401 U.S. 302 (1971), 88, Ramsey v. United Mine Workers of America

Docket Nº:No. 88
Citation:401 U.S. 302, 91 S.Ct. 658, 28 L.Ed.2d 64
Party Name:Ramsey v. United Mine Workers of America
Case Date:February 24, 1971
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 302

401 U.S. 302 (1971)

91 S.Ct. 658, 28 L.Ed.2d 64

Ramsey

v.

United Mine Workers of America

No. 88

United States Supreme Court

Feb. 24, 1971

Argued December 7, 1970

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner coal mine operators brought this Sherman Act conspiracy action against respondent union alleging that respondent had expressly or impliedly agreed with the major producers to impose the provisions of the 1950 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (NBCWA) on all coal mine operators, knowing that the smaller ones would be unable to meet the NBCWA terms and would be driven out of business. Petitioners based their express agreement claim on a later amendment, the Protective Wage Clause (PWC), whereby respondent undertook not to enter into any agreement with other operators on a basis other than the NBCWA, and their implied agreement claim on the PWC and subsequent activities of respondent and the major operators. Following a trial, the trial judge dismissed the case [91 S.Ct. 660] for failure of proof, finding that the PWC did not constitute an express commitment by respondent not to bargain with other operators except on NBCWA terms, but that, all evidence considered, an implied commitment to do so would be inferred if the applicable standard of proof were the preponderance of the evidence standard ordinarily applied in civil cases. He concluded, however, that, where a labor union is involved, § 6 of the Norris-LaGuardia Act requires a standard of "clear proof," both with respect to the authority of individuals alleged to have performed illegal acts on behalf of unions and with respect to whether the acts themselves occurred, amounted to a conspiracy, and had injured the plaintiff's business. Section 6 provides that no organization participating in a labor dispute shall be liable for the unlawful acts of individual officers or members except upon "clear proof" of actual participation in or authorization of such acts. The District Court's judgment was affirmed by an equally divided Court of Appeals. Petitioners additionally urge a construction of the PWC which would make it an illegal agreement for which respondent is not exempt under the antitrust laws, and they ask for reconsideration of the holding in Mine Workers v.

Page 303

Pennington, 381 U.S. 657, that a union is not liable under the antitrust laws when it concludes

a wage agreement with a multiemployer bargaining unit . . . and as a matter of its own policy, and not by agreement with all or part of the employers of that unit, seek[s] the same wages from other employers.

Held:

1. The ordinary preponderance of the evidence standard is applicable in civil antitrust actions against labor unions except with respect to proving the authority of individual members, officers, or agents of a union to perform on behalf of the union the acts complained of, where the "clear proof" standard applies. Pp. 307-311.

2. This Court cannot properly consider in the first instance petitioners' additional argument about the construction of the PWC since it is not clear if the contention was made below and whether, in any event, the record supports it. Pp. 311-312.

3. The Court's decision in Pennington is reaffirmed both with respect to the holding (1) that a union may make wage agreements with a multi-employer bargaining unit and, in pursuit of its own self-interests, seek to secure the same terms from other employers and (2) that the antitrust exemption is forfeited if the union agrees with an employer group to impose a certain wage scale on other bargaining units, thus joining a conspiracy to limit competition. Pp. 312-314.

416 F.2d 655, reversed and remanded.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BLACK, HARLAN, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 314.

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WHITE, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioners, coal mine operators in southeastern Tennessee, were plaintiffs in the trial court, where their complaint accused respondent United Mine Workers of America of violating the Sherman Act by conspiring with various coal producers to drive petitioners out of business. The major thrust of the claim was that the Union had expressly or impliedly agreed with the major producers to impose the provisions of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement (NBCWA), first executed by the Union and certain companies in 1950, on all coal mine operators, knowing that small and nonmechanized operators would be unable to meet the contract's terms. The purpose of this alleged conspiracy was to eliminate the marginal operators, control production, and reserve the market for larger concerns. The claim of express [91 S.Ct. 661] agreement rested on the so-called Protective Wage Clause (PWC) added to the NBCWA by amendment in 1958. The PWC, after reciting that the parties agreed that coal mines

shall be so operated as not to debase or lower the standards of wages, hours, safety requirements and other conditions of work, established by this contract,

provided as follows:

