W.A.&H.A. Root v. MacDonald

Decision Date08 July 1927
PartiesW. A. & H. A. ROOT et al. v. MacDONALD et al.
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

Appeal and Report from Superior Court, Suffolk County; M. Morton, Judge.

Petition for attachment for contempt by W. A. & H. A. Root and others against James MacDonald and others because of alleged violation of an injunction. From interlocutory decree overruling objections and exceptions, and confirming the master's report, both parties appeal and case reported. Interlocutory decree reversed, and certain exceptions of petitioners and defendants sustained.L. A. Mayberry, of Boston, for plaintiffs.

F. W. Mansfield, of Boston, for defendants.

RUGG, C. J.

This is a petition for attachment for contempt. The original bill in equity set forth a controversy between the general contractors for the construction of the Park Square Building in Boston, a firm of subcontractors thereon, and certain individuals designated for convenience as the carpenters banded together as a union, constituting the plaintiffs, on the one side, and certain other individuals connected as officers or otherwise with 33 different labor unions, including the iron workers, on the other side. The underlying ground of controversy was whether the carpenters' union or the iron workers' union should install certain hollow metal work in connection with elevators. The bill alleged that in consequence of this controversy a strike had been called by the defendants on the Park Square Building and that the plaintiffs were apprehensive that strikes would be called on other buildings in which they were interested. The bill was filed on October 29, 1923. An injunction was issued on November 7, 1923, restraining the defendants from ordering or attempting to cause of strike on the Park Square Building or on any other building where the plaintiffs were engaged, for the purpose either of bringing about the discharge of the carpenter plaintiffs or other carpenters represented by the carpenters' district council, or of compelling the employment of iron workers or others. The defendants filed an answer on December 6, 1923, and the case was referred to a master on January 17, 1924.

While hearings on the issues thus raised were in progress, this petition for attachment for contempt entitled in the same case was filed on May 6, 1924, because of alleged violation of the terms of the injunction. The petitioner for attachment for contempt was one of the firm of subcontractors named as plaintiffs in the original bill. The petitioner alleged that he and his partner and the carpenter plaintiffs have been injured by the violation of the injunction. The proceedings have been treated as brought in behalf of all these persons, who will hereafter be described as petitioners. This firm of subcontractors was in charge of carpenters employed by another subcontractor on another building in process of construction, known as the Boston Chamber of Commerce Building. Three defendants in the original bill, MacDonald, Pope and Johnson, and others unknown to the petitioners, were named as those who had violated the injunction. The allegations of this petition for attachment for contempt were that the defendants, by threats and intimations that they would cause labor troubles on the Chamber of Commerce Building, had persuaded the general contractor on that building to order the removal therefrom of certain of the carpenter plaintiffs working on that building, and that the three named defendants ordered members of their unions from the building; that as a consequence the general contractor notified the carpenters to cease working on the building and thereupon the members of the unions represented by the three named defendants returned to work. The prayer of the petition was that the named defendants and such other defendants as may appear to have been guilty of violating the injunction be ordered to show cause why they should not be attached for contempt for such violation.

On May 16, 1924, the petition for attachment for contempt was referred to the same master, and hearings on the original bill in the meantime were suspended. The rule to the master in the petition for attachment for contempt required him ‘to hear the parties and their evidence’ and forthwith to ‘file his report.’ At the hearing before the master various objections were taken. To the master's report both sides filed objections and exceptions. In the superior court an interlocutory decree was entered overruling all objections and exceptions and confirming the master's report. Both sides appealed. The questions thus raised have been reported to this court.

At the argument in this court one main difference between the parties is as to the nature of the contempt alleged in the petition and shown by the master's report. It is the contention of the petitioners that it is entirely civil in character and is governed throughout by rules of civil procedure in equity, while the defendants contend that it is wholly criminal and is governed by the principles of criminal law.

