U.S. v. Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO)

Decision Date18 June 1981
Docket NumberNo. 80-2854,80-2854
Citation653 F.2d 1134
Parties107 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3057 UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. PROFESSIONAL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLERS ORGANIZATION (PATCO); Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, O'Hare Local # 316 (Patco O'Hare); The Officers, Agents, Directors, Managers, Servants and Members of Both Patco and Patco O'Hare; John M. Paolino, Richard L. Scholz, Tom Brockett, John Doe and Richard Roe, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Linda A. Wawzenski, Frederick H. Branding, Asst. U. S. Attys., Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff-appellant.

Richard J. Leighton, Washington, D. C., for defendants-appellees.

Before SWYGERT and BAUER, Circuit Judges, and CRABB, District Judge. *

SWYGERT, Circuit Judge.

The issues presented in this case are (1) whether Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7101-35, covering federal labor-management relations, preempts the jurisdiction of district courts under 5 U.S.C. § 7311, which prohibits strikes by employees of the Government of the United States, and (2) if there is no preemption, whether strike activity by such employees can be enjoined under section 7311. We hold that there is no preemption and that injunctions under section 7311 are within the jurisdiction of the federal courts. Accordingly, we reverse the order of the district court dismissing the action for lack of jurisdiction. 504 F.Supp. 432.


On July 30, 1980, Richard L. Scholz, the president of Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, O'Hare Local No. 316 (PATCO) wrote the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), demanding that the FAA take immediate action to upgrade the O'Hare Tower to a Level 5 facility 1 and provide a tax-free bonus of $7,500.00 to each controller. Scholz stated that the two demands were non-negotiable and gave the FAA ten days in which to grant the demands or prove that they would be implemented. Scholz threatened that

Failure to meet these two demands will result in the controllers at O'Hare ATCT (Air Traffic Control Tower) withdrawing their enthusiasm.

Upon receipt of union demands on August 5, 1980, the Regional Administrator asked for two weeks to respond and reminded PATCO of its statutory obligation not to strike. He also stated that the FAA considered Scholz's letter a threat of an illegal job action.

A slowdown of traffic at O'Hare Airport began on August 6. It culminated on Friday, August 15, 1980, when more than six hundred commercial and private planes in and around O'Hare experienced delays of more than thirty minutes during a 21-hour period from 12:01 a. m. to 9:00 p. m. inclusive. 2

The intensified slowdown on August 15 paralyzed airport traffic. On Sunday, August 17, 1980, the United States petitioned the district court ex parte for a temporary restraining order; later that day, Judge Nicholas J. Bua, acting as an emergency judge, entered a temporary restraining order enjoining the "slowdown." On August 18, the United States instituted this action for a preliminary injunction against the local union, its parent, and the officers and agents of both organizations. Expedited discovery was pursued by the parties. On October 20, 1980, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the suit against them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On December 15, 1980, the district court granted the motion, basing its dismissal on three grounds: (1) Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 vests exclusive jurisdiction over strike activities by federal employees in the Federal Labor Relations Authority; (2) 5 U.S.C. § 7311 does not authorize injunctive relief; and (3) injunctive relief will not be granted against the commission of a crime. This appeal followed. 3

A. Pre-Title VII Law

Prior to the enactment of Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, federal labor-management relations were regulated by Executive Order 11491, as amended. 4 Section 19(b)(4) of the order made it an unfair labor practice for a labor organization to "call or engage in a strike, work stoppage, or slowdown ... or condone any such activity by failing to take affirmative action to prevent or stop it." Section 4(c)(4) of the Executive Order authorized the Federal Labor Relations Authority to decide unfair labor practice complaints.

The courts that considered the scope of the district court's jurisdiction over actions to enforce the Executive Order held that there was no subject matter jurisdiction because an executive order was not a law of the United States within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Stevens v. Carey, 483 F.2d 188, 190 (7th Cir. 1973); Kuhn v. National Ass'n of Letter Carriers, 570 F.2d 757, 760-61 (8th Cir. 1978); Local 1498, American Federation of Government Employees v. American Federation of Government Employees, 522 F.2d 486, 491 (3d Cir. 1975). 5 District courts did, however, enjoin strikes by federal employees by invoking the general grant of jurisdiction in 28 U.S.C. § 1345 6 to enforce the anti-strike provision of 5 U.S.C. § 7311 and 18 U.S.C. § 1918. 7 Air Transport Ass'n v. PATCO, 313 F.Supp. 181 (E.D.N.Y.), vacated in part on other grounds, 438 F.2d 79 (2d Cir. 1970), cert. denied, 402 U.S. 915, 91 S.Ct. 1373, 28 L.Ed.2d 661 (1971); United States v. Branch 60, National Ass'n of Letter Carriers, 312 F.Supp. 619 (D.Conn.1970); Tennessee Valley Authority v. Local 110, Sheet Metal Workers' Int'l Ass'n, 233 F.Supp. 997 (W.D.Ky.1962). The district courts in those cases did not discuss the jurisdictional question; rather, they assumed that they had jurisdiction to enjoin strikes by federal employees.

