Coppage v. State of Kansas, No. 48

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtPitney
Citation236 U.S. 1,59 L.Ed. 441,35 S.Ct. 240
Docket NumberNo. 48
Decision Date25 January 1915
PartiesT. B. COPPAGE, Piff. in Err., v. STATE OF KANSAS

236 U.S. 1
35 S.Ct. 240
59 L.Ed. 441
T. B. COPPAGE, Piff. in Err.,

v.

STATE OF KANSAS.

No. 48.
Submitted October 30, 1914.
Decided January 25, 1915.

[Syllabus from pages 1-4 intentionally omitted]

Page 4

Messrs. R. R. Vermilion and W. F. Evans for plaintiff in error.

Mr. John S. Dawson, Attorney General of Kansas, and Mr. J. I. Sheppard for defendant in error.

Mr. Justice Pitney delivered the opinion of the court:

In a local court in one of the counties of Kansas, plaintiff in error was found guilty and adjudged to pay a fine, with imprisonment as the alternative, upon an information charging him with a violation of an act of the legislature of that state, approved March 13, 1903, being chap. 222 of the Session Laws of that year, found also as §§ 4674 and 4675, Gen. Stat. (Kan.) 1909. The act reads as follows:

An Act to Provide a Penalty for Coercing or Influencing or Making Demands upon or Requirements of Employees, Servants, Laborers, and Persons Seeking Employment.

Be it enacted, etc.:

Section 1. That it shall be unlawful for any individual or member of any firm, or any agent, officer, or employee of any company or corporation, to coerce, require, demand, or influence any person or persons to enter into any agreement, either written or verbal, not to join or become or remain a member of any labor organization or association, as a condition of such person or persons securing employment, or continuing in the employment of such individual, firm, or corporation.

Section 2. Any individual or member of any firm, or any

[Argument of Counsel from pages 4-7 intentionally omitted]

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agent, officer, or employee of any company or corporation violating the provisions of this act, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be fined in a sum not less than $50, or imprisoned in the county jail not less than thirty days.

The judgment was affirmed by the supreme court of the state, two justices dissenting (87 Kan. 752, 125 Pac. 8), and the case is brought here upon the ground that the statute, as construed and applied in this case, is in conflict with that provision of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States which declares that no state shall deprive any person of liberty or property without due process of law.

The facts, as recited in the opinion of the supreme court, are as follows: About July 1, 1911, one Hedges was employed as a switchman by the St. Louis & San Francisco Railway Company, and was a member of a labor organization called the Switchmen's Union of North America. Plaintiff in error was employed by the railway company as superintendent, and as such he requested Hedges to sign an agreement, which he presented to him in writing, at the same time informing him that if he did not sign it he could not remain in the employ of the company. The following is a copy of the paper thus presented:

Fort Scott, Kansas, _____, 1911.

Mr. T. B. Coppage, Superintendent Frisco Lines, Fort Scott:

We, the undersigned, have agreed to abide by your request, that is, to withdraw from the Switchmen's Union, while in the service of the Frisco Company.

(Signed) ________

Hedges refused to sign this, and refused to withdraw from the labor organization. Thereupon plaintiff in error, as such superintendent, discharged him from the service of the company.

