Boys Markets, Inc v. Retail Clerk Union, Local 770

Decision Date01 June 1970
Docket NumberNo. 768,768
Citation90 S.Ct. 1583,26 L.Ed.2d 199,398 U.S. 235
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

[Syllabus from pages 235-236 intentionally omitted] Joseph M. McLaughlin, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Kenneth M. Schwartz, Los Angeles, Cal., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we re-examine the holding of Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson, 370 U.S. 195, 82 S.Ct. 1328, 8 L.Ed.2d 440 (1962), that the anti-injunction provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act1 preclude a federal district court from enjoining a strike in breach of a no-strike obligation under a collective- bargaining agreement, even though that agreement contains provisions, enforceable under § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947,2 for binding arbitration of the grievance dispute concerning which the strike was called. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, considering itself bound by Sinclair reversed the grant by the District Court for the Central District of California of petitioner's prayer for injunctive relief. 416 F.2d 368 (1969). We granted certiorari. 396 U.S. 1000, 90 S.Ct. 572, 24 L.Ed.2d 492 (1970). Having concluded that Sinclair was erroneously decided and that subsequent events have undermined its continuing validity, we overrule that decision and reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals.


In February 1969, at the time of the incidents that produced this litigation, petitioner and respondent were parties to a collective-bargaining agreement which provided, inter alia, that all controversies concerning its interpretation or application should be resolved by adjustment and arbitration procedures set forth therein3 and that, during the life of the contract, there should be 'no cessation or stoppage of work, lock-out, picketing or boycotts * * *.'4 The dispute arose when petitioner's frozen foods supervisor and certain members of his crew who were not members of the bargaining unit began to rearrange merchandise in the frozen food cases of one of petitioner's supermarkets. A union representative insisted that the food cases be stripped of all merchandise and be restocked by union personnel. When petitioner did not accede to the union's demand, a strike was called and the union began to picket petitioner's establishment. Thereupon petitioner demanded that the union cease the work stoppage and picketing and sought to invoke the grievance and arbitration procedures specified in the contract.

The following day, since the strike had not been terminated, petitioner filed a complaint in California Superior Court seeking a temporary restraining order, a preliminary and permanent injunction, and specific performance of the contractual arbitration provision. The state court issued a temporary restraining order forbidding continuation of the strike and also an order to show cause why a preliminary injunction should not be granted. Shortly thereafter, the union removed the case to the Federal District Court and there made a motion to quash the state court's temporary restraining order. In opposition, petitioner moved for an order compelling arbitration and enjoining continuation of the strike. Concluding that the dispute was subject to arbitration under the collective-bargaining agreement and that the strike was in violation of the contract, the District Court ordered the parties to arbitrate the underlying dispute and simultaneously enjoined the strike, all picketing in the vicinity of petitioner's supermarket, and any attempts by the union to induce the employees to strike or to refuse to perform their services.


At the outset, we are met with respondent's contention that Sinclair ought not to be disturbed because the decision turned on a question of statutory construction which Congress can alter at any time. Since Congress has not modified our conclusions in Sinclair, even though it has been urged to do so, 5 respondent argues that principles of stare decisis should govern the present case.

We do not agree that the doctrine of stare decisis bars a re-examination of Sinclair in the circumstances of this case. We fully recognize that important policy considerations militate in favor of continuity and predictability in the law. Nevertheless, as Mr. Justice Frankfurter wrote for the Court, '(S)tare decisis is a principle of policy and not a mechanical formula of adherence to the latest decision, however recent and questionable, when such adherence involves collision with a prior doctrine more embracing in its scope, intrinsically sounder, and verified by experience.' Helvering v. Hallock, 309 U.S. 106, 119, 60 S.Ct. 444, 451, 84 L.Ed. 604 (1940). See Swift & Co. v. Wickham, 382 U.S. 111, 116, 86 S.Ct. 258, 261, 15 L.Ed.2d 194 (1965). It is precisely because Sinclair stands as a significant departure from our otherwise consistent emphasis upon the congressional policy to promote the peaceful settlement of labor disputes through arbitration6 and our efforts to accommodate and harmonize this policy with those underlying the anti-injunction provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act7 that we believe Sinclair should be reconsidered. Furthermore, in light of developments subsequent to Sinclair, in particular our decision in Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge 735, 390 U.S. 557, 88 S.Ct. 1235, 20 L.Ed.2d 126 (1968), it has become clear that the Sinclair decision does not further but rather frustrates realization of an important goal of our national labor policy.

