451 U.S. 401 (1981), 79-1777, Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Reis

Docket Nº:No. 79-1777
Citation:451 U.S. 401, 101 S.Ct. 1836, 68 L.Ed.2d 248, 54 U.S.L.W. 2392
Party Name:Complete Auto Transit, Inc. v. Reis
Case Date:May 04, 1981
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 401

451 U.S. 401 (1981)

101 S.Ct. 1836, 68 L.Ed.2d 248, 54 U.S.L.W. 2392

Complete Auto Transit, Inc.

v.

Reis

No. 79-1777

United States Supreme Court

May 4, 1981

Argued February 24, 1981

CERTIORARI TO TIE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner trucking companies are parties to a collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters Union that contains a no-strike clause. Respondent employees of petitioners commenced a wildcat strike because they believed the union was not properly representing them in negotiations to amend the collective bargaining agreement. Thereafter, petitioners brought an action against respondents in Federal District Court under § 301 (a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, which confers jurisdiction on federal district courts to decide suits alleging violations of collective bargaining agreements. Petitioners sought, inter alia, damages against respondents in their individual capacities for all losses arising out of the wildcat strike. The District Court dismissed the damages claim, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that Congress had not intended through § 301 to create a cause of action for damages against individual union members for breach of a no-strike agreement.

Held: Section 301 (a) does not sanction damages actions by employers against individual employees for violating the no-strike provision of a collective bargaining agreement, whether or not the union participated in or authorized the strike. The legislative history of § 301 clearly reveals Congress' intent to shield individual employees from liability for such damages, even though this [101 S.Ct. 1838] results in leaving the employer unable to recover for his losses. While § 301 (b), which provides that any money judgment against a union for violation of a collective bargaining agreement shall be enforceable only against the union, and not against any individual member, explicitly addresses only union-authorized violations, the "penumbra" of § 301 (b), as informed by its legislative history, establishes that Congress meant to exclude individual strikers from damages liability, whether or not they were authorized by their union to strike. The history demonstrates that Congress deliberately chose to allow a damages remedy for breach of a no-strike provision only against unions, not individuals, and, as to unions, only when they participated in or authorized the illegal strike. Pp. 405 417.

614 F.2d 1110, affirmed.

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BRENNAN, J.,. delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEWART, WHITE, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined. POWELL, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 417. BURGER, C.J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J., joined, post, p. 424.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., 370 U.S. 238 (1962), the Court held that § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), does not authorize a damages action against individual union officers and members when their union is liable for violating a no-strike clause in a collective bargaining agreement. We expressly reserved the question whether an employer might maintain a suit for damages against "individual defendants acting not in behalf of the union, but in their personal and nonunion capacity" where their "unauthorized, individual action" violated the no-strike provision of the collective bargaining agreement. 370 U.S. at 249, n. 7. We granted certiorari to decide this important question of federal labor law. 449 U.S.898 (1980).

I

Petitioners are three companies engaged in the transportation by truck of motor vehicles. All three are parties to a collective bargaining agreement with the Teamsters Union that covers operations at their respective facilities in Flint,

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Mich. Respondents are employees of petitioners and members of Teamsters Local Union No. 332. The collective bargaining agreement contains a no-strike clause1 and subjects all disputes to a binding grievance and arbitration procedure.

On June 8, 1976, respondents commenced a wildcat strike, because they believed that "the union was not properly representing them in . . . negotiations for amendments to the collective bargaining agreement." 614 F.2d 1110, 1111 (CA6 1980). Soon thereafter, petitioners brought this § 301(a) action in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, seeking injunctive relief and "damages against the [employee], in their individual capacity, for all losses arising out of the unlawful work stoppage and for attorneys fees." App. 21. Petitioners alleged that the strike was neither authorized nor approved by the union, and, therefore, sought no damages from the union. See 614 F.2d at 1115; App. 18, 20-21. After a hearing, the District Court found that "the issue which had caused the work stoppage was not arbitrable" because it was "an internal dispute between factions in the Local," App. to Pet. for Cert. 15a-16a, and accordingly denied preliminary injunctive relief, citing Boys Markets, Inc. v. Retail Clerks, 398 U.S. 235 (1970).2

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Following additional hearings and settlement of the "internal dispute," the District Court concluded that

the work stoppage continued only because of a dispute between the Local and [petitioners] over amnesty for the strikers [and that] this issue was arbitrable.