Page 8

At the outset, a few words should be said respecting the construction of the act. It uses the term 'coerce,' and some stress is laid upon this in the opinion of the Kansas supreme court. But, on this record, we have nothing to do with any question of actual or implied coercion or duress, such as might overcome the will of the employee by means unlawful without the act. In the case before us, the state court treated the term 'coerce' as applying to the mere insistence by the employer, or its agent, upon its right to prescribe terms upon which alone it would consent to a continuance of the relationship of employer and employee. In this sense we must understand the statute to have been construed by the court, for in this sense it was enforced in the present case; there being no finding, nor any evidence to support a finding, that plaintiff in error was guilty in any other sense. The entire evidence is included in the bill of exceptions returned with the writ of error, and we have examined it to the extent necessary in order to determine the Federal right that is asserted (Southern P. Co. v. Schuyler, 227 U. S. 601, 611, 57 L. ed. 662, 669, 43 L.R.A.(N.S.) 901, 33 Sup. Ct. Rep. 277, and cases cited). There is neither finding nor evidence that the contract of employment was other than a general or indefinite hiring, such as is presumed to be terminable at the will of either party. The evidence shows that it would have been to the advantage of Hedges, from a pecuniary point of view and otherwise, to have been permitted to retain his membership in the union, and at the same time to remain in the employ of the railway company. In particular, it shows (although no reference is made to this in the opinion of the court) that, as a member of the union, he was entitled to benefits in the nature of insurance to the amount of $1,500, which he would have been obliged to forego if he had ceased to be a member. But, aside from this matter of pecuniary interest, there is nothing to show that Hedges was subjected to the least pressure or influence, or that he was not

Page 9

a free agent, in all respects competent, and at liberty to choose what was best from the standpoint of his own interests. Of course, if plaintiff in error, acting as the representative of the railway company, was otherwise within his legal rights in insisting that Hedges should elect whether to remain in the employ of the company or to retain his membership in the union, that insistence is not rendered unlawful by the fact that the choice involved a pecuniary sacrifice to Hedges. Silliman v. United States, 101 U. S. 465, 470, 471, 25 L. ed. 987-989; Hackley v. Headley, 45 Mich. 569, 576, 8 N. W. 511; Emery v. Lowell, 127 Mass. 138, 141; Custin v. Viroqua, 67 Wis. 314, 320, 30 N. W. 515. And if the right that plaintiff in error exercised is founded upon a constitutional basis, it cannot be impaired by merely applying to its exercise the term 'coercion.' We have to deal, therefore, with a statute that, as construed and applied, makes it a criminal offense, punishable with fine or imprisonment, for an employer or his agent to merely prescribe, as a condition upon which one may secure certain employment or remain in such employment (the employment being terminable at will), that the employee shall enter into an agreement not to become or remain a member of any labor organization while so employed; the employee being subject to no incapacity or disability, but, on the contrary, free to exercise a voluntary choice.

In Adair v. United States, 208 U. S. 161, 52 L. ed. 436, 28 Sup. Ct. Rep. 277, 13 Ann. Cas. 764, this court had to deal with a question not distinguishable in principle from the one now presented. Congress, in § 10 of an act of June 1, 1898, entitled, 'An Act Concerning Carriers Engaged in Interstate Commerce and Their Employees' (30 Stat. at L. 424, 428, chap. 370), had enacted 'that any employer subject to the provisions of this act, and any officer, agent, or receiver of such employer, who shall require any employee, or any person seeking employment, as a condition of such employment, to enter into an agreement, either written or verbal, not to become or remain a member

Page 10

of any labor corporation, association, or organization; or shall threaten any employee with loss of employment, or shall unjustly discriminate against any employee because of his membership in such a labor corporation, association, or organization . . . is hereby declared to be guilty of a misdemeanor, and, upon conviction thereof . . . shall be punished for each offense by a fine of not less than one hundred dollars and not more than one thousand dollars.' Adair was convicted upon an indictment charging that he, as agent of a common carrier subject to the provisions of the act, unjustly discriminated against a certain employee by discharging him from the employ of the carrier because of his membership in a labor organization. The court held that portion of the act upon which the conviction rested to be an invasion of the personal liberty as well as of the right of property guaranteed by the 5th Amendment, which declares that no person shall be deprived of liberty or property without due process of law. Speaking by Mr. Justice Harlan, the court said (p. 174): 'While, as already suggested, the right of liberty and property guaranteed by the Constitution against deprivation without due process of law is subject to such reasonable restraints as the common good or the general welfare may require, it is not within the functions of government—at least, in the absence of contract between the parties—to compel any person in the course of his business and against his will to accept or retain the personal services of another, or to compel any person, against his will, to perform personal services for another. The right of a person to sell his labor upon such terms as he deems proper is, in its essence, the same as the right of the purchaser of labor to prescribe the conditions upon which he will accept such labor from the person offering to sell it. So the right of the employee to quit the service of the employer, for whatever reason, is the same as the right of the employer, for whatever reason, to dispense with the services of such

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employee. It was the legal right of the defendant Adair—however unwise such a course might have been—to discharge Coppage [the employee in that case] because of his being a member of a labor organization, as it was the legal right of Coppage, if he saw fit to do so,—however unwise such a course on his...