It has been stated in argument without contradiction that it is matter of common knowledge that the building with reference to which this controversy arose has been long since completed . This is assumed to be so. It is manifest, therefore, that the proceeding for contempt cannot afford any immediate relief to the petitioners in the sense of undoing the wrong alleged to have been done by the defendants. Whatever they did has been done and has had its complete effect on the rights of the petitioners so far as concerns the particular building. The master stated as part of his report that:

The ‘object of the contempt proceedings is not to obtain from the court a remedial order or decree, but it is on the contrary a petition to have the court enter a decree or order punitive in its nature, and the alleged contempt, if established, is therefore in the nature of a criminal contempt.’

Apart from its context this statement is equivocal, being susceptible of the construction either (1) that it is a finding of fact based on unreported evidence and hence binding upon this court; or (2) that it is a ruling of law followed by the master in conducting the hearings and reaching his conclusions. The context in which this statement occurs leads to the conclusion that it is a ruling of law. The statement is prefaced by remarks to the effect that the whole question of contempt was submitted to the master without argument or briefs, and hence it is deemed proper ‘to state my reasons and what I consider authority’ for the exclusion of evidence. The statement is followed by a brief reference to two decisions. Therefore we are of opinion that it was a ruling of law.

Practice and procedure as to contempts vary in different jurisdictions and are perhaps affected in some instances by statutes not uniform in terms. See, for example, Michaelson v. United States, 266 U. S. 42, 65;Gompers v. Buck's Stove & Range Co., 221 U. S. 418, 444, 446, 451, 31 S. Ct. 492, 55 L. Ed. 797,34 L. R. A. (N. S.) 787; In re Fenton, 11 Q. B. D. 545, 552, 553, 554, 556; Scott v. Scott, [1913] A. C. 417, 440, 456-458, 486; People v. Marr, 181 N. Y. 463, 470, 471,74 N. E. 431,106 Am. St. Rep. 562,3 Ann. Cas. 25;Hake v. People, 230 Ill. 174, 82 N. E. 561. Apparent divergence between the judgments or the utterances of different courts may be due in no small degree to variations in practice in the several jurisdictions. But it is not necessary in this connection to discuss these and other adjudications, because our own decisions are clear as to the procedure in contempt proceedings for the violation of orders and decrees of court arising in the course of private litigation. It was said by Chief Justice Gray in Winslow v. Nayson, 113 Mass. 411, 420, respecting a complaint for contempt by violation of an injunction, that it--

‘has been irregularly treated as a distinct cause, and entered upon the docket as such. It is really but an incident to the principal suit, and all the papers relating to it should be filed with the other papers in the case.’

In Cartwright's Case, 114 Mass. 230, 239, which grew out of misappropriation of funds by a receiver and where a punitive sentence of imprisonment was imposed, the same eminent Chief Justice said:

‘An application for an attachment for contempt is to be made and filed in the original cause; after the attachment has issued, the proceedings are distinct and are criminal in their nature.’

In Hamlin v. New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, 170 Mass. 548, 49 N. E. 922, petitions were filed praying for such judgment as the court might impose as a penalty for contempt in violation of a final decree in equity. It was said at page 550 (49 N. E. 923):

‘Although the proceedings grew out of and were incident to the original cause, and the petitions were filed in it, they were distinct from it.’

These principles were reiterated in New York Central Railroad v. Ayer, 253 Mass. 122, 128, 129, 148 N. E. 567, which was a proceeding for the violation of a final decree in equity. See, also, Cherry v. Cherry, 253 Mass. 172, 148 N. E. 570.

[1] The original proceeding in the case at bar was a suit in equity. The petition for attachment for contempt was filed in that case, but has been prosecuted by itself and is rightly here by report. The practice established by our decisions thus was followed.

It has not been necessary hitherto for this court to examine carefully the nature of contempt proceedings for the violation of an injunction arising from the performance by one or more of the defendants of acts forbidden by the court. Reference has been made in several of our decisions to the distinction between civil and criminal contempts. See New York Central Railroad v. Ayer, 253 Mass. 122, 128, 148 N. E. 567, and cases there collected. In that judgment at page 129 (148 N. E. 569) occur these words:

‘Whatever else may be said about proceedings for...

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