370 U.S. 238 (1962), 430, Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co.

Docket Nº:No. 430
Citation:370 U.S. 238, 82 S.Ct. 1318, 8 L.Ed.2d 462
Party Name:Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co.
Case Date:June 18, 1962
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 238

370 U.S. 238 (1962)

82 S.Ct. 1318, 8 L.Ed.2d 462

Atkinson

v.

Sinclair Refining Co.

No. 430

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1962

Argued April 18, 1962

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

1. Under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, an employer sued an international union and its local union in a Federal District Court for damages for a strike or work stoppage caused by them in violation of a collective bargaining agreement. The agreement provided for grievance procedures culminating, if requested by the union, in compulsory, final, and binding arbitration of employee grievances regarding wages, hours and working conditions, and the union promised not to strike over such matters. The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on various grounds and to stay the action, for the reasons that (1) all of the issues in the suit were referable to arbitration under the contract, and (2) important issues in the suit were also involved in certain grievances filed by employees and said to be in arbitration under the contract.

Held: this count of the complaint should not be dismissed or stayed. Pp. 241-245.

(a) This count of the complaint properly states a cause of action under § 301, and is to be governed by federal law. P. 241.

(b) The contract here involved is not susceptible to a construction binding the employer to arbitrate its claim for damages against the union for breach of the undertaking not to strike. Pp.241-243.

(c) It does not appear from the record that the arbitrator's award on pending employee grievances would determine any significant issue in the damage suit. Pp. 243-245.

2. Basing jurisdiction on diversity of citizenship, the employer, in another count of the same complaint, also sought damages for the same strike or work stoppage from 24 individual employees, each of whom was alleged to have been an agent of the union and to have been acting in a representative capacity when he allegedly fomented or assisted and participated in the strike or work stoppage in violation of the collective bargaining contract.

Held: under § 301, this count of the complaint was governed by federal, not state, law, and it was properly dismissed for failure to state a claim for which relief could be granted, since it actually was based

Page 239

on the union's breach of its contract, and a union's officers or members cannot be held personally liable for the union's actions. Pp. 245-249.

290 F.2d 312 affirmed in part and reversed in part.

WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The respondent company employs at its refinery in East Chicago, Indiana, approximately 1,700 men, for whom the petitioning international union and its local are bargaining agents, and 24 of whom are also petitioners here. In early February, 1959, the respondent company docked three of its employees at the East Chicago refinery a total of $2.19. On February 13 and 14, 999 of [82 S.Ct. 1320] the 1,700 employees participated in a strike or work stoppage, or so the complaint alleges. On March 12, the company filed this suit for damages and an injunction, naming the international and its local as defendants, together with 24 individual union member employees.

Court I of the complaint, which was in three counts, stated a cause of action under § 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act against the international and its local. It alleged an existing collective bargaining agreement between the international and the company containing, among other matters, a promise by the union not to strike over any cause which could be the subject of a grievance under other provisions of the contract. It was

Page 240

alleged that the international and the local caused the strike or work stoppage occurring on February 13 and 14, and that the strike was over the pay claims of three employees in the amount of $2.19, which claims were properly subject to the grievance procedure provided by the contract. The complaint asked for damages in the amount of $12,500 from the international and the local.

Count II of the complaint purported to invoke the diversity jurisdiction of the District Court. It asked judgment in the same amount against 24 individual employees, each of whom was alleged to be a committeeman of the local union and an agent of the international, and responsible for representing the international, the local, and their members. The complaint asserted that, on February 13 and 14, the individuals,

contrary to their duty to plaintiff to abide by said contract, and maliciously confederating and conspiring together to cause the plaintiff expense and damage, and to induce breaches of the said contract, and to interfere with performance thereof by the said labor organizations and the affected employees, and to cause breaches thereof, individually and as officers, committeemen and agents of the said labor organizations, fomented, assisted and participated in a strike or work stoppage. . . .

Court III of the complaint asked for an injunction, but that matter need not concern us here, since it is disposed of in Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson ante, p. 195.

The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on various grounds and a motion to stay the action for the reasons (1) that all of the issues in the suit were referable to arbitration under the collective bargaining contract and (2) that important issues in the suit were also involved in certain grievances filed by employees and said to be in arbitration under the contract. The District Court denied the motion to dismiss Court I, dismissed Count II, and denied the motion to stay (187 F.Supp.

Page 241

225). The Court of Appeals upheld the refusal to dismiss or stay Count I, but reversed the dismissal of Count II (290 F.2d 312), and this Court granted certiorari (368 U.S. 937).

I

We have concluded that Count I should not be dismissed or stayed. Count I properly states a cause of action under § 301, and is to be governed by federal law. Local 174 v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 102-104; Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448. Under our decisions, whether or not the company was bound to arbitrate, as well as what issues it must arbitrate, is a matter to be determined by the Court on the basis of the contract entered into by the parties.

The Congress . . . has, by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, assigned the courts the duty of determining whether the reluctant party has breached his promise to arbitrate. For arbitration is a matter of contract, and a party cannot be required to submit to [82 S.Ct. 1321] arbitration any dispute which he has not agreed so to submit.

United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Nav. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582. See also United Steelworkers of America v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 570-571 (concurring opinion). We think it unquestionably clear that the contract here involved is not susceptible to a construction that the company was bound to arbitrate its claim for damages against the union for breach of the undertaking not to strike.

While it is quite obvious from other provisions of the contract1 that the parties did not intend to commit all

Page 242

of their possible disputes and the whole scope of their relationship to the grievance and arbitration procedures established in Article XXVI,2 that article itself is determinative of the issue in this case, since it precludes arbitration boards from considering any matters other than employee grievances.3 After defining a grievance as

any difference regarding wages, hours or working conditions between the parties hereto or between the employer and an employee covered by the working agreement,

Article XXVI provides that the parties desire to settle employee grievances fairly and quickly, and that therefore a stated procedure "must be followed." The individual employee is required to present his grievance to his foreman, and, if not satisfied there, he may take his grievance to the plant superintendent, who is to render a written decision. There

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is also provision for so-called Workmen's Committees to present grievances to the local management. If the local superintendent's decision is not acceptable, the matter is to be referred for discussion between the President of the International and the Director of Industrial Relations for the company (or their representatives), and for decision by the Director alone. If the Director's decision is disputed, then, "upon request of the President or any District Director" of the international, a local arbitration board may be convened and the matter finally decided by this board.

Article XXVI then imposes the critical limitation. It is provided that local arbitration boards

shall consider only individual or local employee or local committee grievances arising under the application of the currently existing agreement.

There is not a word in the grievance and arbitration article providing for the submission of grievances by the company. Instead, there is the express, flat limitation that arbitration boards should consider only employee grievances. Furthermore, the article expressly provides that arbitration may be invoked only at the option of the union. At no place in the contract does the union agree to arbitrate at the behest of the company. The company is to take its claims elsewhere, which it has now done.

The union makes a further argument for a stay. Following the strike, and both before and after the company filed its suit, 14 of the 24 individual defendants filed grievances claiming reimbursement for pay withheld by the employer. The union argues that, even though the company need not arbitrate its claim for damages, it is bound to arbitrate these grievances, and the arbitrator, in the process of determining the grievants' right to reimbursement, will consider and...

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