Lewis v. Benedict Coal Corp. - 361 U.S. 459 (1960)
U.S. Supreme Court
Lewis v. Benedict Coal Corp., 361 U.S. 459 (1960)
Lewis v. Benedict Coal Corp.
Argued October 21, 1959
Decided February 23, 1960
361 U.S. 459
Respondent is a party to a collective bargaining agreement between coal operators and the United Mine Workers providing for a union welfare fund meeting the requirements of § 302(c)(5) of the Taft-Hartley Act and requiring each coal operator to pay into a trust fund "for the sole and exclusive benefit" of the employees, their families, and dependents a stipulated royalty on each ton of coal produced. Respondent withheld royalties in an amount claimed to equal damages which it had sustained as a result of strikes alleged to be in violation of the same agreement, and the trustees sued to recover such royalties. Respondent defended on the ground that performance of its duty to pay the royalties to the trustees, as third-party beneficiaries of the agreement, was excused when the union violated the agreement, and it cross-claimed against the union for damages resulting from the strikes. The District Court awarded respondent a judgment on its claim against the union and awarded the trustees a judgment for the unpaid royalties, but provided that the trustees' judgment should be paid only out of the proceeds of respondent's judgment. The Court of Appeals affirmed except as to the amount of the damages awarded respondent.
1. So far as it sustains the holding of the District Court that the union violated the collective bargaining agreement, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed by an equally divided Court. P. 361 U. S. 464.
2. The judgment of the Court of Appeals is modified to provide that the District Court shall amend the judgment in favor of the trustees to allow immediate and unconditional execution, and interest, on the full amount of the trustees' judgment against respondent. Pp. 361 U. S. 464-471.
(a) The collective bargaining agreement here involved is not to be construed as making performance by the union of its promises a condition precedent to respondent's promise to pay royalties to the trustees, notwithstanding a provision to the effect that the agreement "is an integrated instrument and its provisions are interdependent." Pp. 361 U. S. 464-466.
(b) Regardless of the inferences which may be drawn from other third-party beneficiary contracts, the parties to a collective bargaining agreement must express their meaning in unequivocal words before they can be said to have agreed that the union's breaches of its promises should give rise to a defense against the duty assumed by an employer to contribute to a welfare fund meeting the requirements of § 302(c)(5), and the agreement here involved contains no such words. Pp. 361 U. S. 466-471.
259 F.2d 346, judgment modified.