Nor can we agree that conclusive weight should be accorded to the failure of Congress to respond to Sinclair on the theory that congressional silence should be interpreted as acceptance of the decision. The Court has cautioned that '(i)t is at best treacherous to find in congressional silence alone the adoption of a controlling rule of law.' Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61, 69, 66 S.Ct. 826, 830, 90 L.Ed. 1084 (1946). Therefore, in the absence of any persuasive circumstances evidencing a clear design that congressional inaction be taken as acceptance of Sinclair, the mere silence of Congress is not a sufficient reason for refusing to reconsider the decision. Helvering v. Hallock, supra, 309 U.S. at 119—120, 60 S.Ct. at 451 452.


From the time Textile Workers Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 77 S.Ct. 912 (1957), was decided, we have frequently found it necessary to consider various substantive and procedural aspects of federal labor contract law and questions concerning its application in both state and federal courts. Lincoln Mills held generally that 'the substantive law to apply in suits under § 301(a) is federal law, which the courts must fashion from the policy of our national labor laws,' 353 U.S., at 456, 77 S.Ct. at 918, and more specifically that a union can obtain specific performance of an employer's promise to arbitrate grievances. We rejected the contention that the anti-injunction proscriptions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act prohibited this type of relief, noting that a refusal to arbitrate was not 'part and parcel of the abuses against which the Act was aimed,' id., at 458, 77 S.Ct. at 918, and that the Act itself manifests a policy determination that arbitration should be encouraged. See 29 U.S.C. § 108.8 Subsequently in the Steelworkers Trilogy9 we emphasized the importance of arbitration as an instrument of federal policy for resolving disputes between labor and management and cautioned the lower courts against usurping the functions of the arbitrator.

Serious questions remained, however, concerning the role that state courts were to play in suits involving collective-bargaining agreements. Confronted with some of these problems in Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.S. 502, 82 S.Ct. 519, 7 L.Ed.2d 483 (1962), we held that Congress clearly intended not to disturb the pre-existing jurisdiction of the state courts over suits for violations of collective-bargaining agreements. We noted that the

'clear implication of the entire record of the congressional debates in both 1946 and 1947 is that the purpose of conferring jurisdiction upon the federal district courts was not to displace, but to supplement, the thoroughly considered jurisdiction of the courts of the various States over contracts made by labor organizations.' Id., at 511, 82 S.Ct. at 525.

Shortly after the decision in Dowd Box, we sustained, in Local 174, Teamsters, etc. v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 82 S.Ct. 571, 7 L.Ed.2d 593 (1962), an award of damages by a state court to an employer for a breach by the union of a no-strike provision in its contract. While emphasizing that 'in enacting § 301 Congress intended doctrines of federal labor law uniformly to prevail over inconsistent local rules,' id., at 104, 82 S.Ct. at 577, we did consider the applicability of the Norris-LaGuardia Act to state court proceedings because the employer's prayer for relief sought only damages and not specific performance of a no-strike obligation.

Subsequent to the decision in Sinclair, we held in Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge 735, supra, that § 301(a) suits initially brought in state courts may be removed to the designated federal forum under the federal question removal jurisdiction delineated in 28 U.S.C. § 1441. In so holding, however, the Court expressly left open the questions whether state courts are bound by the anti-injunction proscriptions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act and whether federal courts, after removal of a § 301(a) action, are required to dissolve any injunctive relief previously granted by the state courts. See generally General Electric Co. v. Local Union 191, 413 F.2d 964 (C.A.5th Cir. 1969) (dissolution of state injunction required). Three Justices who concurred expressed the view that Sinclair should be reconsidered 'upon an appropriate future occasion.' 390 U.S., at 562, 88 S.Ct., at 1238 (Stewart, J., concurring).10

The decision in Avco,...

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