B. Purpose and Structure of Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 was enacted to provide a comprehensive statutory scheme for the regulation of federal labor-management relations. The statute created a new, independent agency, the Federal Labor Relations Authority (FLRA), 5 U.S.C. § 7104 (Supp. III 1979), which was to be primarily responsible for carrying out the purposes of Title VII, 5 U.S.C. § 7105(a)(1) (Supp. III 1979). Congress adopted almost verbatim the language of section 19(b)(4) of the Executive Order, making it an unfair labor practice for a union to call, participate in, or condone a strike or slowdown. 5 U.S.C. § 7116(b)(7) (Supp. III 1979).

The statute set out administrative procedures to enforce the unfair labor practice provisions. Section 7118(a) provides that upon receipt of an unfair labor practice charge, the General Counsel of the FLRA shall investigate the charge and then decide whether or not to issue a complaint. 8 After a hearing on the complaint and the issuance of written findings of fact, the FLRA is authorized to issue a cease and desist order against any unfair labor practice. 5 U.S.C. § 7118(a)(7) (Supp. III 1979). Section 7123 provides for judicial review of final orders of the FLRA by the federal court of appeals, and for enforcement of FLRA orders by the district courts.

The statute also authorizes the FLRA to petition a district court for temporary relief, including a temporary restraining order, only after the General Counsel has issued an unfair labor practice complaint. 5 U.S.C. § 7123(d) (Supp. III 1979). According to the district court, these provisions for judicial review, enforcement of FLRA orders, and issuance of temporary relief by a district court upon motion of the FLRA "embrace the only role given the federal courts under the statute." United States v. PATCO, No. 80-C-4390, mem. op. at 5 (N.D.Ill. Dec. 15, 1980).

C. Legislative History

We note initially that, in interpreting the legislative history of a statute, there is a presumption that Congress was aware of the judicial construction of existing law. Shapiro v. United States, 335 U.S. 1, 16, 68 S.Ct. 1375, 1383-1384, 92 L.Ed.2d 1787 (1948). Thus, a newly-enacted statute "is to be read in conjunction with the entire existing body of law." Kansas City v. Federal Pacific Electric Co., 310 F.2d 271, 275 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 371 U.S. 912, 83 S.Ct. 256, 9 L.Ed.2d 171 (1962).

We recognized previously that the administrative jurisdiction provided by Executive Order 11491 coexisted with federal court jurisdiction, which was invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1345 to enforce the prohibition of 5 U.S.C. § 7311 and 18 U.S.C. § 1918; as noted at p. 20 supra, district courts exercised this jurisdiction to enjoin strikes. When Congress enacted Title VII, it adopted the language of section 19(b)(4) of the Executive Order in section 7116(b)(7), making it an unfair labor practice for a union "to call, or participate in, a strike, work stoppage, or slowdown." Because we presume that Congress knew of the district court jurisdiction invoked concurrently with the administrative provisions of the Executive Order, we must conclude that when Congress codified without change this provision of the Executive Order, it did not intend to preempt the existing concurrent jurisdiction of the federal courts.

We find additional support for our conclusion in both the language of the statute itself and the congressional debates prior to its enactment. Section 7101(b) of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 provides that "(t)he provisions of this chapter should be interpreted in a manner consistent with the requirement of an effective and efficient Government." Before the FLRA can seek temporary relief in a district court, it must (1) have an unfair labor practice charge pending before it; (2) investigate that charge; (3) make a finding of probable cause; and (4) issue an unfair labor practice complaint. 5 U.S.C. §§ 7118(a), 7123(d). While the Government is waiting for the FLRA to follow this procedure, the employees could be out on strike. Such a result is not consistent with the goal of "an effective and efficient Government." The reason for Congress's prohibition of strikes by federal employees was reiterated during...

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