Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co.
221 U.S. 418 (1911)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Co., 221 U.S. 418 (1911)

Gompers v. Bucks Stove & Range Company

No. 372

Argued January 27, 30, 1911

Decided May 15, 1911

221 U.S. 418

Syllabus

An order of a court of equity, restraining defendants from boycotting complainant by publishing statements that complainant was guilty of unfair trade, does not amount to an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech; the question of the validity of the order involves only the power of the court to enjoin the boycott.

Quaere as to what constitutes a boycott that may be enjoined by a court of equity; but, in order that it may be enjoined, it must appear that there is a conspiracy causing irreparable damage to complainant's business or property.

Where conditions exist that justify the enjoining of a boycott, the publication and use of letters, circulars and printed matter may constitute the means of unlawfully continuing the boycott and amount to a violation of the order of injunction.

The Anti-trust Act of 1890 applies to any unlawful combination resulting in restraint of interstate commerce including boycotts and blacklisting, whether made effective by acts, words or printed matter. Loewe v. Lawlor,208 U. S. 274.

The Court's protective powers extend to every device whereby property is irreparably damaged or interstate commerce restrained; otherwise the Anti-Trust Act would be rendered impotent.

Society itself is an organization, and does not object to organizations for social, religious, business, and all other legal, purposes.

On appeal against unlawfully exercising power of organizations, it is the duty of government to protect the one against the many, as well as the many against the one.

An agreement to act in concert on publication of a signal makes the words used as the signal amount to verbal acts, and, when the facts justify it, the court having jurisdiction can enjoin the use of the words in such connection; and so held as to words "unfair" and "we don't patronize" as used in this case for the purpose of continuing a boycott.

Civil and criminal contempts are essentially different, and are governed by different rules of procedure.

A proceeding, instituted by an aggrieved party to punish the other

Page 221 U. S. 419

party for contempt for affirmatively violating an injunction in the same action in which the injunction order was issued, and praying for damages and costs, is a civil proceeding in contempt, and is part of the main action, and the court cannot punish the contempt by imprisonment for a definite term; the only punishment is by fine measured by the pecuniary injury sustained.

In criminal proceedings for contempt, the party against whom the proceedings are instituted is entitled to the protection of the constitutional provisions against self-incrimination.

There is a substantial variance between the procedure adopted and punishment imposed when a punitive sentence appropriate only to a proceeding for criminal contempt is imposed in a proceeding in an equity action for the remedial relief of an injured party.

Where the main suit in which an injunction order has been granted is settled and discontinued, every proceeding which is a part thereof, or dependent thereon, is also necessarily settled as between the parties; and so held as to a proceeding instituted by the party aggrieved against the other party for violation of an injunction.

The fact that the party aggrieved by the violation of an injunction deprives himself, by settling the main case, of the right to pursue the violator for contempt does not prevent the court, whose order was violated, from instituting proceedings to vindicate its authority; and, in this case, the dismissal of the civil contempt proceeding is without prejudice to the power and right of the court whose injunction was violated to punish for contempt by proper proceedings.

33 App.D.C. 516 reversed.

This is a proceeding to reverse a judgment finding that Samuel Gompers, John Mitchell, and Frank Morrison were guilty of contempt in violating the terms of an injunction restraining them from continuing a boycott, or from publishing any statement that there was or had been a boycott against the Buck's Stove & Range Company. The contempt case grew out of litigation reported in 33 App.D.C. 83, 516. It will only be necessary to briefly refer to the facts set out in that record.

The American Federation of Labor is composed of voluntary associations of labor unions with a large membership. It publishes the American Federationist, which has a wide circulation among the public and the Federation.

Page 221 U. S. 420

Samuel Gompers is president and editor of the paper. John Mitchell is vice president of the Federation and president of the United Mine Workers, one of the affiliated unions. Frank Morrison has charge of the circulation of the paper. The Federation had a difference as to the hours of labor with the Buck's Stove & Range Company, of which J. W. Van Cleave was president, who was also president of the American Manufacturers' Association. This controversy over the hours of work resulted in a boycott's being declared against the Buck's Stove & Range Company, and it was thereupon declared "unfair," and was published in the American Federationist on the "Unfair" and "We Don't Patronize" lists. The company filed in the Supreme Court of the District of Columbia its bill against the Federation, the defendants above named and other officers, alleging that the defendants had entered into a conspiracy to restrain the company's state and interstate business, in pursuance of which they had boycotted it, published it on the unfair lists, and had by threats also coerced merchants and others to refrain from buying Buck's products for fear that they themselves would be boycotted if they continued to deal with that company. The result of the boycott had been to prevent persons from dealing with it, and had greatly lessened its business and caused irreparable damage.

