American Federation of Labor v. Watson, 448

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation90 L.Ed. 873,66 S.Ct. 761,327 U.S. 582
Docket NumberNo. 448,448
PartiesAMERICAN FEDERATION OF LABOR et al. v. WATSON, Atty. Gen. of Florida, et al
Decision Date25 March 1946

Appeal from the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of Florida.

[Syllabus from pages 582-584 intentionally omitted] Mr.Herbert S. Thatcher, of Washington, D.C., for appellants.

Messrs. J. Tom Watson, Howard S. Bailey, and Sumter Leitner, all of Tallahassee, Fla., for appellees.

Mr. Justice DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.

In 1944 Florida adopted an amendment to her Constitution1 which reads as follows:

'The right of persons to work shall not be denied or abridged on account of membership or non-membership in any labor union, or labor organization; provided, that this clause shall not be const ued to deny or abridge the right of employees by and through a labor organization or labor union to bargain collectively with their employer.'

Shortly thereafter this suit was instituted to enjoin the enforcement of that provision on the ground that it violated the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Contract Clause of Article I, Section 10 of the federal constitution and was in conflict with the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449, 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., 29 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq., and the Norris-La Guardia Act. 47 Stat. 70, 29 U.S.C. § 101 et seq., 29 U.S.C.A. § 101 et seq.

The appellants (plaintiffs below) are various national and local labor organizations operating in Florida, individual employee members of those organizations who are citizens of the United States, and three employers doing business in Florida.2 Appellees are the Attorney General and other officials of Florida charged with duties of law enforcement and various employers.3 The theory of the bill is that the law in question outlaws any agreement which requires membership in a labor organization as a condition of employment, all of which we refer to herein as the closed shop. It is alleged that the appellant labor organizations or their affiliates have been designated as the collective bargaining representatives of employees of numerous employers in Florida and that a large number of those local and national unions either have,4 or desire or are about to become parties to, closed-shop agreements with Florida employers. It is alleged that the closed-shop agreement constitutes the most effective means possessed by organized labor to attain economic security, to deter practices destructive of public policy and the interests of wage earners, and effectively to bargain collectively. It is alleged that all of the defendant employers and two of the three plaintiff employers are parties to closed-shop agreements with some of the appellant unions which expire at various dates in the year 1945 and thereafter continue in effect on a year-to-year basis. These contracts are alleged to be valuable property rights of the appellant unions and their members. It is alleged that one appellant employer (R. J. Gould) and some of the appellant unions are desirous of entering into a closed-shop agreement but are prevented from doing so by the Florida law. It is alleged that the same problem obtains with respect to other employers in Florida.

The bill alleges that appellee law enforcement officials have taken the position that closed-shop agreements violate the Florida law and that they intend to enforce compliance with it by civil and criminal proceedings. The bill alleges that appellee Watson threatens to institute quo warranto proceedings against various companies with whom appellant unions have collective bargaining agreements containing closedshop agreements, whereby it will be sought to cancel their corporate franchises unless the closed-shop provisions of the agreement are not observed. And appellants' motion for a restraining order alleges that quo warranto proceedings have been instituted for that purpose against a number of such companies, including three of the corporate appellees. The bill further alleges that appellee Watson has threatened appellant unions and their officers and agents and the individual appellants with criminal prosecutions unless they give up the closed-shop agreements and refrain from renewing or entering into any such agreements. It alleges that he has ordered law enforcement agencies to institute such prosecutions immediately and that they are in process of being prepared.

Irreparable injury is alleged as follows: the threatened actions (a) will result in interminable litigation and multiplicity of prosecutions and legal proceedings; (b) will cause widespread disruption of employment relations and production; (c) will deprive appellatns of the benefits of existing contracts; (d) will cause appellant unions to lose present and prospective members and imperil the security of the unions and their members; (e) will make it impossible for one of the appellant employers (J. R. Gould) to obtain sufficient skilled labor to conduct his business; and (f) will cause a cessation of collective bargaining relations between the appellant unions and employers and will result in the disorganization and disintegration of the unions.

