593 Local 174, Teamsters Chaukfeurs, Warehousemen Helpers of America v. Lucas Flour Company

Citation82 S.Ct. 571,7 L. Ed. 2d 593,369 U.S. 95
Decision Date05 March 1962
Docket NumberNo. 50,50
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Francis Hoague, Seattle, Wash., for petitioner.

Stuart G. Oles, Seattle, Wash., for respondent.

Mr. Justice STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

The petitioner and the respondent (which we shall call the union and the employer) were parties to a collective bargaining contract within the purview of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq. The contract contained the following provisions, among others:


'The Employer reserves the right to discharge any man in his employ if his work is not satisfactory.


'Should any difference as to the true interpretation of this agreement arise, same shall be submitted to a Board of Arbitration of two members, one representing the firm, and one representing the Union. If said members cannot agree, a third member, who must be a disinterested party shall be selected, and the decision of the said Board of Arbitration shall be binding. It is further agreed by both parties hereto that during such arbitration, there shall be no suspension of work.

'Should any difference arise between the employer and the employee, same shall be submitted to arbitration by both parties. Failing to agree, they shall mutually appoint a third person whose decision shall be final and binding.'

In May of 1958 an employee named Welsch was discharged by the employer after he had damaged a new fork-lift truck by running it off a loading platform and onto some railroad tracks. When a business agent of the union protested, he was told by a representative of the employer that Welsch had been discharged because of unsatisfactory work. The union thereupon called a strike to force the employer to rehire Welsch. The strike lasted eight days.1 After the strike was over, the issue of Welsch's discharge was submitted to arbitration. Some five months later the Board of Arbitration rendered a decision, ruling that Welsch's work had been unsatisfactory, that his unsatisfactory work had been the reason for his discharge, and that he was not entitled to reinstatement as an employee.

In the meantime, the employer had brought this suit against the union in the Superior Court of King County, Washington, asking damages for business losses caused by the strike. After a trial that court entered a judgment in favor of the employer in the amount of $6,501.60.2 On appeal the judgment was affirmed by Department One of the Supreme Court of Washington. 57 Wash.2d 95, 356 P.2d 1. The reviewing court held that the pre-emption doctrine of San Diego Building Trades Council, etc. v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775, did not deprive it of jurisdiction over the controversy. The court further held that § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185, 29 U.S.C.A. § 185, could not 'reasonably be interpreted as pre-empting state jurisdiction, or as affecting it by limiting the substantive law to be applied.' 57 Wash.2d at 102, 356 P.2d at 5. Expressly applying principles of state law, the court reasoned that the strike was a viola- tion of the collective bargaining contract, because it was an attempt to coerce the employer to forego his contractual right to discharge an employee for unsatisfactory work.3 We granted certiorari to consider questions of federal labor law which this case presents. 365 U.S. 868, 81 S.Ct. 902, 5 L.Ed.2d 859.

We note at the outset a question as to our jurisdiction. Although the judgment before us has been certified as that of the Supreme Court of Washington, this case was actually heard and decided by Department One of that court, consisting of five of the nine members of the full court. Since the union could have filed a petition for rehearing en banc but did not do so, the argument is made that the judgment before us was not 'rendered by the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had,' and that the judgment is one we therefore have no power to review. 28 U.S.C. § 1257, 28 U.S.C.A. § 1257. This argument primarily rests upon Gorman v. Washington University, 316 U.S. 98, 62 S.Ct. 962, 86 L.Ed. 1300, which held that, in view of the structure of Missouri's judicial system, a separate division of the Supreme Court of that State was not the highest state court in which a decision of a federal question could be had.4 It is evident, however, that the law governing rehearings in the Supreme Court of Washington is quite unlike the particularized provisions of Missouri law which led this Court to dismiss the writ in Gorman.

As the opinion in Gorman pointed out, the Constitution of the State of Missouri expressly conferred the right to an en banc rehearing by the Supreme Court of Missouri in any case originally decided by a division of the court in which a federal question was involved. It was this provision of the state constitution which was the basis for the conclusion in Gorman that the State of Missouri did not regard a decision by a division of the court as the final step in the state appellate process in a case involving a federal question. '(T)he constitution of Missouri,' it was said, 'has thus provided in this class of cases for review of the judgment of a division * * *.' 316 U.S. at 100, 62 S.Ct. at 963.

By contrast, a rehearing en banc before the Supreme Court of Washington is not granted as a matter of right. The Constitution and statutes of the State of Washington authorize its Supreme Court to sit in two Departments, each of which is empowered 'to hear and determine causes, and all questions arising therein.' 5 Cases coming before the court may be assigned to a Department or to the court en banc at the discretion of the Chief Justice and a specified number of other members of the court.6 The state law further provides that the decision of a Department becomes a final judgment of the Supreme Court of Washington, unless within 30 days a petition for rehearing has been filed, or a rehearing has been ordered on the court's own initiative.7

We can discern in Washington's system no indication that the decision in the present case, rendered unani- mously by a majority of the judges of the Supreme Court of Washington, was other than the final word of the State's final court. 8 This case is thus properly before us, and we turn to the issues which it presents.