After a lengthy hearing, the court, on December 18, 1907, signed a temporary injunction, which became effective when the bond required was given on December the 23d. The order is published in the margin. *

Page 221 U. S. 421

Thereafter, testimony was regularly taken, and, on March 23d, 1908, the injunction was made permanent, with provisions almost identical with the temporary order of December 17, 1907.

From this final decree, the defendants appealed, but before

Page 221 U. S. 422

a decision was had, the Buck's Stove & Range Company began contempt proceedings by filing in the Supreme Court of the District a petition entitled "Buck's Stove & Range Company, Plaintiff v. The American Federation of Labor et al., Defendants, No. 27,305, Equity," alleging that petitioner had "filed in this cause its original bill of complaint, naming as defendants, among others, Samuel Gompers, Frank Morrison, and John Mitchell." All of the record and testimony in the original cause was made a part of the petition, as follows:

"Reference is hereby made to the original bill and exhibits filed, the answer and amended answer of the defendants, the testimony taken on both sides, the original order restraining and enjoining the defendants pendente lite, and the final decree in the cause, and each and every other paper and proceeding in this cause from the institution of the suit to the filing of this

Page 221 U. S. 423

petition, and it is prayed that the same may be taken and read as a part thereof at any and all hearings on this petition, whether in this court or on appeal from its decision herein rendered."

Some of the publications were charged to be in violation of the terms of the temporary injunction, dated December 23, 1907, and others were alleged to be in violation of the final decree dated March 23, 1908.

The petition set out in nine distinct paragraphs the speeches, editorials, and publications made at different times by the several defendants, charging that in each instance they continued and were intended to continue the boycott, and to republish the fact that the complainant was or had been on the "unfair list." It concluded by alleging that by the devices, means, speeches, and publications set forth, and in contempt of court, the defendants had disobeyed its orders and violated the injunction. The prayer was (1) that the defendants be required to show cause why they should not be attached for contempt, and adjudged by the court to be in contempt of its order and its decree in this cause, and be punished for the same, (2) and that petitioner may have such other and further relief as the nature of its case may require. Signed: Buck's Stove & Range Company, by J. W. Van Cleve, president. It was also sworn to by the president of the company and signed by its solicitors.

A rule to show cause issued, requiring each of the defendants to show cause why they should not be adjudged to be in contempt and be punished for the same. Each of the defendants answered under oath, and, as treating the contempt proceeding as a part of the original cause, admitted the allegations as to the history of the litigation in paragraphs 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the petition, but, "for greater accuracy, refer to the record in this cause." Publications were admitted, but explained. Each of the defendants denied under oath that he had been in disregard or

Page 221 U. S. 424

contempt of the court's order, and denied that any of the acts and charges complained of constituted a violation of the order. There were several issues of fact on which much evidence was taken. This related to the question of intent, and whether there had been a purpose and plan to evade any injunction which might be granted. There was also an issue as to whether John Mitchell had put a resolution to the convention of the United Mine Workers; whether Samuel Gompers and Frank Morrison had rushed the mailing of the January issue of the American Federationist, on December 22, so as to avoid the injunction dated December 17, which became operative on giving bond by complainant on December 23; and also whether they had thereafter sold and circulated copies of this issue containing the Buck's Stove Company on the "Unfair" and "We Don't Patronize" lists. Evidence was taken partly by deposition, partly before an examiner in chancery.

Each of the defendants was called as a witness by the complainant, and each testified as to facts on which the allegation of intent or evasion was based, and as to the publications, speeches, and resolutions which he was accused of having made, and which the petition alleged constituted an act of disobedience and contempt of court.

The court made a special finding as to two of the nine charges, and then found that all three of the defendants were guilty of the several acts charged in paragraphs 17 and 26; that respondents Gompers and Morrison were guilty of the several acts charged in the 16th and 20th paragraphs; that respondent Morrison was guilty of the acts charged in the 25th paragraph; and that respondent Gompers was guilty of the several acts charged in the paragraphs 19, 21, 22, and 23. The finding concluded:

"The court, being fully advised in the premises, it is by it, this 23d day of December, A.D. 1908, considered that the said respondents, Samuel

Page 221 U. S. 425

Gompers, Frank Morrison, and John Mitchell, are guilty of contempt in their said disobedience of the plain mandates of the said injunctions; and it is therefore ordered and adjudged that the said respondent Frank Morrison be confined and imprisoned in the United States jail in the District of Columbia for and during a period of six months; that the said respondent John Mitchell be confined and imprisoned in the said jail for and during a period of nine months; and that the respondent Samuel Gompers be confined and imprisoned in the said jail for and during a period of twelve months; said imprisonment as to each of said respondents to take effect from and including the date of the arrival of said respective respondents at said jail."

