398 U.S. 281 (1970), 477, Atlantic Coast L. R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

Docket Nº:No. 477
Citation:398 U.S. 281, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 26 L.Ed.2d 234
Party Name:Atlantic Coast L. R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers
Case Date:June 08, 1970
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 281

398 U.S. 281 (1970)

90 S.Ct. 1739, 26 L.Ed.2d 234

Atlantic Coast L. R. Co.


Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers

No. 477

United States Supreme Court

June 8, 1970

Argued March 2-3, 1970




As part of its dispute with the Florida East Coast railroad (FEC) respondent Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers (BLE) in 1967 began picketing a switching yard owned and operated by Atlantic Coast Line railroad (ACL). ACL's request for an injunction to halt the picketing was denied by the Federal District Court, which held that the BLE was "free to engage in self-help," and that the Norris-LaGuardia Act and § 20 of the Clayton Act were applicable. ACL then obtained an injunction from a Florida court. After the decision in Railroad Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394 U.S. 369 (1969), holding that unions had a federally protected right to picket the terminal without interference by state court injunctions, respondent union moved in state court to dissolve the injunction, but the state judge held that Jacksonville Terminal was not controlling, and denied the motion. The union then returned to the District Court and requested an injunction against the enforcement of the state injunction, which the District Court granted. The Court of Appeals affirmed. The union contends that the federal injunction was proper under 28 U.S.C. § 2283 either "to protect or effectuate" the District Court's 1967 denial of an injunction, or as "necessary in aid of" that court's jurisdiction.

Held: The federal injunction was not justified under the exceptions in § 2283, and thus was improperly issued in this case. Pp. 285-297.

(a) A federal injunction against state court proceedings otherwise proper under general equitable principles must be based on one of the specific statutory exceptions to § 2283. Amalgamated Clothing Workers v. Richman Bros., 348 U.S. 511, 515-516. Pp. 286-287.

(b) The District Court's determination in 1967 that the union had a right to "engage in self-help" under federal law, was not a decision that federal law precluded an injunction based on state law. Pp. 289-291.

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(c) In 1969, the union, in effect, was attempting to get the District Court to decide that the state court erred in distinguishing Jacksonville Terminal, but such attempt to seek federal appellate review of a state decision cannot be justified as necessary "to protect or effectuate" the 1967 order. Pp. 291-293.

(d) Since the state and federal courts had concurrent jurisdiction in this case neither court could prevent a party from simultaneously pursuing claims in both courts, and an injunction was not "necessary in aid of" the District Court's jurisdiction because the state court may have acted improperly in light of Jacksonville Terminal, as the state court's assumption of jurisdiction over the state law claims did not hinder the federal court's jurisdiction. Pp. 294-296.

(e) While the union cannot obtain direct review of the state court decision in the lower federal courts, it can, if adversely affected by the decision or if faced with immediate irreparable injury, seek relief in the Florida appellate courts, and possibly in this Court. P. 296.

Reversed and remanded.

BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

Congress in 1793, shortly after the American Colonies became one united Nation, provided that, in federal courts "a writ of injunction [shall not] be granted to stay proceedings in any court of a state." Act of March 2, 1793, § 5, 1 Stat. 335. Although certain exceptions to this general prohibition have been added, that statute, directing that state courts shall remain free from interference by federal courts, has remained in effect until this time. Today that amended statute provides:

A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except

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as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.

28 U.S.C. § 2283. Despite the existence of this longstanding prohibition, in this case a federal court did enjoin the petitioner, Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co. (ACL),1 from invoking an injunction issued by a Florida state court which prohibited certain picketing by respondent Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers ( BLE). The case arose in the following way.

