International Association Machinists v. Gonzales

Citation356 U.S. 617,2 L.Ed.2d 1018,78 S.Ct. 923
Decision Date26 May 1958
Docket NumberNo. 31,31
PartiesINTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION of MACHINISTS, an Unincorporated Association; Charles Truax, Individually, etc., et al., Petitioners, v. Marcos GONZALES
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

See 357 U.S. 944, 78 S.Ct. 1379.

Messrs. Plato E. Papps, Washington, D.C., and Eugene K. Kennedy, Redwood, Cal., for petitioners.

Mr. Lloyd E. McMurray, San Francisco, Cal., for respondents.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

Claiming to have been expelled from membership in the International Association of Machinists and its Local No. 68 in violation of his rights under the constitution and by-laws of the unions, respondent, a marine machinist, brought this suit against the International and Local, together with their officers, in a Superior Court in California for restoration of his membership in the unions and for damages due to his illegal expulsion. The case was tried to the court, and, on the basis of the pleadings, evidence, and argument of counsel, detailed findings of fact were made, conclusions of law drawn, and a judgment entered ordering the reinstatement of respondent and awarding him damages for lost wages as well as for physical and mental suffering. The judgment was affirmed by the District Court of Appeal, 142 Cal.App.2d 207, 298 P.2d 92, and the Supreme Court of California denied a petition for hearing. We brought the case here, 352 U.S. 966, 77 S.Ct. 354, 1 L.Ed.2d 321, since it presented another important question concerning the extent to which the National Labor Relations Act, 49 Stat. 449, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 141—188, 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 141 188, has excluded the exercise of state power.

The crux of the claim sustained by the California court was that under California law membership in a labor union constitutes a contract between the member and the union, the terms of which are governed by the constitution and by-laws of the union, and that state law provides, through mandatory reinstatement and damages, a remedy for breach of such contract through wrongful expulsion. This contractual conception of the relation between a member and his union widely prevails in this country and has recently been adopted by the House of Lords in Bonsor v. Musicians' Union, (1956) A.C. 104. It has been the law of Cali- fornia for at least half a century. See Dingwall v. Amalgamated Ass'n of Street R. Employees, 4 Cal.App. 565, 88 P. 597. Though an unincorporated association, a labor union is for many purposes given the rights and subjected to the obligations of a legal entity. See United Mine Workers of America v. Coronado Coal Co., 259 U.S. 344, 383—392, 42 S.Ct. 570, 573—576, 66 L.Ed. 975; United States v. White, 322 U.S. 694, 701—703, 64 S.Ct. 1248, 1252—1253, 88 L.Ed. 1542.

That the power of California to afford the remedy of reinstatement for the wrongful expulsion of a union member has not been displaced by the Taft-Hartley Act is admitted by petitioners. Quite properly they do not attack so much of the judgment as orders respondent's reinstatement. As Garner v. Teamsters Union, 346 U.S. 485, 74 S.Ct. 161, 98 L.Ed. 228, could not avoid deciding, the Taft-Hartley Act undoubtedly carries implications of exclusive federal authority. Congress withdrew from the States much that had theretofore rested with them. But the other half of what was pronounced in Garner—that the Act 'leaves much to the states'—is no less important. See 346 U.S. at page 488, 74 S.Ct. at page 164. The statutory implications concerning what has been taken from the States and what has been left to them are of a Delphic nature, to be translated into concreteness by the process of litigating elucidation. See Weber v. Anheuser-Busch, Inc., 348 U.S. 468, 474-477, 75 S.Ct. 480, 484—486, 99 L.Ed. 546.

