Whitehouse v. Illinois Central Railroad Company

Decision Date06 June 1955
Docket NumberNo. 131,131
PartiesJ. W. WHITEHOUSE et al., Petitioners, v. ILLINOIS CENTRAL RAILROAD COMPANY et al
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Mr. Milton Kamer, for petitioner.

Mr. Walter J. Cummings, Jr., Chicago, Ill., for respondents.

Mr. Justice FRANKFURTER delivered the opinion of the Court.

This suit arose out of a proceeding before the National Railroad Adjustment Board. A dispute had arisen between the Order of Railroad Telegraphers (Telegraphers) and the Illinois Central Railroad Co. (Railroad) regarding the latter's employment of a member of the Brotherhood of Railway and Steamship Clerks, Freight Handlers, Express and Station Employees (Clerks) in a position which Telegraphers claimed should, under its collective bargaining agreement with Railroad, be assigned to a member of Telegraphers. After attempted settlement by negotiation had failed, Telegraphers submitted the dispute, in accordance with the Railway Labor Act, 44 Stat. 577, as amended, 48 Stat. 926, 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., 45 U.S.C.A. § 151 et seq., to the Third Division of the National Railroad Adjustment Board. Notice of the proceeding was served by the Board on Telegraphers and Railroad. Railroad was then advised by letter that Clerks would prosecute a claim in the event that the rights of Clerks under their agreement with Railroad were adversely affected by the disposition of Telegraphers' claim. Railroad filed a 'submission' with the Board asserting that the disputed position involved clerical work of the type customarily performed by clerical forces in the industry and was in fact occupied by a member of Clerks, one Shears. Accordingly, Railroad contended, Telegraphers' claim should be denied, but in any event notice and opportunity to be heard should be afforded Clerks and Shears.

The ten members of the Board, five representing labor and five representing the carriers, deadlocked on the merits and a Referee was appointed as a member of the Board, agreeably to § 3, First (l) of the Railway Labor Act. When Telegraphers' claim came on for hearing on May 13, 1953, a carrier member of the Board objected that no notice had been served on Clerks pursuant to the requirement of § 3 First (j) of the Act:

'Parties may be heard either in person, by counsel, or by other representatives, as they may respectively elect, and the several divisions of the Adjustment Board shall give due notice of all hearings to the employee or employees and the carrier or carriers involved in any disputes submitted to them.'

This objection was considered in camera by the regular members of the Board, the Referee having been excluded, as the District Court found, 'in accordance with the custom and practice of the Third Division.' An even division resulted and the objection did not carry. After the Board reconvened in public, and in the presence of the Referee, who was not requested to and did not vote on this issue, the carrier member recited that the motion had lost and reiterated his objection, but the hearing resumed.

On May 22, apparently after the hearing had ended but prior to any announcement of a decision, Railroad filed the present action against the Board as such, its individual members, and the Referee. Railroad alleged that the failure to give notice violated the Act and that an award to Telegraphers would not prevent Clerks from prosecuting a similar claim successfully. The complaint sought temporary and permanent injunctions directing the Board to issue notice to Clerks and Shears, and restraining it from proceeding with any disposition of the claim until such notice had been given. Telegraphers, on intervention, contended, inter alia, that the means of review prescribed by the Railway Labor Act was exclusive and deprived the District Court of jurisdiction, that Railroad had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies, that Railroad showed no injury, and that, in any event, under the Act the Board was not required to notify Shears and Clerks. The Board moved to dismiss on the ground that the action was premature, that other adequate administrative and judicial remedies existed and that Railroad was not threatened with irreparable injury.1

The District Court held that Shears and Clerks were 'employees involved' within § 3, First (j), that it was the 'custom and practice' of the Third Division of the Board to deny notice and right to be heard to others than the parties to the specific claim before the Board, and that failure to do so was a denial of due process to the other interested persons and deprived the Board of jurisdiction. It issued a preliminary injunction restraining the Board from proceeding further in the matter unless formal notice was given to Shears and Clerks. On appeal by Telegraphers and the labor members of the Board, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that there could be 'hardly any doubt' that Clerks and Shears were 'involved' and that any award rendered without notice to them would be void and unenforceable. It rejected the contention that this action was premature because the award might be in favor of Railroad or the proceeding might be dismissed upon the deciding vote of the Referee based on failure to give notice. The court found that the Board had already refused to give notice and held that the Referee had no authority to cast a vote on a 'procedural' matter. Since no administrative channel was found available for review of the failure to give notice, the court held that there was no need to await the conclusion of proceedings before the Board. Irreparable injury was found in the fact that Railroad would be required to devote time and money to what it deemed an invalid proceeding and was faced with the threat of a conflicting proceeding by Clerks. Emphasizing that this judicial proceeding did not constitute review of an award, but was 'in the nature of mandamus' to compel the Board to perform its duty, the Court of Appeals affirmed, one judge dissenting. 212 F.2d 22, 30. We granted certiorari because serious questions concerning the administration of the Railway Labor Act are in issue. 348 U.S. 809, 75 S.Ct. 36.

We have been urged to resolve the present dispute regarding the requirement of notice to persons not formal parties to a submission to the Board, a dispute which has resulted in numerous conflicting decisions by the Board.2 This remains a perplexing problem despite the substantial agreement among Courts of Appeals which have considered the question in holding that notice is required to other persons in varying situations.3 The wording of the notice provision of § 3 First (j) does not give a clear answer. In the context of other related provisions it is certainly not obvious that in a situation like that now before us notice need be given beyond the parties to the submission. See § 3, First (i), (l), (m). Analogy to the law of parties as developed for judicial proceedings is not compelling and in any event does not approach consti- tutional magnitude. Both its history and the interests it governs show the Railway Labor Act to be unique. 'The railroad world is like a state within a state. Its population of some three million, if we include the families of workers, has its own customs and its own vocabulary, and lives according to rules of its own making.' Garrison, The National Railroad Adjustment Board: A Unique Administrative Agency, 46 Yale L.J. 567, 568—569.

We have also been urged to reverse the holding of the lower court that a Referee may...

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