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308 practice notes
  • Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 9742
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 25, 1998
    ...17 S.Ct. 427, 41 L.Ed. 832 (1897)] -Lochner -Adair [v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436 (1908)] -Coppage [v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441 (1915)] constitutional doctrine''). As the plurality points out, ante, at ----, an unfair retroactive assessment......
  • Virginian Ry Co v. System Federation No 40, No. 324
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1937
    ...as to infringe due process. Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436, 13 Ann.Cas. 764, and Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441, L.R.A.1915C, 960, have no present application. The provisions of the Railway Labor Act invoked here neither compel th......
  • Howes Bros. Co. v. Massachusetts Unemployment Comp. Comm'n
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • December 30, 1936
    ...to established principles of law. Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436, 13 Ann.Cas. 764;Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441, L.R.A.1915C, 960;Armstrong Cork & Insulation Co. v. Walsh, 276 Mass. 263, 177 N.E. 2;Opinion of the Justices, 275 Ma......
  • McArthur v. Maryland Casvalts Co., 33441
    • United States
    • Mississippi Supreme Court
    • February 6, 1939
    ...So. 880; Hartford Fire Ins. Co. v. Williams, 149 Miss. 123, 115 So. 199; Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 49 L.Ed. 937; Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 59 L.Ed. 441; Adkins v. Lyons, 261 U.S. 525, 67 L.Ed. 785; Advance Rumely Thresher Co., Inc. v. Jackson, 287 U.S. 283, 77 L.Ed. 306; Hartfo......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
306 cases
  • Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 9742
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 25, 1998
    ...17 S.Ct. 427, 41 L.Ed. 832 (1897)] -Lochner -Adair [v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436 (1908)] -Coppage [v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441 (1915)] constitutional doctrine''). As the plurality points out, ante, at ----, an unfair retroactive assessment......
  • Virginian Ry Co v. System Federation No 40, No. 324
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 29, 1937
    ...as to infringe due process. Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436, 13 Ann.Cas. 764, and Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441, L.R.A.1915C, 960, have no present application. The provisions of the Railway Labor Act invoked here neither compel th......
  • National Labor Relations Board v. Jones Laughlin Steel Corporation, No. 419
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • April 12, 1937
    ...Federation No. 40, the cases of Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436, 13 Ann.Cas. 764, and Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441, L.R.A.1915C, 960, are inapplicable to legislation of this character. The act does not interfere with the normal e......
  • Howes Bros. Co. v. Massachusetts Unemployment Comp. Comm'n
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
    • December 30, 1936
    ...to established principles of law. Adair v. United States, 208 U.S. 161, 28 S.Ct. 277, 52 L.Ed. 436, 13 Ann.Cas. 764;Coppage v. Kansas, 236 U.S. 1, 35 S.Ct. 240, 59 L.Ed. 441, L.R.A.1915C, 960;Armstrong Cork & Insulation Co. v. Walsh, 276 Mass. 263, 177 N.E. 2;Opinion of the Justices, 275 Ma......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
1 books & journal articles
  • Federal Protection of Labor
    • United States
    • ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, The Nbr. 224-1, November 1942
    • November 1, 1942
    ...1942, p. 1. 4 208 U. S. 161 (1908). 3 In 1917 there were 4,450 strikes involv- 5 30 Stat. 428. ing 1,220,000 workers. In 1918 there were 6 236 U. S. 1 3,353 strikes involving 1,240,000 workers. In 7 257 U. S. 312 (1921). 1919, 3,630 strikes involved 4,160,000 workers. 8 Coronado Coal Co. v.......

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