523 U.S. 653 (1998), 97-463, Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Div. AVCO Copr. v. Automobile Workers

Docket Nº:No. 97-463
Citation:523 U.S. 653, 118 S.Ct. 1626, 140 L.Ed.2d 863, 66 U.S.L.W. 4356
Party Name:TEXTRON LYCOMING RECIPROCATING ENGINE DIVISION, AVCO CORP. v. UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, et al.
Case Date:May 18, 1998
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 653

523 U.S. 653 (1998)

118 S.Ct. 1626, 140 L.Ed.2d 863, 66 U.S.L.W. 4356

TEXTRON LYCOMING RECIPROCATING ENGINE DIVISION, AVCO CORP.

v.

UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, et al.

No. 97-463

United States Supreme Court

May 18, 1998

Argued February 23, 1998

CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

Syllabus

Petitioner Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division (Textron) and respondents—an international union and one of its locals (hereinafter Union), which represented approximately 500 Textron employees—were parties to a collective-bargaining agreement that prohibited the Union from striking for any reason and required Textron to notify the Union before entering into any agreement to "subcontract out" work that would otherwise be performed by Union members. After Textron announced plans to subcontract out enough work to cause roughly one-half of the Union members to lose their jobs, the Union filed the present complaint, which, inter alia, alleged that Textron had fraudulently induced the Union to sign the collective-bargaining agreement, and sought damages and a declaratory judgment that the agreement was voidable at the Union's option. The complaint invoked § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act as the basis of federal subject-matter jurisdiction, but did not allege that either party had ever violated the terms of the collective-bargaining agreement. The District Court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that the cause of action alleged did not come within § 301(a). The Third Circuit reversed.

Held:

Because the Union's complaint alleges no violation of the collective-bargaining agreement, neither this Court nor the federal courts below have subject-matter jurisdiction under § 301(a), which confers jurisdiction only over "[s]uits for violation of contracts." While a federal court may, in the course of resolving a dispute concerning alleged violation of a collective-bargaining agreement, adjudicate the affirmative defense that the contract was invalid, see Kaiser Steel Corp. v. Mullins, 455 U.S. 72, 85-86, it has no jurisdiction to resolve such a contention independently of, rather than ancillary to, its power to adjudicate "[s]uits for violation of contracts." Here, since the Union neither alleges that Textron has violated the contract, nor seeks declaratory relief from its own alleged violation, § 301(a) jurisdiction does not lie. The Union's

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reliance upon the fact that it seeks a declaration of voidability under the federal Declaratory Judgment Act rests on several less than certain assumptions, Skelly Oil Co. v. Phillips Petroleum Co., 339 U.S. 667, distinguished, but is in any event inadequate because there is no indication that either party has any interest in the contract's voidability, and hence no case or controversy on this issue giving the Union access to federal courts. Pp. 656-662.

117 F.3d 119, reversed.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C. J., and Stevens, O'Connor, Kennedy, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Stevens, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 662. Breyer, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 662.

Timothy B. Dyk argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs were Andrew M. Kramer and Daniel H. Bromberg.

Stephen A. Yokich argued the cause for respondents. With him on the brief were Daniel W. Sherrick, Marsha S. Berzon, James B. Coppess, and Laurence Gold. [*]

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

The sole question presented for review is whether federal courts have subject-matter jurisdiction of this case under § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

I

Petitioner, Textron Lycoming Reciprocating Engine Division (Textron), employs at its Williamsport, Pennsylvania, plant approximately 500 members of respondents, the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America and its Local 187 (hereinafter UAW or Union). From April 1, 1994, to April 1, 1997, Textron and the Union were parties to a collective-bargaining agreement that

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prohibited the Union from striking against Textron for any reason and, through the adoption of a separate memorandum agreement, required Textron to give the Union seven days' notice before entering into any agreement to "subcontract out" work that would otherwise be performed by Union members. In June 1994, Textron announced that it planned to subcontract out a volume of work that would cause roughly one-half of the Union members to lose their jobs.

Thereafter, in November 1995, the Union filed the present complaint in Federal District Court, alleging that Textron fraudulently induced the Union to sign the collective-bargaining agreement. Specifically, the Union claims that both before and during negotiations it repeatedly asked Textron to provide any information it might have regarding plans to subcontract out work that would otherwise be performed by Union members; and that during negotiations, Textron had in fact completed such a plan, but despite the Union's repeated requests said nothing about its existence. As redress, the Union seeks "a declaratory judgment that the existing collective bargaining agreement between the parties is voidable at the option of [the] UAW," and "compensatory and punitive damages . . . to compensate [the Union and its members] for the harm caused by [Textron's] misrepresentations and concealments and to deter other Employers from similar conduct." App. 19. The Union does not allege that either it or Textron ever violated the terms of the collective-bargaining agreement. As the basis of federal subject-matter jurisdiction, the complaint invokes § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).[1]

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The District Court dismissed the complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, concluding that the cause of action it set forth did not come within § 301(a). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, 117 F.3d 119 (1997); we granted certiorari, 522 U.S. 979 (1997).

II

Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, provides:

"Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this Act, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties." 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

By its terms, this provision confers federal subject-matter jurisdiction only over "[s]uits for violation of contracts." The Union, and the Government in an amicus brief filed in support of the Union, contend that this includes suits alleging that a contract is invalid. Focusing on the breadth of the word "for," the Government argues that § 301(a) "is broad enough to encompass not only a suit that 'alleges' a violation of contract, but also one that concerns a violation of contract, or is intended to establish a legal right to engage in what otherwise would be a contract violation." Brief for United States as Amicus Curiae 11 (footnotes omitted). It is true enough, as the Government points out, that one of the numerous definitions of the word "for" is "[i]ndicating the end with reference to which anything acts, serves, or is done; . . . . As a preparation towards, against, or in view of; having as goal or object; . . . . With the purpose or object of; . . . with a view to." Webster's New International Dictionary

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984 (2d ed. 1950) (def. 2). Even applying that definition, the Government must make a considerable stretch to bring the present case within it. This suit obviously does not have as its "purpose or object" violation of any contract. The most the Government can assert (and it falls short of the definition) is that the suit seeks to facilitate " what otherwise would be. . . contract violation[s]." Brief for United States 11 (emphasis added).

More basically, however, it is a "fundamental principle of statutory construction (and, indeed, of language itself) that the meaning of a word cannot be determined in isolation, but must be drawn from the context in which it is used." Deal v. United States, 508 U.S. 129, 132 (1993). Accord, Cohen v. de la Cruz, ante, at 220. It is not the meaning of "for" we are seeking here, but the meaning of "[s]uits for violation of contracts." That phrase cannot possibly bear the meaning ascribed to it by the Government. No one, for example, would describe a corporation's harassing lawsuit against a competitor as a "suit for unfair competition," even though that is precisely its "goal or object." In the same vein, a suit "for violation of a contract" is not one filed "with a view to" a future contract violation (much less to facilitate action that "otherwise would be" a contract violation). It is one filed because a contract has been violated, just as a suit " for unfair competition" is one filed because unfair competition has occurred. In this context, the word "for" has an unmistakably backward-looking connotation, i. e., "[i]ndicating the cause, motive, or occasion of an act, state, or condition; hence, because of; on account of; in consequence of; as the effect of; for the sake of; as, cursed himself for showing leniency." Webster's New International Dictionary 984 (2d ed. 1950) (def. 7). "Suits for violation of contracts" under § 301(a) are not suits that claim a contract is invalid, but suits that claim a contract has been violated.

This does not mean that a federal court can never adjudicate the validity of a contract under § 301(a). That provision

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