International Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Davis

Decision Date10 May 1985
Citation470 So.2d 1215
Parties119 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2794, 53 USLW 2616, 103 Lab.Cas. P 11,525 INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMEN'S ASSOCIATION, etc. v. Larry DAVIS. 83-710.
CourtAlabama Supreme Court

Jack Janecky of Nettles, Barker & Janecky, Mobile, Thomas W. Gleason, Charles R. Goldburg, and Susan G. Barres, New York City, for appellant.

Bayless E. Biles of Wilkins, Bankester & Biles, Bay Minette, for appellee.

JONES, Justice.

The threshold issue is whether federal preemption is a waivable defense. Plaintiff argues that Defendant Union's post-trial allegation of federal preemption was insufficient to preserve the issue for our review. On the other hand, Defendant Union argues that asserting federal preemption in a post-trial JNOV motion is sufficient to preserve the issue for appellate review, because the National Labor Relations Act preempts the state courts of subject matter jurisdiction, the lack of which may never be waived and thus can be asserted at any time. We hold that, under the circumstances of this case, federal preemption is an affirmative defense 1 which not only can be waived, but must be affirmatively pleaded in order to avoid waiver. Thus, Defendant Union's JNOV motion alleging federal preemption was insufficient to preserve that issue for our review.

In so holding, we are not unmindful of contrary holdings of other state courts supporting Defendant Union's position that the National Labor Relations Act preempts a state's subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Consolidated Theatres v. Theatrical Stage Employees' Union, Local 16, 69 Cal.2d 713, 73 Cal.Rptr. 213, 447 P.2d 325 (1968); Chicago & North Western Railway Co. v. La Follette, 27 Wis.2d 505, 135 N.W.2d 269 (1965); General Building Contractors' Association v. Local Unions Nos. 542, 542-A and 542-B, 370 Pa. 73, 87 A.2d 250 (1952).

Each of these courts asserts its holding of federal preemption summarily and without supporting precedent. Once the "subject matter" premise is accepted, the result that the preemption issue may be raised for the first time on appeal and judicially reviewed on its merits is a foregone conclusion. Subject matter jurisdiction can neither be conferred by agreement nor can it be waived. Indeed, it is incumbent upon the court to notice subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.

It is not the conclusion, given the assumed premise, with which we disagree. Our disagreement consists in what is preempted. It is not the circuit court's subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate a damage claim for the tort of fraud--even if it arises in the context of a labor-related dispute--that is preempted. Rather, it is the state court's exercise of that power that is subject to preemption. 2

This distinction between federal preemption of subject matter jurisdiction and preemption of the state court's exercise of its authority is more than a mere play on words. It goes to the very nature and character of the power of the state courts to function within the constitutionally created system of federalism, invoking significant public policy considerations. Undisputedly, the Supremacy Clause authorizes the United States Congress, if not otherwise constitutionally proscribed, to legislate in matters in which the states are also empowered to act. The federal legislation (or regulations pursuant thereto) may authorize concurrent jurisdiction (e.g., Federal Employers Liability Act); it may preempt state law (e.g., 12 C.F.R. § 545.8-3(f) (1982)); 3 it may preempt the state court's exercise of its otherwise valid jurisdiction over a particular field of law (e.g., National Labor Relations Act); or it may create a body of law unknown to state law (e.g., Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978).

To be sure, the Bankruptcy Reform Act is an excellent example of pure subject matter jurisdiction. If a state court "adjudicates" one of its citizens "a bankrupt," such adjudication would be subject to attack as void at any time by any affected party, or by the sua sponte action of another court. The very subject matter of bankruptcy has been preempted by federal law. In like manner, if a state court of limited jurisdiction (e.g., an Alabama district court) convicted an accused of capital murder and sentenced him to die, the conviction and sentence would be void for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Central to our holding is the general jurisdiction of the Mobile Circuit Court, Art. VI, § 6.04, Amendment 328, Ala. Const. 1901, and the nature of the claim. This is an ordinary misrepresentation suit filed in a court of general jurisdiction. Clearly, the Mobile Circuit Court has jurisdiction over claims for damages based on allegations of misrepresentation. Code 1975, § 6-5-101, et seq.

We contrast the instant case with a bankruptcy suit filed in a state circuit court or a capital murder case tried in a state district court. In both instances, neither court has subject matter jurisdiction. The state circuit court, although a court of general jurisdiction, has no jurisdiction over the bankruptcy suit because remedies of this nature exist only by virtue of federal law and exclusively in the federal forum. To like effect, the district court is a court of limited jurisdiction and by state law has no power to try capital murder cases. In neither of these examples could subject matter jurisdiction be conferred by agreement, and thus the defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction could not be waived; therefore, the judgments could be set aside at any time as void, either on direct or on collateral attack,...

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33 cases
  • International Longshoremen Association v. Davis
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 27 May 1986
    ...of a conclusive determination by the NLRB as to appellee's status does not make out an arguable case for pre-emption. Pp. 394-399. 470 So.2d 1215 (Ala.1985), WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in Part I of which all other Members joined, in Part II of which BURGER, C.J., and BRE......
  • Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Davis
    • United States
    • U.S. Supreme Court
    • 27 May 1986
    ...a labor-related dispute—that is pre-empted. Rather, it is the state court's exercise of that power that is subject to preemption." 470 So.2d 1215, 1216 (1985). The court's view was that as a state court of general jurisdiction the Circuit Court had had subject-matter jurisdiction over this ......
  • Ex parte James
    • United States
    • Alabama Supreme Court
    • 10 January 1997
    ...jurisdiction can "be set aside at any time as void, either on direct or on collateral attack." International Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Davis, 470 So.2d 1215, 1217 (Ala.1985), aff'd, 476 U.S. 380, 106 S.Ct. 1904, 90 L.Ed.2d 389 (1986). This objection to the exercise of judicial review of the c......
  • People v. Fuentes-Espinoza
    • United States
    • Colorado Court of Appeals
    • 17 January 2013
    ...(quoting Dykema v. Volkswagenwerk AG, 189 Wis.2d 206, 525 N.W.2d 754, 756 (Wis.Ct.App.1994) )); contra Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Davis, 470 So.2d 1215, 1216 (Ala.1985), aff'd on other grounds, 476 U.S. 380, 106 S.Ct. 1904, 90 L.Ed.2d 389 (1986) ; Local 447 v. Feaker Painting, Inc., 788 ......
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