International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America v. Russell

Citation2 L.Ed.2d 1030,78 S.Ct. 932,356 U.S. 634
Decision Date26 May 1958
Docket NumberNo. 21,UAW-CIO,21
PartiesINTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AIRCRAFT AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA (), an Unincorporated Labor Organization, and Michael Volk, an Individual, Petitioners, v. Paul RUSSELL
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

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

Mr. J. R. Goldthwaite, Jr., Atlanta, Ga., for petitioners.

Mr. Norman W. Harris, Decatur, Ala., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The issue before us is whether a state court, in 1952, had jurisdiction to entertain an action by an employee, who worked in an industry affecting interstate commerce, against a union and its agent, for malicious interference with such employee's lawful occupation. In United Construction Workers v. Laburnum Corp., 347 U.S. 656, 657, 74 S.Ct. 833, 834, 98 L.Ed. 1025, we held that Congress had not 'given the National Labor Relations Board such exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter of a common-law tort action for damages as to preclude an appropriate state court from hearing and determining its issues where such conduct constitutes an unfair labor practice' under the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, or the National Labor Relations Act, as amended.1 For the reasons hereafter stated, we uphold the jurisdiction of the state courts in this case as we did in the Laburnum case.

This action was instituted in the Circuit Court of Morgan County, Alabama, in 1952, by Paul S. Russell the respondent, against the petitioners, International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, CIO, an unincorporated labor organization, here called the union, and its agent, Volk, together with other parties not now in the case. Russell was a maintenance electrician employed by Calumet and Hecla Consolidated Copper Company (Wolverine Tube Division) in Decatur, Alabama, at $1.75 an hour and earned approximately $100 a week. The union was the bargaining agent for certain employees of that Division but Russell was not a member of the union nor had he applied for such membership.

The allegations of his amended complaint may be summarized as follows: The union, on behalf of the employees it represented, called a strike to commence July 18, 1951. To prevent Russell and other hourly paid employees from entering the plant during the strike, and to thus make the strike effective, petitioners maintained a picket line from July 18 to September 24, 1951. This line was located along and in the public street which was the only means of ingress and egress to the plant. The line consisted of persons standing along the street or walking in a compact circle across the entire traveled portion of the street. Such pickets, on July 18, by force of numbers, threats of bodily harm to Russell and of damage to his property, prevented him from reaching the plant gates. At least one striker took hold of Russell's automobile. Some of the pickets stood or walked in front of his automobile in such a manner as to block the street and make it impossible for him, and others similarly situated, to enter the plant. The amended complaint also contained a second count to the same general effect but alleging that petitioners unlawfully conspired with other persons to do the acts above described.

The amended complaint further alleged that petitioners willfully and maliciously caused Russell to lose time from his work from July 18 to August 22, 1951, and to lose the earnings which he would have received had he and others not been prevented from going to and from the plant. Russell, accordingly, claimed compensatory damages for his loss of earnings and for his mental anguish, plus punitive damages, in the total sum of $50,000.

Petitioners filed a plea to the jurisdiction. They claimed that the National Labor Relations Board had jurisdiction of the controversy to the exclusion of the state court. The trial court overruled Russell's demurrer to the plea. However, the Supreme Court of Alabama reversed the trial court and upheld the jurisdiction of that court, even though the amended complaint charged a violation of § 8(b)(1)(A) of the Federal Act.2 258 Ala. 615, 64 So.2d 384.

On remand, petitioners' plea to the jurisdiction was again filed but this time Russell's demurrer to it was sustained. The case went to trial before a jury and resulted in a general verdict and a judgment for Russell in the amount of $10,000, including punitive damages. On appeal, the Supreme Court of Alabama reaffirmed the Circuit Court's jurisdiction. It also affirmed the judgment for Russell on the merits, holding that Russell had proved the tort of wrongful interference with a lawful occupation. 264 Ala. 456, 88 So.2d 175. Because of the importance of the jurisdictional issue, we granted certiorari. 352 U.S. 915, 77 S.Ct. 213, 1 L.Ed.2d 121.

