N. & W. Ry. v. Train Dispatchers
499 U.S. 117 (1991)

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U.S. Supreme Court

N. & W. Ry. v. Train Dispatchers, 499 U.S. 117 (1991)

Norfolk & Western Railway Company v.

American Train Dispatchers Association

Nos. 89-1027, 89-1028

Argued Dec. 3, 1990

Decided March 19, 1991

499 U.S. 117

Syllabus

Once the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) has approved a rail carrier consolidation under the conditions set forth in Chapter 113 of the Interstate Commerce Act (Act), 49 U.S.C. § 11301 et seq., a carrier in such a consolidation

"is exempt from the antitrust laws and from all other law, including State and municipal law, as necessary to let [it] carry out the transaction. . . ."

§ 11341(a). In these cases, the ICC issued orders exempting parties to approved railway mergers from the provisions of collective bargaining agreements. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, holding that § 11341(a) does not authorize the ICC to relieve a party of collectively bargained obligations that impede implementation of an approved transaction. Reasoning, inter alia, that the legislative history demonstrates a congressional intent that § 11341(a) apply to specific types of positive laws, and not to common law rules of liability such as those governing contracts, the court declined to decide whether the section could operate to override provisions of the Railway Labor Act (RLA) governing the formation, construction, and enforcement of the collective bargaining agreements at issue.

Held: The § 11341(a) exemption "from all other law" includes a carrier's legal obligations under a collective bargaining agreement when necessary to carry out an ICC-approved transaction. The exemption's language, as correctly interpreted by the ICC, is clear, broad, and unqualified, bespeaking an unambiguous congressional intent to include any obstacle imposed by law. That language neither admits of a distinction between positive enactments and common law liability rules nor supports the exclusion of contractual obligations. Thus, the exemption effects an override of such obligations by superseding the law -- here, the RLA -- which makes the contract binding. Cf. Schwabacher v. United States,334 U. S. 182, 334 U. S. 194-195, 334 U. S. 200-201. This determination makes sense of the Act's consolidation provisions, which were designed to promote economy and efficiency in interstate transportation by removing

Page 499 U. S. 118

the burdens of excessive expenditure. Whereas § 11343(a)(1) requires the ICC to approve consolidations in the public interest, and § 11347 conditions such approval on satisfaction of certain labor-protective conditions, the § 11341(a) exemption guarantees that, once employee interests are accounted for and the consolidation is approved, the RLA -- whose major disputes resolution process is virtually interminable -- will not prevent the efficiencies of consolidation from being achieved. Moreover, this reading will not, as the lower court feared, lead to bizarre results, since § 11341(a) does not exempt carriers from all law, but rather from all law necessary to carry out an approved transaction. Although it might be true that § 11341(a)'s scope is limited by § 11347, and that the breadth of the exemption is defined by the scope of the approved transaction, the conditions of approval and the standard for necessity are not at issue, because the lower court did not pass on them and the parties do not challenge them here. Pp. 499 U. S. 127-134.

279 U.S.App.D.C. 239, 880 F.2d 562, reversed and remanded.

KENNEDY, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 499 U. S. 134.

Page 499 U. S. 119

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