United Const Workers, Affiliated With United Mine Workers of America v. Laburnum Const Corp

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation347 U.S. 656,98 L.Ed. 1025,74 S.Ct. 833
Docket NumberNo. 188,188
Decision Date07 June 1954

Mr M. E. Boiarsky, Charleston, W. Va., for petitioners.

Messrs. Archibald G. Robertson and George E. Allen, Richmond, Va., for respondent.

Mr. Justice BURTON delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question before us is whether the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, 1 has 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 that Act. For the reasons hereafter stated, we hold that it has not.

November 16, 1949, Laburnum Construction Corporation, a Virginia corporation, respondent herein, filed a notice of motion for judgment in the Circuit Court of the City of Richmond, Virginia, against petitioners United Construction Workers, affiliated with United Mine Workers of America; District 50, United Mine Workers of America; and United Nine Workers of America. The proceeding was a common-law tort action for compensatory and punitive damages totaling $500,000. The notice contained substantially the following allegations: While respondent was performing construction work in Breathitt County, Kentucky, under contracts with Pond Creek Pocahontas Company and others, July 26—August 4, 1949, agents of the respective petitioners came there. They demanded that respondent's employees join the United Construction Workers and that respondent recognize that organization as the sole bargaining agent for respondent's employees on the project. They added that, if respondent and its employees did not comply, respondent would not be allowed to continue its work. Upon respondent's refusal and that of many of its employees to yield to such demands, petitioners' agents threatened and intimidated respondent's officers and employees with violence to such a degree that respondent was compelled to abandon and its projects in that area. The notice further alleged that, as the result of this conduct of petitioners' agents, respondent was deprived of substantial profits it otherwise would have earned on those and other projects. After trial, a jury found petitioners jointly and severally liable to respondent for $175,437.19 as compensatory damages, and $100,000 as punitive damages, making a total of $275,437.19.

Petitioners moved for a new trial claiming numerous errors of law, and for a dismissal on the ground that the Labor Management Relations Act had deprived the court of its jurisdiction over the subject matter. Both motions were overruled and the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia granted a writ of error and supersedeas. After argument, it struck out $146,111.10 of the compensatory damages and affirmed the judgment for the remaining $129,326.09. 194 Va. 872, 75 S.E.2d 694. Because of the importance of the jurisdictional issue to the enforcement of common-law rights and to the administration of the Labor Management Relations Act, we granted certiorari limited to the following question:

"In view of the type of conduct found by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia to have been carried out by Petitioners, does the National Labor Relations Board have exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter so as to preclude the State Court from hearing and determining the issues in a common law tort action based upon this conduct"? 346 U.S. 936, 74 S.Ct. 374.2

We are concerned only with the abovestated jurisdictional question. We accept the view of the National Labor Relations Board that respondent's activities affect interstate commerce within the meaning of the Labor ManagementRelations Act.3 The "type of conduct found by the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia" is set out in the margin.4 Although the notice for judgment does not mention the Labor Management Relations Act or unfair labor practices as such, we assume the conduct before us also constituted an unfair labor practice within the following provisions of that Act:

'Sec. 8. * * *

'(b) It shall be an unfair labor practice for a labor organization or its agents—

'(1) to restrain or coerce (A) employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in section 7: * * *.'

61 Stat. 140, 141, 29 U.S.C. (1952 ed.) § 158(b)(1)(A), 29 U.S.C.A. § 158(b)(1)(A).

'Sec. 7. Employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection, and shall also have the right to refrain from any or all of such activities * * *.' 61 Stat. 140, 29 U.S.C. (1952 ed.) § 157, 29 U.S.C.A. § 157.

Petitioners contend that the Act of 1947 has occupied that labor relations field so completely that no regulatory agency other than the National Labor Relations Board and no court may assert jurisdiction over unfair labor practices as defined by it, unless expressly authorized by Congress to do so. They claim that state courts accordingly are excluded not only from enjoining future unfair labor practices and thus colliding with the Board, as occurred in Garner v. Teamsters Union, 346 U.S. 485, 74 S.Ct. 161, but that state courts are excluded also from entertaining common-law tort actions for the recovery of damages caused by such conduct. The latter exclusion is the issue here. In the Garner case, Congress had provided a federal administrative remedy, supplemented by judicial procedure for its enforcement, with which the state injunctive procedure conflicted.5 Here Congress has neither provided nor suggested any substitute for the traditional state court procedure for collecting damages for injuries caused by tortious conduct. For us to cut off the injured respondent from this right of recovery will deprive it of its property without recourse or compensation. To do so will, in effect, grant petitioners immunity from liability for their tortious conduct. We see no substantial reason for reaching such a result. The contrary view is consistent with the language of the Act and there is positive support for it in our decisions and in the legislative history of the Act.

In the Garner case, we said:

'The National Labor Management Relations Act, as we have before pointed out, 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.

'This is not an instance of injurious conduct which the National Labor Relations Board is without express power to prevent and which therefore either is 'governable by the state or it is entirely ungoverned.' In such cases we have declined to find an implied exclusion of state powers. International Union, U.A.W.A.F. of L., Local 232 v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 336 U.S. 245, 254, 69 S.Ct. 516, 521, 93 L.Ed. 651. Nor is this a case of mass picketing, threatening of employees, obstructing streets and highways, or picketing homes. We have held that the state still may exercise 'its historic powers over such traditionally local matters as public safety and order and the use of streets and highways.' Allen-Bradley Local No. 1111, United Electrical Radio and Machine Workers of America v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 740, 749, 62 S.Ct. 820, 825, 86 L.Ed. 1154.' 346 U.S., at page 488, 74 S.Ct., at page 164.

To the extent that Congress prescribed preventive procedure against unfair labor practices, that case recognized that the Act excluded conflicting state procedure to the same end. To the extent, however, that Congress has not prescribed procedure for dealing with the consequences of tortious conduct already committed, there is no ground for concluding that existing criminal penalties or liabilities for tortious conduct have been eliminated. The care we took in the Garner case to demonstrate the existing conflict between state and federal administrative remedies in that case was, itself, a recognition that if no conflict had existed, the state procedure would have survived. The primarily private nature of claims for damages under state law also distinguishes them in a measure from the public nature of the regulation of future labor relations under federal law.

The Labor Management Relations Act sets up no general compensatory procedure except in such minor supplementary ways as the reinstatement of wrongfully discharged employees with back pay. 61 Stat. 147, 29 U.S.C. (1952 ed.) § 160(c), 29 U.S.C.A. § 160(c). See also, National Labor Relations Board v. Local Union No. 1229, Int. Broth. of Electrical Workers, 346 U.S. 464, 74 S.Ct. 172.

One instance in which the Act prescribes judicial procedure for the recovery of damages caused by unfair labor practices is that with reference to the jurisdiction of federal and other courts to adjudicate claims for damages resulting from secondary boycotts. In that instance the Act expressly authorizes a recovery of damages in any Federal District Court and 'in any other court having jurisdiction of the parties'.6 By this provision, the Act assures uniformity, otherwise lacking, in rights of recovery. in the state courts and grants jurisdiction to the federal courts without respect to the amount in controversy. To recover damages under that section is consistent with the existence of jurisdiction in state courts to enforce criminal penalties and common-law liabilities generally. On the other hand, it is not consistent to say that Congress, in that section, authorizes court action for the recovery of damages caused by tortious conduct related to secondary boycotts and yet without express mention of it, Congress abolishes all common-law rights to...

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