George J. Grant Const. Co. v. St. Paul Bldg. Trades Council

CourtSupreme Court of Minnesota (US)
Citation136 Minn. 167,161 N.W. 520
Docket NumberNo. 20058[176].,20058[176].
Decision Date23 February 1917

136 Minn. 167
161 N.W. 520


No. 20058[176].*

Supreme Court of Minnesota.

Feb. 23, 1917.

Appeal from District Court, Ramsey County; Frederick N. Dickson, Judge.

Action for injunction by the George J. Grant Construction Company against the St. Paul Building Trades Council and others. From order denying an injunction, plaintiff appeals. Order affirmed.

Syllabus by the Court

The refusal of a temporary injunction to plaintiff upon pleadings and affidavits is, for purposes of review, deemed a finding that the allegations of the complaint are not true in so far as they are denied.

The restraining power of a court of equity will not often be exercised to restrain a number of lawful acts on the theory that they constitute an unlawful whole.

It is not unlawful for the members of labor unions to agree among themselves that they will not work for a building contractor with whom they have a controversy nor for any subcontractor on any contract he may have on hand.

[161 N.W. 520]

James D. Shearer and L. B. Byard, both of Minneapolis (Walter Gordon Merritt, of New York City, of counsel), for appellant.

Lawler & Mulally, of St. Paul, for respondents.


Plaintiff is engaged in business as builder and contractor in St. Paul. Defendant council is an unincorporated association composed of delegates from local unions in the different branches of the building business in St. Paul and the individual defendants are officers or representatives of

[161 N.W. 521]

said organizations. The complaint covers over twenty printed pages. In brief it alleges that defendants have entered into a conspiracy to injure plaintiff and destroy its business, that defendants have posted plaintiff in public places as unfair to union labor and have placed or threatened to place on the unfair list persons who deal with plaintiff. That defendants have threatened customers and prospective customers of plaintiff with labor disturbances if they enter into business relations with plaintiff, have induced others to violate their contracts with plaintiff, have forbidden union men doing work for subcontractors in the employ of plaintiff, have induced workmen not to handle or work upon any of plaintiff's materials, have induced men to refuse to haul material to or from buildings where plaintiff was doing work and have prevented plaintiff from securing necessary material to carry on its business. The complaint then alleges that the conspiracy has never been limited as to time, place, or the means or devices employed to carry it out, and that the general scheme is to employ any and all means which may suggest themselves from time to time to destroy and crush the plaintiff and its business. Upon this complaint and upon affidavits submitted, plaintiff asked for a temporary injunction restraining the acts above complained of and others as well during the pendency of this action. An answer was interposed and answering affidavits were submitted by defendants. After a hearing, the trial court denied the injunction. Plaintiff appeals.

[1] 1. The affidavits are conflicting. The refusal of a temporary injunction to plaintiff by the trial court, upon the pleadings and affidavits of both parties, is, for the purpose of review in this court, deemed to be in effect a finding that the allegations of the complaint and supporting affidavits are not true in so far as they are denied and that the allegations of the answer and rebutting affidavits are true. Taking this view of the case we are obliged to reject as not proven many of the charges made by plaintiff.

2. On the argument in this court, counsel for the plaintiff admitted that no single act done was claimed to be unlawful; his claim was that the entire set of acts taken together and in connection with the purpose with which they were done, were unlawful on the theory that they constituted what he termed ‘organized economic oppression.’ The restraining power of courts of equity has usually been invoked to enjoin some tangible or specific acts. Badger Brass Mfg. Co. v. Daly, 137 Wis. 601, 119 N. W. 328. It is not easy to frame an injunction to restrain ‘organized economic oppression.’ It is not easy to forbid a course of conduct based upon acts, lawful when taken alone, on the theory that they are unlawful when taken as a whole. Some courts have held that an act lawful if done by one person may be unlawful if cooperated in by many, but we are not aware that it has ever been held that many lawful acts done by the same person or body of persons can constitute an unlawful whole.

3. Coming to the established facts we find the situation little more or less than this: A labor dispute exists between plaintiff and the defendant unions and their members. Defendants are not employés of plaintiff. The dispute has arisen mainly from the fact that plaintiff runs what is termed an ‘open shop,’ that is, it employs nonunion men and it is claimed plaintiff has at some times dealt unfairly with union men and has in some cases refused them employment. It would seem to be a bona fide dispute on both sides. With the merits of it we are not further concerned.

The unions of building trades and their members have agreed among themselves that until these controversies are adjusted they will not work for plaintiff or for any subcontractor on any contract plaintiff may have on hand. We think the lawfulness of this conduct is the one question before the court.

Some acts especially complained of are in reality within this class. For example: In one case union teamsters refused to haul sand excavated by plaintiff for a building it had under construction. The excavation was part of the construction and did not differ in principle from other work in connection with the building.

In another case union carpenters refused to work for another contractor, Mr. Norlander, with a scaffold belonging to plaintiff and hauled to the building where it was to be used by plaintiff's nonunion teamsters. The difficulty was settled by Norlander agreeing that the scaffolding should be hauled away by union teamsters. This incident signified no more than a refusal to work on a building if nonunion men were employed on work incident to the construction.

In a few isolated cases defendants have gone farther:

In one case union men refused to work with a steam shovel hired from plaintiff by another contractor. The incident was a casual one. There is no threatened injury to be enjoined. There is no showing that plaintiff manufactures or sells or habitually hires out steam shovels.

In one case the carpenter union placed the John Martin Lumber Company on the unfair list because that company refused to specify union labor on a building it was constructing and had the building erected by plaintiff's nonunion carpenters. No damage is shown to have been done or threatened to plaintiff or to any one else.

In one case some of defendants refused to participate in an outdoor sports carnival unless assured that plaintiff would be given no more work in building therefor. Plaintiff

[161 N.W. 522]

had already done a substantial part of the work and little remained to be done.

These few and isolated transactions, whether taken alone or collectively, do not seem to us important enough to warrant injunctive relief nor do we consider their bearing on this case such that it is necessary to examine each one and determine whether the persons committing them were within their legal...

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23 cases
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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • April 1, 1938
    ...477, 1 Ann.Cas. 172;Minnesota Stove Co. v. Cavanaugh, 131 Minn. 458, 155 N.W. 638;George J. Grant Const. Co. v. St. Paul B. T. Council, 136 Minn. 167, 161 N.W. 520, 1055. To carry out these purposes, they may make reasonable use of the public streets and highways. Steffes v. Motion Picture ......
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    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Minnesota (US)
    • April 1, 1938
    ......Gray v. Building Trades Council, 91 Minn. 171, 97 N.W. 663, 63 L.R.A. ...Cavanaugh, 131 Minn. 458, 155 N. W. 638; George J. Grant Const. Co. v. St. Paul B. T. Council, ......
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    ......The Dis trict . Page 461 . Council and the Lodge are unincorporated associations ... with sympathetic strikes in other trades; notifying a trucking company, usually employed ... provisions of the Clayton Act forbade the grant of an injunction under the circumstances of the ...Cas. 1917C, 487; United States v. St. Paul, M. & M. Ry. Co., 247 U. S. 310, 318, 38 Sup. Ct. ......
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