Respondent, an electrical apprentice employed by Florida Power
and Light Company (Florida Power), was injured while assigned to a
job that required her to perform tasks allegedly beyond the scope
of her training and experience. She brought suit in a Florida court
against petitioner unions (collectively referred to as the Union),
alleging that, "pursuant to contracts and agreements" between the
Union and Florida Power, "to which . . . [she] was a third-party
beneficiary," and "pursuant to the relationship by and between" the
Union and her, the Union had a duty of care to ensure her a safe
workplace, which it had breached by allowing her to be assigned to
work in a dangerous location. The Union removed the action to
federal court on the grounds that its alleged duty arose solely
from the collective bargaining agreement, and therefore that any
breach of its duty was actionable solely under § 301 of the Labor
Management Relations Act, 1947. The Union then moved to dismiss the
complaint as untimely under the applicable federal statute of
limitations. Respondent argued that the basic nature of her action
was a state common-law "suit in tort," and prayed that the case be
remanded to the state court. The District Court granted the Union's
motion to dismiss, holding that the Union's alleged duty flowed
from the collective bargaining agreement, and that respondent's
claim thus was preempted by § 301, and was untimely under federal
law. The Court of Appeals reversed.
1. Respondent's claim is not sufficiently independent of the
collective bargaining agreement to withstand § 301's preemptive
force. Pp. 481 U. S.
(a) The interests in interpretive uniformity and predictability
that require that labor contract disputes be resolved by reference
to federal common law also require that the meaning given a
contract phrase or term be subject to uniform federal
interpretation, whether the question arises in the context of a
suit for breach of contract or in a suit alleging liability in
tort. Thus, an employee's state law tort action that necessarily
rests on an interpretation of terms in the collective
Page 481 U. S. 852
agreement is preempted by § 301. Allis-Chalmers Corp. v.
Lueck, 471 U. S. 202
471 U. S.
(b) Under Florida law, the employer, not the labor union, owes
employees a duty to furnish a reasonably safe workplace. A union
may assume a responsibility to employees by accepting a duty of
care through a contractual arrangement, and, under Florida law, if
a party breaches a contractual duty, the aggrieved party may bring
either an action for breach of contract or a tort action for the
injury suffered as a result of the contractual breach. However, the
threshold inquiry for determining if a cause of action exists is an
examination of the contract to ascertain what duties were accepted
by each of the parties and the scope of those duties. Respondent's
complaint alleges precisely this type of tortious breach of
contract claim, and her allegations of negligence are significant
only if the Union, under the collective bargaining agreement,
assumed the duty of care that it allegedly breached. Thus,
questions of contract interpretation underlie any finding of tort
liability, and respondent is precluded from evading § 301's
preemptive force by casting her claim as a state law tort action.
Pp. 481 U. S.
2. If respondent's suit is treated as a § 301 claim, it must be
determined whether the claim is time-barred by the applicable
statute of limitations under federal law. Because the Court of
Appeals erroneously concluded that respondent's claim was not
preempted, it is appropriate for that court to consider, in the
first instance, whether the period of limitations adopted by the
District Court is applicable to respondent's claim. Pp.
481 U. S.
772 F.2d 788, vacated and remanded.
BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
REHNQUIST, C.J., and BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, POWELL, O'CONNOR,
and SCALIA, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring
in part and dissenting in part, post,
p. 481 U. S.
JUSTICE BLACKMUN delivered the opinion of the Court.
In Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.
(1985), this Court held that
"when resolution of a state law claim is substantially dependent
upon analysis of the terms of
Page 481 U. S. 853
an agreement made between the parties in a labor contract,"
the plaintiff's claim is preempted by § 301 of the Labor
Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA), 61 Stat. 156, 29 U.S.C. §
185. 471 U.S. at 471 U. S. 220
The question presented by this case is whether a state law tort
claim that a union has breached its duty of care to provide a union
member with a safe workplace is sufficiently independent of the
collective bargaining agreement to withstand the preemptive force
of § 301.
At all times relevant to this case, plaintiff-respondent Sally
Hechler was employed by Florida Power and Light Company (Florida
Power) as an electrical apprentice. Petitioners, the International
Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and its Local 759 (collectively
referred to as the Union), are the exclusive bargaining
representatives for the bargaining unit in which respondent was
employed. On January 11, 1982, Florida Power assigned respondent to
a job in an electrical substation that required her to perform
tasks she alleges were beyond the scope of her training and
experience. Shortly after commencing her new assignment, respondent
was injured when she came into contact with highly energized
components at the substation.
Two years later, respondent sued the Union in state court in
Broward County, Fla. In her complaint, she alleged that "pursuant
to contracts and agreements entered into by and between" the Union
and Florida Power, and "pursuant to the relationship by and
between" the Union and respondent, the Union had a duty to ensure
that respondent "was provided safety in her work place and a safe
work place," and to ensure that respondent
"would not be required or allowed to take undue risks in the
performance of her duties which were not commensurate with her
training and experience."
App. 4. The Union, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441, removed the
lawsuit to the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Florida on the grounds that the "alleged duty
Page 481 U. S. 854
solely from the alleged collective bargaining agreement between
[the Union] and Florida Power," and therefore that any breach of
this duty was actionable under § 301. Record 3. Respondent at that
time raised no objection to the removal.
