions has, in our judgment, been . . . to affirm the jurisdiction, where it is not excluded by express provision, or by incompatibility in its exercise arising from the nature of the particular case.

93 U.S. at 136. See Robb v. Connolly, 111 U.S. 624; Second Employers' Liability Cases, 223 U.S. 1, 56-59; St. Louis, B. & M. R. Co. v. Taylor, 266 U.S. 200; Garrett v. Moore-McCormack Co., 317 U.S. 239, 245; Brown v. Gerdes, 321 U.S. 178, 188 (concurring opinion).5 To hold that § 301(a) operates to deprive the state courts of a substantial segment of their established jurisdiction over contract actions would thus be to disregard this consistent history of hospitable acceptance of concurrent jurisdiction.

Such a construction of § 301(a) would also disregard the particularized history behind the enactment of that provision of the federal labor law. The legislative history makes clear that the basic purpose of § 301(a) was not to limit, but to expand, the availability of forums for the enforcement of contracts made by labor organizations.

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Moreover, there is explicit evidence that Congress expressly intended not to encroach upon the existing jurisdiction of the state courts.

The Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 represented a...

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