Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers of America, Local 114, No. 45

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtCLARK
Citation15 L.Ed.2d 582,383 U.S. 53,86 S.Ct. 657
Decision Date21 February 1966
Docket NumberNo. 45
PartiesWilliam C. LINN, Petitioner, v. UNITED PLANT GUARD WORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 114, et al

383 U.S. 53
86 S.Ct. 657
15 L.Ed.2d 582
William C. LINN, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED PLANT GUARD WORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL 114, et al.

No. 45.
Argued Nov. 18, 1965.
Decided Feb. 21, 1966.

[Syllabus from pages 53-54 intentionally omitted]

Page 54

Donald F. Welday, Detroit, Mich., for petitioner.

Sol. Gen. Thurgood Marshall for the United States, as amicus curiae, by special leave of Court.

Winston L. Livingston, Detroit, Mich., for respondents.

Page 55

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The case before us presents the question whether, and to what extent, the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq. (1964 ed.), bars the maintenance of a civil action for libel instituted under state law by an official of an employer subject to the Act, seeking damages for defamatory statements published during a union organizing campaign by the union and its officers. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the National Labor Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter. It held that such conduct 'would arguably constitute an unfair labor practice under Section 8(b)' of the Act and that San Diego Building Trades Council, etc. v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959), compelled a dismissal on preemption grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 337 F.2d 68, assuming without deciding that the statements in question were 'false, malicious, clearly libelous and damaging to plaintiff, Linn, albeit they were relevant to the union's campaign.' At p. 69. We granted certiorari, 381 U.S. 923, 85 S.Ct. 1558, 14 L.Ed.2d 682. We conclude that where either party to a labor dispute circulates false and defamatory statements during a union organizing campaign, the court does have jurisdiction to apply state remedies if the complainant pleads and proves that the statements were made with malice and injured him. The judgment is, therefore, reversed.

I.

Petitioner Linn, an assistant general manager of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, Inc., filed this

Page 56

suit against the respondent union, two of its officers and a Pinkerton employee, Leo J. Doyle. The complaint alleged that, during a campaign to organize Pinkerton's employees in Detroit, the respondents had circulated among the employees leaflets which stated inter alia:

'(7) Now we find out that Pinkerton's has had a large volume of work in Saginaw they have had it for years.

'United Plant Guard Workers now has evidence

'A. That Pinkerton has 10 jobs in Saginaw, Michigan.

'B. Employing 52 men.

'C. Some of these jobs are 10 yrs. old!

'(8) Make you feel kind sick & foolish.

'(9) The men in Saginaw were deprived of their right to vote in three N.L.R.B. elections. Their names were not summitted (sic). These guards were voted into the Union in 1959! These Pinkerton guards were robbed of pay increases. The Pinkerton manegers (sic) were lying to us—all the time the contract was in effect. No doubt the Saginaw men will file criminal charges. Somebody may go to Jail!'

The complaint further alleged that Linn was one of the managers referred to in the leaflet, and that the statements in the leaflet were 'wholly false, defamatory and untrue' as respondents well knew. It did not allege any actual or special damage but prayed for the recovery of $1,000,000 on the ground that the accusations were libelous per se. Federal jurisdiction was based on diversity of citizenship.

All respondents, save Doyle, moved to dismiss, asserting that the subject matter was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Board. The record indicates that prior to the institution of this action Pinkerton had filed unfair labor practice charges with the Regional Director

Page 57

of the Board, alleging that the distribution of the leaflets, as well as other written material, had restrained and coerced Pinkerton's employees in the exercise of their § 7 rights, in violation of § 8(b)(1)(A) of the Act. The Regional Director refused to issue a complaint. Finding that the leaflets were circulated by Doyle, who was 'not an officer or member of the charged union, nor was there any evidence that he was acting as an agent of such union,' he concluded that the union was not responsible for the distribution of the leaflets and that the charge was, therefore, 'wholly without basis.' This ruling was sustained by the General Counsel of the Board some two months after this suit was filed.