One of those issues—whether § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 deprives state courts of jurisdiction over litigation such as this—we have decided this Term in Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502, 82 S.Ct. 519, 7 L.Ed.2d 483. For the reasons stated in our opinion in that case, we hold that the Washington Supreme Court was correct in ruling that it had jurisdiction over this controversy.9 There remain for consideration two other issues, one of them implicated but not specifically decided in Dowd Box. Was the Washington court free, as it thought, to decide this controversy within the limited horizon of its local law? If not, does applicable federal law require a result in this case different from that reached by the state court?

In Dowd Box we proceeded upon the hypothesis that state courts would apply federal law in exercising jurisdiction over litigation within the purview of § 301(a), although in that case there was no claim of any variance in relevant legal principles as between the federal law and that of Massachusetts. In the present case, by contrast, the Washington court held that there was nothing in § 301 'limiting the substantive law to be applied,' and the court accordingly proceeded to dispose of this litigation exclusively in terms of local contract law. The union insists that the case was one to be decided by reference to federal law, and that under applicable principles of national labor law the strike was not a violation of the collective bargaining contract. We hold that in a case such as this, incompatible doctrines of local law must give way to principles of federal labor law.10 We further hold, however, that application of such principles to this case leads to affirmance of the judgment before us.

It was apparently the theory of the Washington court, that, although Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972, requires the federal courts to fashion, from the policy of our national labor laws, a body of federal law for the enforcement of collective bargaining agreements, nonetheless, the courts of the States remain free to apply individualized local rules when called upon to enforce such agreements. This view cannot be accepted. The dimensions of § 301 require the conclusion that substantive principles of federal labor law must be paramount in the area covered by the statute. Comprehensiveness is inherent in the process by which the law is to be formulated under the mandate of Lincoln Mills, requiring issues raised in suits of a kind covered by § 301 to be decided according to the precepts of federal labor policy.

More important, the subject matter of § 301(a) 'is peculiarly one that calls for uniform law.' Pennsylvania R. Co. v. Public Service Comm., 250 U.S. 566, 569, 40 S.Ct. 36, 37, 64 L.Ed. 1142; see Cloverleaf Butter Co. v. Patterson, 315 U.S. 148, 167—169, 62 S.Ct. 491, 501—503, 86 L.Ed. 754. The possibility that individual contract terms might have different meanings under state and federal law would inevitably exert a disruptive influence upon both the negotiation and administration of collective agreements. Because neither party could be certain of the rights which it had obtained or conceded, the process of negotiating an agreement would be made immeasurably more difficult by the necessity of trying to formulate contract provisions in such a way as to contain the same meaning under two or more systems of law which might someday be invoked in enforcing...

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    • California Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
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    ...courts are not obligated to apply federal principles to agreements not covered by federal law (cf. Teamsters Local v. Lucas Flour Co. (1962) 369 U.S. 95, 82 S.Ct. 571, 7 L.Ed.2d 593), the principles announced in the trilogy cases have in effect been absorbed into California law (Posner v. G......
  • Southern Pacific Transp. Co. v. United States
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    ...Supreme Court is empowered to reverse the state court judgment. See Local 174, Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers of America v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103, 82 S.Ct. 571, 576, 7 L.Ed.2d 593, 599 (1962), followed in Walsh v. Schlecht, 429 U.S. 401, 406, 97 S.Ct. 679, 684, 50......
  • Greenfield v. Schmidt Baking Co., Inc.
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    ...covered by § 301 so that such cases are decided under a uniform law rather than under inconsistent local rules. 369 U.S. 95, 103, 82 S.Ct. 571, 576, 7 L.Ed.2d 593, 599 (1962). The Lucas Flour Court explained further that the possibility that the same contract term might be interpreted diffe......
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    ...Inc., 211 F.2d 224 (9th Cir. 1954). That general principle was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1962. Teamsters Union v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 82 S.Ct. 571, 7 L.Ed.2d 593 (1962). Moreover, prior to several of the strikes here in question, the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit had......
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1 books & journal articles
  • State courts and the making of federal common law.
    • United States
    • University of Pennsylvania Law Review Vol. 153 No. 3, January 2005
    • January 1, 2005
    ..."act of state" doctrine that state courts are "not left free to develop their own doctrines"); Local 174, Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 102 (1962) (explaining that "in a case such as this [involving a strike], incompatible doctrines of local law must give way to principles of f......

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