In 1967, BLE began picketing the Moncrief Yard, a switching yard located near Jacksonville, Florida, and wholly owned and operated by ACL.2 As soon as this picketing began ACL went into federal court seeking an injunction. When the federal judge denied the request, ACL immediately went into state court, and there succeeded in obtaining an injunction. No further legal action was taken in this dispute until two years later, in 1969, after this Court's decision in Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Jacksonville Terminal Co., 394

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U.S. 369 (1969). In that case, the Court considered the validity of a state injunction against picketing by the BLE and other unions at the Jacksonville Terminal, located immediately next to Moncrief Yard. The Court reviewed the factual situation surrounding the Jacksonville Terminal picketing and concluded that the unions [90 S.Ct. 1742] had a federally protected right to picket under the Railway Labor Act, 44 Stat. 577, as amended, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., and that that right could not be interfered with by state court injunctions. Immediately after a petition for rehearing was denied in that case, 394 U.S. 1024 (1969), the respondent BLE filed a motion in state court to dissolve the Moncrief Yard injunction, arguing that, under the Jacksonville Terminal decision the injunction was improper. The state judge refused to dissolve the injunction, holding that this Court's Jacksonville Terminal decision was not controlling. The union did not elect to appeal that decision directly, but instead went back into the federal court and requested an injunction against the enforcement of the state court injunction. The District Judge granted the injunction and upon application a stay of that injunction, pending the filing and disposition of a petition for certiorari, was granted. 396 U.S. 1201 (1969). The Court of Appeals summarily affirmed on the parties' stipulation, and we granted a petition for certiorari to consider the validity of the federal court's injunction against the state court. 396 U.S. 901 (1969).

In this Court, the union contends that the federal injunction was proper either "to protect or effectuate" the District Court's denial of an injunction in 1967, or as "necessary in aid of" the District Court's jurisdiction. Although the questions are by no means simple and clear, and the decision is difficult, we conclude that the injunction against the state court was not justified under either

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of these two exceptions to the anti-injunction statute. We therefore hold that the federal injunction in this case was improper.


Before analyzing the specific legal arguments advanced in this case, we think it would be helpful to discuss the background and policy that led Congress to pass the anti-injunction statute in 1793. While all the reasons that led Congress to adopt this restriction on federal courts are not wholly clear,3 it is certainly likely that one reason stemmed from the essentially federal nature of our national government. When this Nation was established by the Constitution, each State surrendered only a part of its sovereign power to the national government. But those powers that were not surrendered were retained by the States and unless a State was restrained by "the supreme Law of the Land" as expressed in the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, it was free to exercise those retained powers as it saw fit. One of the reserved powers was the maintenance of state judicial systems for the decision of legal controversies. Many of the Framers of the Constitution felt that separate federal courts were unnecessary and that the state courts could be entrusted to protect both state and federal rights. Others felt that a complete system of federal courts to take care of federal legal problems should be provided for in the Constitution itself. This dispute resulted in compromise. One "supreme Court" was created by the Constitution, and Congress was given the power to create other federal courts. In the first Congress, this power was exercised and a system of federal trial and appellate courts with limited jurisdiction was created by the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73.

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While the lower federal courts were given certain powers in the 1789 Act, they were not given any power to review directly cases from state courts, and they [90 S.Ct. 1743] have not been given such powers since that time. Only the Supreme Court was authorized to review on direct appeal the decisions of state courts. Thus, from the beginning, we have had in this country two essentially separate legal systems. Each system proceeds independently of the other, with ultimate review in this Court of the federal questions raised in either system. Understandably, this dual court system was bound to lead to conflicts and frictions. Litigants who foresaw the possibility of more favorable treatment in one or the other system would predictably hasten to invoke the powers of whichever court it was believed would present the best chance of success. Obviously this dual system could not function if state and federal courts were free to fight each other for control of a particular case. Thus, in order to make the dual system work and "to prevent needless friction between state and federal courts," Oklahoma Packing Co. v. Gas Co., 309 U.S. 4, 9 (1940), it was necessary to work out lines of demarcation between the two systems. Some of these limits were...

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