There was much conflict in the testimony as to what took place in connection with the picketing but those conflicts were resolved by the jury in favor of Russell.3 Accepting a view of the evidence most favorable to him, the jury was entitled to conclude that petitioners did, by mass picketing and threats of violence, prevent him from entering the plant and from engaging in his employment from July 18 to August 22. The jury could have found that work would have been available within the plant if Russell, and others desiring entry, had not been excluded by the force, or threats of force, of the strikers.4 This leaves no significant issue of fact for decision here. The principal issue of law is whether the state court had jurisdiction to entertain Russell's amended complaint or whether that jurisdiction had been pre-empted by Congress and vested exclusively in the National Labor Relations Board.

At the outset, we note that the union's activity in this case clearly was not protected by federal law. Indeed the strike was conducted in such a manner that it could have been enjoined by Alabama courts. Youngdahl v. Rainfair, Inc., 355 U.S. 131, 78 S.Ct. 206, 2 L.Ed.2d 151; United Auto, Aircraft and Agr. Implement Workers v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 351 U.S. 266, 76 S.Ct. 794, 100 L.Ed. 1162.

In the Laburnum case, supra, the union, with intimidation and threats of violence, demanded recognition to which it was not entitled. In that manner, the union prevented the employer from using its regular employees and forced it to abandon a construction contract with a consequent loss of profits. The employer filed a tort action in a Virginia court and received a judgment for about $30,000 compensatory damages, plus $100,000 punitive damages. On petition for certiorari, we upheld the state court's jurisdiction and affirmed its judgment. We assumed that the conduct of the union constituted a violation of § 8(b)(1)(A) of the Federal Act. Nevertheless, we held that the Federal Act did not expressly or impliedly deprive the employer of its common-law right of action in tort for damages.

This case is similar to Laburnum in many respects. In each, a state court awarded compensatory and punitive damages against a union for conduct which was a tort and also assumed to be an unfair labor practice. The situations are comparable except that, in the instant case, the Board is authorized, under § 10(c) of the Federal Act, to award back pay to employees under certain circumstances. We assume, for the purpose of argument, that the Board would have had authority to award back pay to Russell.5 Petitioners assert that the possibility of partial relief distinguishes the instant case from Laburnum. It is our view that Congress has not made such a distinction and that is has not, in either case, deprived a victim of the kind of conduct here involved of common-law rights of action for all damages suffered.

Section 10(c) of the Federal Act, upon which petitioners must rely, gives limited authority to the Board to award back pay to employees. The material provisions are the following:

'If upon the preponderance of the testimony taken the Board shall be of the opinion that any person named in the complaint has engaged in or is engaging in any such unfair labor practice, then the Board shall state its findings of fact and shall issue and cause to be served on such person an order requiring such person to cease and desist from such unfair labor practice, and to take such affirmative action including reinstatement of employees with or without back pay, as will effectuate the policies of this Act: Provided, That where an order directs reinstatement of an employee, back pay may be required of the employer or labor organization, as the case may be, responsible for the discrimination suffered by him * * *.' 61 Stat. 147, 29 U.S.C. § 160(c), 29 U.S.C.A. § 160(c).

If an award of damages by a state court for conduct such as is involved in the present case is not otherwise prohibited by the Federal Acts, it certainly is not prohibited by the provisions of § 10(c). This section is far from being an express grant of exclusive jurisdiction superseding common-law actions, by either an employer or an employee, to recover damages caused by the tortious conduct of a union. To make an award, the Board must first be convinced that the award would 'effectuate the policies' of the Act. 'The remedy of back pay, it must be remembered, is entrusted to the Baord's discretion; it is not mechanically compelled by the Act.' Phelps Dodge Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board, 313 U.S. 177, 198, 61 S.Ct. 845, 854. The power to order affirmative relief under s 10(c) is merely incidental to the primary purpose of Congress to stop and to prevent unfair labor practices. Congress did not establish a general scheme authorizing the Board to award full compensatory damages for injuries caused by wrongful conduct. United Construction Workers v. Laburnum Corp., 347 U.S. 656, 666 667, 74 S.Ct. 833, 838—839. In Virginia Electric & Power Co....

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