On the same day, the defendants entered an appeal, which was allowed, and bail fixed. After notice to the defendants, the complainant moved "the court to amend or supplement its decree by awarding to it its costs against the defendants under the proceedings in contempt against them." This motion was granted in an order which recited that,

"upon consideration of the motion of complainant, filed in the above cause, for award of its costs in the contempt proceedings in said cause against the defendants Samuel Gompers, John Mitchell, and Frank Morrison, and after argument by the solicitors of the respective parties, the motion is granted, and it is ordered that the complainant, the Buck's Stove & Range Company, do recover against the defendants named, its costs in the said contempt proceeding, to be taxed by the clerk, and that it have execution therefor as at law."

The parties also entered into a stipulation, the material portions of which are as follows:

"For the purpose of avoiding unnecessary cost in the matter of the appeal by the defendants Samuel H. Gompers, John Mitchell, and Frank Morrison from the judgment against them under the contempt proceedings in the above entitled cause, it is stipulated that, . . . with

Page 221 U. S. 426

the approval of the Court of Appeals, the record in the above cause [Buck's Stove & Range Co. v. American Federation of Labor et al.] . . . may be read from by either party to the appeal in said contempt proceedings, insofar as the same may be relevant and material, with like effect as if the said record of the original cause were embraced in the transcript, in the appeal from the said contempt proceedings."

This stipulation was signed by counsel for the defendants and for the Buck's Stove & Range Company.

The petition in the contempt proceeding, the answer, orders, final decree, amended decree, and stipulations were all entitled in the original cause, "Buck Stove & Range Company v. The American Federation of Labor, Samuel Gompers, John Mitchell, Frank Morrison, et al." The appeal papers in the Court of Appeals of the District were, and those here on certiorari are, entitled "Samuel Gompers, John Mitchell, and Frank Morrison, Appellants, v. The Buck Stove & Range Company."

On December 23d, 1908, the defendants were found guilty of contempt, and, on the same day, they appealed. On March 26, 1909, the Court of Appeals rendered its decision in favor of the Buck's Stove Company on the appeal from the decree of March 23d, 1908, and found that the decree was, in some respects, erroneous, and modified it accordingly. From that decision, both parties appealed to this court, the Buck's Stove Company contending that it was error to modify in any respect; the American Federation of Labor et al. contending that the Court of Appeals erred in not reversing and setting aside as a whole the decree granting the injunction.

There subsequently came on to be heard in the Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia the appeal from the decree in the contempt proceeding. On that hearing, the Buck's Stove & Range Company moved to dismiss the appeal because the evidence had not been incorporated

Page 221 U. S. 427

in a bill of exceptions, claiming that it was a criminal proceeding, and was governed by the practice applicable to law cases. This motion was resisted by the defendants, who contended that the contempt proceedings were a part of the equity cause, and that the case was to be governed by equity practice, in which the whole record could be examined on appeal.

The Court of Appeals held that the proceeding was for criminal contempt, and that, for want of a bill of exceptions, it could not examine the testimony, but must treat the findings of fact by the judge as conclusive and limit its consideration to the question whether, as a matter of law, the petition charged and the finding found acts which amounted to a violation of the injunction. It held that some of the facts alleged did constitute a good charge of contempt, and, as each of the defendants was found to be guilty of at least one of such acts of disobedience constituting a violation of the injunction and a contempt of court, it held that the conviction must be sustained. This ruling was put on the ground that, on a general verdict of guilty, the conviction and sentence on an indictment containing several counts, some of which were bad, must stand if those which were good would sustain the sentence. It therefore not only refused to examine the evidence to determine whether the proof was sufficient to sustain the conviction, but it also declined to consider the sufficiency of the other charges in the petition, of which the defendants were also found guilty. It affirmed, the judgment of the Supreme Court of the District. The defendants thereupon applied for and obtained a writ of certiorari.

The appeal and cross-appeal in the original cause of the Buck's Stove & Range Company v. American Federation of Labor were heard here together. During the argument, it appeared that the parties had settled their differences, and, on the ground that the questions were moot,

Page 221 U. S. 428

this Court dismissed both appeals. 219 U. S. 581. Following this disposition of those appeals, and on the same day, the contempt case was called, and was argued by counsel for the Buck's Stove & Range Company and counsel for Samuel Gompers, Frank Morrison, and John Mitchell.

Page 221 U. S. 435

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