App. to Pet. for Cert. 16a. The court therefore issued a preliminary injunction, enjoining continuation of the strike. Respondents obeyed the order and returned to work on June 21, 1976.

Nine months later, respondents moved to dissolve the preliminary injunction and to dismiss the complaint for damages. Relying on this Court's intervening decision in Buffalo Forge Co. v. Steelworkers, 428 U.S. 397 (1976),3 the District Court dissolved the injunction on the ground that the work stoppage was not precipitated by an arbitrable issue. App. to Pet. for Cert. 18a. The court also dismissed petitioners' claim for damages, holding that

an employer may not sue his employees for monetary relief for breach of the collective bargaining agreement . . . whether or not the union may also be liable.

Id. at 16a.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the District Court's dissolution of the injunction, holding that an injunction may be granted even where the issue which precipitated the strike was nonarbitrable provided an arbitrable issue, other than the simple legality of the strike itself, caused the continuation of the strike with

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the purpose of "compel[ling] the employer to concede on the arbitrable issue." 614 F.2d at 1114. Petitioners do not seek review of this part of the Court of Appeals' ruling.4

The Court of Appeals affirmed the District Court's dismissal of petitioners' claim for damages from the individual union members. Relying principally on the legislative history of § 301, the Court of Appeals concluded that Congress had not intended through § 301 to "create a cause of action for damages against individual union members for breach of a no-strike agreement." 614 F.2d at 1116. We agree.

II

Since Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448 (1957), it has been settled that § 301(a)5 does more than confer jurisdiction on [101 S.Ct. 1840] federal courts to decide lawsuits alleging violations of collective bargaining agreements. Section 301(a) also "authorizes federal courts to fashion a body of federal law for the enforcement of these collective bargaining agreements." Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. at 451.

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Lincoln Mills defined the mode of analysis for fashioning this body of federal law as follows:

The Labor Management Relations Act expressly furnishes some substantive law. It points out what the parties may or may not do in certain situations. Other problems will lie in the penumbra of express statutory mandates. Some will lack express statutory sanction, but will be solved by looking at the policy of the legislation and fashioning a remedy that will effectuate that policy. The range of judicial inventiveness will be determined by the nature of the problem.

Id. at 457. Of course,

Lincoln Mills did not envision any free-wheeling inquiry into what the federal courts might find to be the most desirable rule, irrespective of congressional pronouncements.

Howard Johnson Co. v. Hotel & Restaurant Employees, 417 U.S. 249, 255 (1974). Rather, it is clear that, in fashioning federal law under § 301(a), substantial deference should be paid to revealed congressional intention. See Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., 370 U.S. at 248-249.

In Atkinson, the Court relied on the intent of Congress in passing § 301(b) to hold that individual union members may not be sued for damages where the union has breached the no-strike provision of its collective bargaining agreement. Section 301(b) states in pertinent part that

[a]ny money judgment against a labor organization . . . shall be enforceable only against the organization as an entity and against its assets, and shall not be enforceable against any individual member or his assets.

Thus, in Atkinson, we noted that,

in discharging the duty Congress imposed on us to formulate the federal law to govern § 301(a) suits, we are strongly guided by, and do not give a niggardly reading to, § 301(b).

Ibid. Accordingly, we consulted and relied on the legislative history of § 301(b), which made it

clear that th[e] third clause [of § 301(b)] was a deeply felt congressional reaction against the Danbury Hatters case . . . and an expression

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of legislative determination that the aftermath . . . of that decision was not to be permitted to recur.

Id. at 248.6 Similarly, in deciding the question presented in this case, we "discharg[e] the duty Congress...

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