The prayer was for a temporary and permanent injunction. A motion to dismiss was made which, though denying a showing of irreparable damage, raised no issue of fact, other than the question whether the amount involved in the controversy exceeds $3000.

The district judge granted a temporary restraining order and pursuant to a prayer of the bill caused a three-judge court to be convened. § 266 Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 380, 28 U.S.C.A. § 380. The District Court concluded that it had juris- diction of the controversy. But without determining whether there was equity in the bill (Douglas v. Jeannette, 319 U.S. 157, 162, 163, 63 S.Ct. 877, 880, 881, 882, 87 L.Ed. 1324) or whether, pursuant to the rule of Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496, 61 S.Ct. 643, 85 L.Ed. 971; City of Chicago v. Fieldcrest Dairies, 316 U.S. 168, 62 S.Ct. 986, 86 L.Ed. 1355; Spector Motor Service, Inc., v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. 101, 65 S.Ct. 152, the case should be held until an authoritative interpretation of the Florida law by the Florida courts could first be obtained, it proceeded at once to a consideration of the constitutional questions. It held that this Florida law did not violate the First or Fourteenth Amendment nor the Contract Clause of Article I, Section 10 of the federal constitution. It held that it would be time to consider any conflict with the National Labor Relations Act if and when it arose, since that Act and the Florida law did not on their face appear to be in conflict. It accordingly vacated the temporary restraining order and dismissed the complaint. 60 F.Supp. 1010. The case is here on appeal.

The initial question is whether the District Court had jurisdiction as a federal court to hear and decide merits.5 The federal district courts have jurisdiction of all suits of a civil nature, at common law or in equity where the matter in controversy exceeds, exclusive of interest and costs, $3000 and ' rises under the Constitution or laws of the United States.' Judicial Code § 24(1), 28 U.S.C. § 41(1), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(1). The allegations are that if the Florida law becomes effective there will be an immediate decrease in the membership of appellant unions and the dues collected by them will decrease far in excess of $3000. Similar allegations are made to the effect that enforcement of the Florida law will result in such decimation of the membership of these unions, both local and national, as to cause reduction in income greatly in excess of $3000, jeopardizing the ability of the unions to function. Supporting affidavits were filed by a union official showing that appellant unions have about 500 contracts with Florida employers containing closed-shop agreements and affecting about 100,000 employees; and averring that if those contracts are nullified the loss in dues will greatly exceed $3000, with resulting injury to the unions far in excess of that amount. The answer of one of the appellees, the sheriff of Hillsborough County, admitted that the matter in controversy exceeded $3000. But, as we have said, the motion to dismiss filed by appellee Watson challenged the showing of the necessary jurisdictional amount. No counter affidavits, however, were filed. The District Court held it had jurisdiction under § 24(1) of the Judicial Code. None of the parties challenges that finding here. The District Court also held that it had jurisdiction under § 24(14) of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 41(14), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(14). That provision6 gives the district courts of the United States jurisdiction over suits brought under the Civil Rights Act7 without allegation of any jurisdictional amount. See Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496, 59 S.Ct. 954, 83 L.Ed. 1423; Douglas v. Jeannette, supra, 319 U.S. at pages 161, 162, 63 S.Ct. at page 880, 87 L.Ed. 1324. We do not pass on the question whether the District Court had jurisdiction under § 24(1) or § 24(14) of the Judicial Code. For it is the view of a majority of the Court that jurisdiction is found in § 24(8) of the Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 41(8), 28 U.S.C.A. § 41(8), which grants the federal district courts jurisdiction of all 'suits and proceedings arising under any law regulating commerce.' As we have said, the bill alleges a conflict between the Florida law and the National Labor Relations Act. The theory of the bill is that labor unions, certified as collective bargaining representatives of employees under that Act, are granted as a matter of federal law the right to use the closed-shop agreement8 or, alternatively, that the right of collective bargaining granted by that Act includes the right to bargain collectively for a closed shop. Whether that claim is correct is a question which goes to the merits It is, however, a substantial one. And since the...

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