In an unpublished opinion the District Judge dismissed the complaint holding, as we have already noted, that even if the union were responsible for distributing the material the case was controlled by Garmon, supra. The Court of Appeals affirmed, limiting its holding 'to a suit for libelous statements growing out of and relevant to a union's campaign to organize the employees of an employer subject to the National Labor Relations Act.' At 72.

II.

The question before us has been a recurring one in both state and federal tribunals,1 involving the extent to which the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, supersedes state law with respect to libels published during labor disputes. Its resolution entails accommodation of the federal interest in uniform regulation of labor relations with the traditional concern and responsibility of the State to protect its citizens against defamatory

Page 58

attacks. The problem is aggravated by the fact that the law in many States presumes damages from the publication of certain statements characterized as actionable per se.2 Labor disputes are ordinarily heated affairs; the language that is commonplace there might well be deemed actionable per se in some state jurisdictions. Indeed, representation campaigns are frequently characterized by bitter and extreme charges, countercharges, unfounded rumors, vituperations, personal accusations, misrepresentations and distortions. Both labor and management often speak bluntly and recklessly, embellishing their respective positions with imprecatory language. Cafeteria Employees Union, etc. v. Angelos, 320 U.S. 293, 295, 64 S.Ct. 126, 127, 88 L.Ed. 58 (1943). It is therefore necessary to determine whether libel actions in such circumstances might interfere with the national labor policy.

Our task is rendered more difficult by the failure of the Congress to furnish precise guidance in either the language of the Act or its legislative history. 3 As Mr.

Page 59

Justice Jackson said for a unanimous Court in Garner v. Teamsters, etc., Union, 346 U.S. 485, 488, 74 S.Ct. 161, 164, 98 L.Ed. 228 (1953): 'The * * * Act * * * leaves much to the states, though Congress has refrained from telling us how much. We must spell out from conflicting indications of congressional will the area in which state action is still permissible.'

The Court has dealt with specific pre-emption problems arising under the National Labor Relations Act on many occasions, going back as far as Allen-Bradley Local No. 1111, etc. v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 740, 62 S.Ct. 820, 86 L.Ed. 1154 (1942). However, in framing the pre-emption question before us we need look primarily to San Diego Building Trades Council, etc. v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959). There in most meticulous language this Court spelled out the 'extent to which the variegated laws of the several States are displaced by a single, uniform, national rule * * *.' At 241, 79 S.Ct. at 777. The Court emphasized that it was for the Board and the Congress to define the 'precise and closely limited demarcations that can be adequately fashioned only by legislation and administration,' while '(o)ur task is confined to dealing with classes of situations.' At 242, 79 S.Ct. at 778. In this respect, the Court concluded that the States need not yield jurisdiction 'where the activity regulated was a merely peripheral concern of the Labor Management Relations Act * * * (o)r where the regulated conduct touched interests so deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility that, in the absence of compelling congressional direction, we could not infer that Congress had deprived the States of the power to act.' At 243—244, 79 S.Ct. at 779. In short, as we said in Local 100 of United Ass'n of Journeymen and Apprentices v. Borden, 373 U.S. 690, 693—694, 83 S.Ct. 1423, 1425, 10 L.Ed.2d 638 (1963):

'(I)n the absence of an overriding state interest such as that involved in the maintenance of domestic

Page 60

peace, state courts must defer to the exclusive competence of the National Labor Relations Board in cases in which the activity that is the subject matter of the litigation is arguably subject to the protections of § 7 or the prohibitions of § 8 of the National Labor Relations Act. This relinquishment of state jurisdiction * * * is essential 'if the danger of state interference with national policy is to be averted,' * * * and is as necessary in a suit for damages as in a suit seeking equitable relief. Thus the first inquiry, in any case in which a claim of federal preemption is raised, must be whether the conduct called into question may reasonably be asserted to be subject to Labor Board cognizance.'