During the period of this Contract, the United Mine Workers of America will not enter into, be a party to, nor will it permit any agreement or understanding covering any wages, hours or other conditions of work applicable to employees covered by this Contract on any basis other than those specified in this Contract or any applicable District Contract. The United Mine Workers of America will diligently perform and enforce without discrimination or favor the conditions of this paragraph and all other terms and conditions of this Contract, and will use and

Page 305

exercise its continuing best efforts to obtain full compliance therewith by each and all the parties signatory thereto.1

Petitioners, in any event, claimed that a conspiratorial arrangement between the Union and the major operators could be implied from the PWC, the course of negotiations between the Union and those operators from 1950 forward,2 and the ensuing organizational and strike activity against petitioners and other southeastern Tennessee operators aimed at securing agreement to and compliance with the National Agreement as amended from time to time, as well as from the Union's purchase of a controlling interest in West Kentucky Coal Co. and the latter's allegedly predatory pricing in the TVA coal market.

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Following a trial to the court on a voluminous record, the trial judge wrote an extensive opinion containing his findings and conclusions leading to a dismissal of the case for failure of proof. Ramsey v. UMW, 265 F.Supp. 388 (ED Tenn.1967). He interpreted the PWC as forbidding departure from the contract terms by the Union only where signatories were concerned; the court found nothing in the contract obligating the Union to insist on comparable terms when dealing with employers outside the bargaining unit. As for an implied conspiracy to standardize employment terms throughout the industry aimed at destroying marginal producers, the trial court said that,

[w]ere this case being tried upon the usual preponderance of the evidence rule applicable to civil cases, the Court would conclude that the U.M.W. did so impliedly agree,

but that

the standard of proof where a labor union is involved is "clear proof," as required by Section 6 of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, a standard different from the ordinary civil burden of persuasion.3

265 F.Supp. at 412. Judged by this stricter standard, proof of conspiracy was found wanting, and the case against the Union failed.

A panel of the Court of Appeals ruled the trial court had erred in applying the clear evidence standard, but rehearing en banc was granted. The Court of Appeals then agreed with the District Court's construction of the PWC, but ,with respect to the clear-evidence standard, four judges agreed with the trial judge and four disagreed. The latter insisted that the ordinary preponderance of evidence standard was applicable in civil antitrust actions against labor unions except with respect to proving the authority of individual members, officers, and agents of

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the Union to perform the acts complained of on behalf of the Union. The District Court's judgment was therefore affirmed by an equally divided court. Ramsey v. UMW, 416 F.2d 655 (CA6 1969). We granted certiorari. 397 U.S. 1006 (1970).

I

In a section of his opinion entitled "Legal Guidelines," the District Judge inquired as to "the standard of proof that must govern a proceeding involving a Sherman Act charge against a labor union." His answer was:

The burden of proof borne by the plaintiff is not the usual preponderance of the evidence rule applicable in civil cases generally. The requirement imposed by Section 6 of the Norris-LaGuardia Act is that of "clear proof" where a labor organization is a party to an action such as this. . . . That the "clear proof" standard applies to an action wherein a labor organization is sought to be charged with a Sherman Act violation appears settled.

265 F.Supp. at 400. In this and other passages in the trial judge's opinion,4 he apparently demanded clear proof, rather than a preponderance of the evidence, not only with respect to the authority of the individuals who were alleged to have performed certain illegal acts on behalf of unions, but also as to whether the acts themselves occurred, whether the acts proved amounted to a conspiracy and whether plaintiffs' businesses had been injured. The eight judges of the Court of Appeals also seemed to read the trial court as having given unlimited application to the clear proof standard in this action. Apparently they were also convinced that the standard applied by the trial court had made a critical difference in the case, for the issue that...

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