Since we deal with implications to be drawn from the Taft-Hartley Act for the avoidance of conflicts between enforcement of federal policy by the National Labor Relations Board and the exertion of state power, it might be abstractly justifiable, as a matter of wooden logic, to suggest that an action in a state court by a member of a union for restoration of his membership rights is precluded. In such a suit there may be embedded circumstances that could constitute an unfair labor practice under § 8(b)(2) of the Act. In the judgment of the Board, expulsion from a union, taken in connection with other circumstances established in a particular case, might constitute an attempt to cause an employer to 'discriminate against an employee with respect to whom membership in such organization has been denied or terminated on some ground other than his failure to tender the periodic dues and the initiation fees uniformly required as a condition of acquiring or retaining membership. * * *' 61 Stat. 141, 29 U.S.C. § 158(b)(2), 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(b)(2). But the protection of union members in their rights as members from arbitrary conduct by unions and union officers has not been undertaken by federal law, and indeed the assertion of any such power has been expressly denied. The proviso to § 8(b)(1) of the Act states that 'this paragraph shall not impair the right of a labor organization to prescribe its own rules with respect to the acquisition or retention of membership therein * * *.' 61 Stat. 141, 29 U.S.C. § 158(b)(1), 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(b)(1). The present controversy is precisely one that gives legal efficacy under state law to the rules prescribed by a labor organization for 'retention of membership therein.' Thus, to preclude a state court from exerting its traditional jurisdiction to determine and enforce the rights of union membership would in many cases leave an unjustly ousted member without remedy for the restoration of his important union rights. Such a drastic result, on the remote possibility of some entanglement with the Board's enforcement of the national policy, would require a more compelling indication of congressional will than can be found in the interstices of the Taft-Hartley Act. See United Construction Workers, etc. v. Laburnum Constr. Corp., 347 U.S. 656, 74 S.Ct. 833, 98 L.Ed. 1025.

Although petitioners do not claim that the state court lacked jurisdiction to order respondent's reinstatement, they do contend that it was without power to fill out this remedy by an award of damages for loss of wages and suffering resulting from the breach of contract. No radiation of the Taft-Hartley Act requires us thus to mutilate the comprehensive relief of equity and reach such an incongruous adjustment of federal-state relations touching the regulation of labor. The National Labor Relations Board could not have given respondent the relief that California gave him according to its local law of contracts and damages. Although, if the unions' conduct constituted an unfair labor practice, the Board might possibly have been empowered to award back pay, in no event could it mulct in damages for mental or physical suffering. And the possibility of partial relief from the Board does not, in such a case as is here presented, deprive a party of available state remedies for all damages suffered. See International Union, United Automobile Workers v. Russell, 356 U.S. 634, 78 S.Ct. 932.

If, as we held in the Laburnum case, certain state causes of action sounding in tort are not displaced simply because there may be an argumentative coincidence in the facts adducible in the tort action and a plausible proceeding before the National Labor Relations Board, a state remedy for breach of contract also ought not be displaced by such evidentiary coincidence when the possibility of conflict with federal policy is similarly remote. The possibility of conflict from the court's award of damages in the present case is no greater than from its order that respondent be restored to membership. In either case the potential conflict is too contingent, too remotely related to the public interest expressed in the Taft-Hartley, Act, to justify depriving state courts of jurisdiction to vindicate the personal rights of an ousted union member. This is emphasized by the fact that the subject matter of the litigation in the present case, as the parties and the court conceived it, was the breach of a contract governing the relations between respondent and his unions.* The suit did not purport to remedy or regulate union conduct on the ground that it was designed to bring about employer discrimination against an employee, the evil the Board is concerned to strike at as an unfair labor practice under § 8(b)(2). This important distinction between the purposes of federal and state regulation has been aptly described: 'Although even these state court decisions may lead to possible conflict between the federal labor board and state courts they do not present potentialities of conflicts in kind or degree which require a hands-off directive to the states. A state court decision requiring restoration of membership requires consideration of and judgment upon matters wholly outside the scope of the National Labor Relations Board's determination with reference to employer discrimination after union ouster from membership. The state court proceedings deal with arbitrariness and misconduct vis-a-vis the individual union members and the union; the Board proceeding looking principally to the nexus between union action and employer discrimination, examines the ouster from membership in entirely different terms.' Isaacson, Labor Relations Law: Federal versus State Jurisdiction, 42 A.B.A.J. 415, 483.

The judgment is


Mr. Justice BLACK took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.

Mr. Chief Justice WARREN, with whom Mr. Justice DOUGLAS joins, dissenting.

By sustaining a state-court damage award against a labor organization for conduct that was subject to an unfair labor practice proceeding under the Federal Act, this Court sanctions a duplication and conflict of...

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