We note that the Board has given frequent consideration to the type of statements circulated during labor controversies, and that it has allowed wide latitude to the competing parties.4 It is clear that the Board does not 'police or censor propaganda used in the elections it conducts, but rather leaves to the good sense of the voters the appraisal of such matters, and to opposing parties the task of correcting inaccurate and untruthful statements.' Stewart-Warner Corp., 102 N.L.R.B. 1153, 1158 (1953). It will set aside an election only where a material fact has been misrepresented in the representation campaign; opportunity for reply has been lacking; and the misrepresentation has had an impact on the free choice of the employees participating in the...

To continue reading

Request your trial
775 practice notes
  • Associated General Contractors v. Otter Tail Power, Civ. No. A78-1009.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • November 6, 1978
    ...that the state cause of action will interfere with the effective administration of national labor policy? Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966); See also Automobile Workers v. Russell, 356 U.S. 634, 78 S.Ct. 932, 2 L.Ed.2d 1030 (1958); Machinists v. G......
  • The Boeing Company and Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, IFPTE Local 2001, 19-CA-090932
    • United States
    • National Labor Relations Board
    • December 14, 2017
    ...James M. Casida, 152 NLRB 526 (1965); Broward County Port Authority, 144 NLRB 1539 (1963). [17] See Linn v. Plant Guard Workers Local 114, 383 U.S. 53, 58-61 (1966), observing: Labor disputes are ordinarily heated affairs; language that is commonplace there might well be deemed actionable p......
  • King v. CVS Caremark Corp., Case No.: 1:12-CV-1715-VEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • February 23, 2016
    ...with respect to this rule.” Dimick , 293 U.S. at 486, 55 S.Ct. 296. See e.g., Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers of America, Local 114 , 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966) ; Arkansas Valley Land & Cattle Co. v. Mann , 130 U.S. 69, 9 S.Ct. 458, 32 L.Ed. 854 (1889) ; Northern Pa......
  • Babbitt v. United Farm Workers National Union, No. 78-225
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1979
    ...defamation and the ground covered by Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966), holding that application of state defamation remedies for speech uttered in a labor dispute is dependent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
775 cases
  • Associated General Contractors v. Otter Tail Power, Civ. No. A78-1009.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Courts. 8th Circuit. District of South Dakota
    • November 6, 1978
    ...that the state cause of action will interfere with the effective administration of national labor policy? Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966); See also Automobile Workers v. Russell, 356 U.S. 634, 78 S.Ct. 932, 2 L.Ed.2d 1030 (1958); Machinists v. G......
  • The Boeing Company and Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace, IFPTE Local 2001, 19-CA-090932
    • United States
    • National Labor Relations Board
    • December 14, 2017
    ...James M. Casida, 152 NLRB 526 (1965); Broward County Port Authority, 144 NLRB 1539 (1963). [17] See Linn v. Plant Guard Workers Local 114, 383 U.S. 53, 58-61 (1966), observing: Labor disputes are ordinarily heated affairs; language that is commonplace there might well be deemed actionable p......
  • King v. CVS Caremark Corp., Case No.: 1:12-CV-1715-VEH
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Court of Northern District of Alabama
    • February 23, 2016
    ...with respect to this rule.” Dimick , 293 U.S. at 486, 55 S.Ct. 296. See e.g., Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers of America, Local 114 , 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966) ; Arkansas Valley Land & Cattle Co. v. Mann , 130 U.S. 69, 9 S.Ct. 458, 32 L.Ed. 854 (1889) ; Northern Pa......
  • Babbitt v. United Farm Workers National Union, No. 78-225
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • June 5, 1979
    ...defamation and the ground covered by Time, Inc. v. Hill, 385 U.S. 374, 87 S.Ct. 534, 17 L.Ed.2d 456 (1967). Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53, 86 S.Ct. 657, 15 L.Ed.2d 582 (1966), holding that application of state defamation remedies for speech uttered in a labor dispute is dependent......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT