Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. PERB
485 U.S. 589 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Regents of Univ. of Cal. v. PERB, 485 U.S. 589 (1988)

Regents of the University of California v.

Public Employment Relations Board

No. 86-935

Argued January 12, 1988

Decided April 20, 1988

485 U.S. 589

Syllabus

The Private Express Statutes establish the postal monopoly and generally prohibit the private carriage of letters over postal routes without the payment of postage to the United States Postal Service. On the basis of those statutes, the state university (governed by appellant Regents and hereafter referred to as appellant) refused the request of a union to use its internal mail system to carry unstamped letters from the union to certain of its employees whom the union was attempting to organize. Appellee Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) upheld the union's charge that appellant's refusal violated the requirement of the California Higher Education Employer-Employee Relations Act (HEERA) that employers grant unions access to their "means of communication." Agreeing with this holding, but noting that the HEERA right of access was expressly subject to "reasonable regulations," the State Court of Appeal remanded for a determination whether appellant's refusal was reasonable in light of the surrounding circumstances, including the Private Express Statutes. PERB then found that the HEERA requirement was consistent with federal law because the carriage involved fell within the "letters of the carrier" and the "private hands" exceptions to the Private Express Statutes. The Court of Appeal affirmed, and the State Supreme Court denied review.

Held: Appellant's delivery of the union's unstamped letters would violate the Private Express Statutes. Pp. 485 U. S. 594-603.

(a) The "letters of the carrier" exception, which permits the private carriage of letters that "relate" to the "current business" of the carrier, does not apply. The alleged "business" in this case -- the union's efforts to organize appellant's employees -- although a subject in which appellant certainly is interested, is not close enough to appellant's own affairs to be the natural subject of letters concerning appellant's "current business." It is a subject more accurately described as the union's own current business. The argument that HEERA makes harmonious labor relations the business of state universities, thereby rendering the union's business appellant's business, is a far too expansive reading of the exception, since that reading would permit a State to define mail delivery as the

Page 485 U. S. 590

"current business" of some state agency, and thereby defeat the postal monopoly. Rather, the legislative history confirms that the statutory language is much narrower than appellees contend, which view is consistent with this Court's only previous decision concerning the exception, United States v. Erie R. Co.,235 U. S. 513.

(b) Nor does the "private hands" exception apply, since delivery of the union's letters would violate the exception's requirement that carriage be "without compensation." Giving the quoted phrase its normal meaning, it is clear that Congress unambiguously intended that no form of compensation, whether direct or indirect, may flow from the sender to the carrier. An arm's-length business relationship such as the one between the union and the employees on the one side and appellant on the other ordinarily involves an exchange of benefits constituting "compensation" for the carrier. By delivering the union's unstamped letters, appellant would perform a service for its employees that they would otherwise pay for through their union dues, which service would become part of the employees' package of monetary and nonmonetary benefits that appellant provides in exchange for their labor. Thus, the facts that the union would not specifically pay for appellant's carriage of its letters, and that appellant would merely be performing a duty imposed by state law, do not render the carriage "without compensation." Pp. 485 U. S. 594-597.

(c) Because this Court's analysis of the "letters of the carrier" and "private hands" exceptions and their legislative history reveals Congress' clear intent, the issue of deference to the Postal Service's regulations construing the exceptions need not be addressed. Pp. 485 U. S. 601-602.

182 Cal.App.3d 71, 227 Cal.Rptr. 57, reversed.

O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, BLACKMUN, and SCALIA, JJ., joined. WHITE, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 485 U. S. 603. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 485 U. S. 604. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 485 U. S. 591

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