Motor Coach Employees v. Lockridge
403 U.S. 274 (1971)

Annotate this Case

U.S. Supreme Court

Motor Coach Employees v. Lockridge, 403 U.S. 274 (1971)

Amalgamated Association of Street, Electric Railway

& Motor Coach Employees of America v. Lockridge

No. 76

Argued December 15, 1970

Decided June 14, 1971

403 U.S. 274

Syllabus

Respondent, who had been discharged from employment on the ground that he had forfeited his good standing membership in petitioner Union by dues arrearage, and was therefore subject to termination under the union security clause in the applicable collective bargaining agreement, brought suit in the state court against the Union and the employer (which was later dropped as a party). The two-count complaint charged (1) that the Union, in suspending respondent from membership, which resulted in his loss of employment, acted wrongfully, and deprived respondent of the employment with his employer that accrued to him and would accrue to him by reason of his employment, seniority, and experience, and (2) that, by the suspension in violation of the Union's constitution and general laws (which constituted a contract between respondent as a union member and the Union) the Union had breached its contract with respondent. The trial court, rejecting the Union's contention that the complaint charged the commission of an unfair labor practice within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), held that it had jurisdiction under Machinists v. Gonzales,356 U. S. 617, concluded that there had been a breach of contract, for which it awarded money damages for lost wages, and ordered respondent restored to union membership. The Idaho Supreme Court, which also ordered respondent's seniority rights restored, affirmed by a divided vote, concluding that, although the Union's conduct "did most certainly" violate §§ 8(b)(1)(A) and 8(b)(2) of the National Labor Relations Act and "probably caused the employer to violate § 8(a)(3)," the state courts had jurisdiction because the complaint charged a breach of contract, rather than an unfair labor practice; state courts, in interpreting contract terms, deal with different conduct than would the NLRB in deciding whether a union is discriminating against a member; and Gonzales, supra, constitutes an exception that permits state courts to exercise jurisdiction in a case like this.

Held:

Page 403 U. S. 275

1. Respondent's complaint that the Union had wrongfully interfered with his employment relation involved a matter that was arguably protected by § 7 or prohibited by § 8 of the National Labor Relations Act and thus was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the NLRB. San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon,359 U. S. 236. Pp. 403 U. S. 285-291.

2. The reasons relied on for the assumption of state court jurisdiction in this case do not suffice to overcome the factors on which the preemption doctrine of Garmon was predicated, viz., the congressional purpose for effectuating a comprehensive national labor policy to be administered by an expert central agency, rather than by a federalized judicial system; the necessity for carrying out that labor policy without specific congressional direction or judicial resolution on a case-by-case basis; and the avoidance of different treatment of the judicial power to deal with conduct that the Act protects from that which the Act prohibits. Pp. 403 U. S. 285-297.

(a) Since preemption is designed to shield the system from conflicting regulation of conduct, the formal description of that conduct (here the characterization that a breach of contract was involved) is immaterial. Pp. 403 U. S. 291-292.

(b) Since the conduct here was arguably protected by § 7 or prohibited by § 8 of the Act, the substantial interests sought to be protected by the preemption doctrine are directly involved, and the fact that the Union may have misconstrued its own rules in this case would not be treated by the NLRB as a defense to a claimed violation of § 8(b)(2). Pp. 403 U. S. 292-293.

(c) The Gonzales case "was focused on purely internal union matters," and the state courts only had to consider the union's constitution and bylaws, whereas respondent's case turned on the construction of the applicable union security clause, as to which federal concern is pervasive, and its regulation complex. Pp. 403 U. S. 293-297.

3. Respondent's contention that his action is excepted from the Garmon principle as being a suit for the enforcement of a collective bargaining agreement is without merit, since respondent specifically dropped the employer as a defendant, as is his alternative contention that his suit is essentially one to redress the Union's breach of its duty of fair representation, for to sustain such a claim respondent would have to prove "arbitrary or bad faith conduct on the part of the union," whereas the Idaho Supreme Court found only that the Union had misinterpreted the contract. Pp. 403 U. S. 298-301.

93 Idaho 294, 460 P.2d 719, reversed.

Page 403 U. S. 276

HARLAN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BLACK, BRENNAN, STEWART, and MARSHALL, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, pos, p. 403 U. S. 302. WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which BURGER, C.J., joined, post, p. 403 U. S. 309. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting statement, post, p. 403 U. S. 332.

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