485 U.S. 589 (1988), 86-935, Regents of the University of California v. Public Employment Relations Board

Docket Nº:No. 86-935
Citation:485 U.S. 589, 108 S.Ct. 1404, 99 L.Ed.2d 664, 56 U.S.L.W. 4334
Party Name:Regents of the University of California v. Public Employment Relations Board
Case Date:April 20, 1988
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 589

485 U.S. 589 (1988)

108 S.Ct. 1404, 99 L.Ed.2d 664, 56 U.S.L.W. 4334

Regents of the University of California

v.

Public Employment Relations Board

No. 86-935

United States Supreme Court

April 20, 1988

Argued January 12, 1988

APPEAL FROM THE COURT OF APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA, FIRST

APPELLATE DISTRICT

Syllabus

The Private Express Statutes establish the postal monopoly and generally prohibit the private carriage of letters over postal routes without the payment of postage to the United States Postal Service. On the basis of those statutes, the state university (governed by appellant Regents and hereafter referred to as appellant) refused the request of a union to use its internal mail system to carry unstamped letters from the union to certain of its employees whom the union was attempting to organize. Appellee Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) upheld the union's charge that appellant's refusal violated the requirement of the California Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) that employers grant unions access to their "means of communication." Agreeing with this holding, but noting that the HEERA right of access was expressly subject to "reasonable regulations," the State Court of Appeal remanded for a determination whether appellant's refusal was reasonable in light of the surrounding circumstances, including the Private Express Statutes. PERB then found that the HEERA requirement was consistent with federal law because the carriage involved fell within the "letters of the carrier" and the "private hands" exceptions to the Private Express Statutes. The Court of Appeal affirmed, and the State Supreme Court denied review.

Held: Appellant's delivery of the union's unstamped letters would violate the Private Express Statutes. Pp. 594-603.

(a) The "letters of the carrier" exception, which permits the private carriage of letters that "relate" to the "current business" of the carrier, does not apply. The alleged "business" in this case -- the union's efforts to organize appellant's employees -- although a subject in which appellant certainly is interested, is not close enough to appellant's own affairs to be the natural subject of letters concerning appellant's "current business." It is a subject more accurately described as the union's own current business. The argument that HEERA makes harmonious labor relations the business of state universities, thereby rendering the union's business appellant's business, is a far too expansive reading of the exception, since that reading would permit a State to define mail delivery as the

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"current business" of some state agency, and thereby defeat the postal monopoly. Rather, the legislative history confirms that the statutory language is much narrower than appellees contend, which view is consistent with this Court's only previous decision concerning the exception, United States v. Erie R. Co., 235 U.S. 513.

(b) Nor does the "private hands" exception apply, since delivery of the union's letters would violate the exception's requirement that carriage be "without compensation." Giving the quoted phrase its normal meaning, it is clear that Congress unambiguously intended that no form of compensation, whether direct or indirect, may flow from the sender to the carrier. An arm's-length business relationship such as the one between the union and the employees on the one side and appellant on the other ordinarily involves an exchange of benefits constituting "compensation" for the carrier. By delivering the union's unstamped letters, appellant would perform a [108 S.Ct. 1407] service for its employees that they would otherwise pay for through their union dues, which service would become part of the employees' package of monetary and nonmonetary benefits that appellant provides in exchange for their labor. Thus, the facts that the union would not specifically pay for appellant's carriage of its letters, and that appellant would merely be performing a duty imposed by state law, do not render the carriage "without compensation." Pp. 594-597.

(c) Because this Court's analysis of the "letters of the carrier" and "private hands" exceptions and their legislative history reveals Congress' clear intent, the issue of deference to the Postal Service's regulations construing the exceptions need not be addressed. Pp. 601-602.

182 Cal.App.3d 71, 227 Cal.Rptr. 57, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 603. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 604. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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O'CONNOR, J., lead opinion

JUSTICE O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case presents the question whether a state university's delivery of unstamped letters from a labor union to university employees violates the Private Express Statutes, 18 U.S.C. §§ 1693-1699, 39 U.S.C. §§ 601-606. These statutes establish the postal monopoly, and generally prohibit the private carriage of letters over postal routes without the payment of postage to the United States Postal Service.

I

Appellant Regents govern a large state-owned university with over 100,000 employees. The university (hereafter referred to as appellant) operates an internal mail system to facilitate the delivery of mail to the various sites on its campuses. Appellant's employees collect mail originating on the campuses from many mail depositories and take it to a central location for sorting. The mail is separated into three groups: (1) mail already bearing United States postage; (2) unstamped internal university mail; and (3) other unstamped mail. Group (1) is delivered to the Postal Service without further handling by appellant. Group (2) is monitored to ensure that it includes only official university mail. Group (3) is examined for any letters addressed to university destinations that come within an exception to the Private Express Statutes and can therefore be delivered by the appellant without postage. Appellant affixes United States postage to

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the remainder of mail in group (3) and delivers it to the Postal Service, then charges the senders for the costs involved.

In late 1979, appellee William H. Wilson, president of appellee Local 371 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (Union), attempted to use appellant's internal mail system to send unstamped letters from the Union to certain employees of appellant. The Union represented these employees and had filed a request for recognition of a bargaining unit. A subsequent unit determination, however, placed these employees in a different bargaining unit. Brief for Appellee Wilson 2, n. 2. Appellant refused to carry the letters in its internal mail system on the ground that the Private Express Statutes prohibited such carriage. Believing that this refusal violated a state law, the Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations [108 S.Ct. 1408] Act (HEERA), Cal.Govt.Code Ann. §§ 3560-3599 (West 1980), Wilson and the Union filed an unfair labor practice charge with appellee California Public Employment Relations Board (PERB), the state agency charged with interpretation and enforcement of HEERA.

Before PERB, appellant argued that the carriage of the Union letters would violate the Private Express Statutes; it relied on an advisory opinion from the United States Postal Service to that effect. Advisory Op., PES No. 82-9 (July 2, 1982), App. to Juris. Statement A66. Wilson and the Union in turn argued that refusal to carry the letters violated HEERA's requirement that employers grant unions access to their "means of communication." PERB initially declined to consider the federal law issues pressed by appellant, and held that HEERA required delivery of the letters. The California Court of Appeal agreed with PERB's determination that denial of

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access violated HEERA, but noted that the HEERA right of access was expressly subject to "reasonable regulations." 139 Cal.App.3d 1037, 1041, 189 Cal.Rptr. 298, 300-301 (1983). The court found an unresolved factual issue, namely, whether appellant's denial of access was a "reasonable regulation" in light of all the surrounding circumstances, including the Private Express Statutes. It therefore remanded the case back to PERB for consideration of this issue. Id. at 1042, 189 Cal.Rptr. at 301. On remand, PERB found this HEERA requirement to be consistent with federal law because it determined that the carriage involved was within two different exceptions to the Private Express Statutes, namely the "letters of the carrier" exception, 18 U.S.C. § 1694; 39 CFR § 310.3(b) (1987), and the "private hands" exception, 18 U.S.C. § 1696(c); 39 CFR § 310.3(c) (1987).1

The California Court of Appeal affirmed. 182 Cal.App.3d 71, 227 Cal.Rptr. 57 (1986). The court concluded that the "letters of the carrier" exception permitted the delivery of the Union's letters through appellant's internal mail system. In light of this conclusion, the court declined to address the "private hands" exception. Id. at 77, 227 Cal.Rptr. at 60. The California Supreme Court denied appellant's petition for review. App. to Juris. Statement A-13. We noted probable jurisdiction, 483 U.S. 1004 (1987), and now reverse.

II

Congress enacted the Private Express Statutes pursuant to its constitutional authority to establish "Post Offices and post roads," U.S.Const., Art. I, § 8, cl. 7. In general, these statutes establish the United States Postal Service as a monopoly by prohibiting others from carrying letters over postal routes.

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A postal monopoly has...

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