In federal court, the Union moved to dismiss the complaint. It
argued that respondent's claim arose solely under federal labor
law, and was untimely under the applicable federal statute of
at 66-70. Respondent conceded: "The
nature and scope of the duty of care owed [her] is determined by
reference to the collective bargaining agreement." Id.
98. She argued, however, that the basic nature of her action was a
state common law "suit in tort" for the Union's negligence in
failing to provide her a safe workplace. Id.
Respondent prayed that the case be remanded to the state court.
The District Court granted the Union's motion to dismiss. The
court observed that the gravamen of the complaint was that the
Union had breached a duty of care to respondent to provide her a
"Significantly, the duty allegedly owed to [Hechler] flows from
the collective bargaining agreement, which imposes a duty on the
[Union] to monitor the safety and training of its members."
App. to Pet. for Cert. 3a. The court concluded that, because
respondent had failed
"to demonstrate that the [Union's] allegedly negligent activity
was unrelated to the collective bargaining agreement or beyond the
scope of the employee-union fiduciary relationship,"
her claim was preempted by federal labor law. Id.
4a. Having found that respondent's suit was governed by federal
law, the court then held that the 6-month statute of limitations
adopted in DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.
(1983), applied to Hechler's case, and dismissed
the suit as untimely.
The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit reversed. 772 F.2d
788 (1985). It ruled that the complaint "on its face states a
common law negligence claim that may be cognizable
Page 481 U. S. 855
in state court and is not preempted by the federal labor laws."
at 790-791. The court concluded:
"Though the [collective bargaining] contract may be of use in
defining the scope of the duty owed, liability will turn on basic
negligence principles as developed by state law."
at 794. Finding that "federal labor law was not
invoked in plaintiff's complaint," id.
at 799, the court
directed that the District Court remand the case to the state court
for adjudication on the merits.
Because the Eleventh Circuit's decision appeared to conflict
with the decision of the Sixth Circuit in Michigan Mutual Ins.
Co. v. Steelworkers,
774 F.2d 104 (1985), we granted
certiorari. 476 U.S. 1113 (1986).
In Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.
(1985), we reviewed the preemptive scope of §
301. [Footnote 1
] We think it
useful, at the outset, to repeat briefly the background outlined in
the opinion in Allis-Chalmers.
In Textile Workers v.
Lincoln Mills, 353 U. S. 448
(1957), the Court held that § 301 does more than simply confer
jurisdiction on federal courts to hear suits charging violations of
collective bargaining agreements. Id.
at 353 U. S.
-451. The Court concluded that Congress, through §
301, had authorized federal courts to create a body of federal law
for the enforcement of collective bargaining agreements -- law
"which the courts must fashion from the policy of our national
labor laws." Id.
at 353 U. S. 456
It was explained in Allis-Chalmers,
471 U.S. at
Page 481 U. S. 856
471 U. S. 209
that the Court in Lincoln Mills
"understood § 301 as a congressional mandate to the federal
courts to fashion a body of federal common law to be used to
address disputes arising out of labor contracts."
Not long after Lincoln Mills
was decided, the Court
held that state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over § 301
claims. Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney, 368 U.
(1962). Although the Court in Dowd
proceeded upon the hypothesis that state courts would apply federal
law when they exercised jurisdiction over § 301 claims, [Footnote 2
] it was in another case that
same Term, Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U. S.
(1962), that the Court expressly held that federal
law, and not state law, must be used in adjudicating § 301 claims.
There the Court observed:
"The dimensions of § 301 require the conclusion that substantive
principles of federal labor law must be paramount in the area
covered by the statute."
369 U.S. at 369 U. S. 103
The need for this uniformity was clearly explained:
"The possibility that individual contract terms might have
different meanings under state and federal law would inevitably
exert a disruptive influence upon both the negotiation and
administration of collective agreements. Because neither party
could be certain of the rights which it had obtained or conceded,
the process of negotiating an agreement would be made immeasurably
more difficult by the necessity of trying to formulate contract
provisions in such a way as to contain the same meaning under two
or more systems of law which might someday be invoked in enforcing
the contract. Once the collective bargain was made, the possibility
of conflicting substantive interpretation under competing legal
Page 481 U. S. 857
would tend to stimulate and prolong disputes as to its
at 369 U. S.
-104. The Court thus concluded that, "in enacting §
301, Congress intended doctrines of federal labor law uniformly to
prevail over inconsistent local rules." Id.
369 U. S.
While the Court in Lucas Flour
observed that federal
law was paramount in "the area covered by" § 301, 369 U.S. at
369 U. S. 103
the Court defined the range of claims
that should be considered as coming within that coverage. The
ordinary § 301 case is a contract claim in which a party to the
collective bargaining agreement expressly asserts that a provision
of the agreement has been violated. See, e.g., Lucas
369 U.S. at 369 U. S. 104
(claim by employer that strike by union violated provision of
collective bargaining agreement). In Allis-Chalmers,
however, the Court considered an employee's state law tort action
against his employer for bad faith handling of disability benefit
payments due under a collective bargaining agreement, and concluded
that the interests supporting the uniform interpretation of
collective bargaining agreements under federal common law apply
equally in the context of certain state law tort claims. The Court
set forth this basic principle:
"The interests in interpretive uniformity and predictability
that require that labor contract disputes be resolved by reference
to federal law also require that the meaning given a contract
phrase or term be subject to uniform federal interpretation. Thus,
questions relating to what the parties to a labor agreement agreed,
and what legal consequences were intended to flow from breaches of
that agreement, must be resolved by reference to uniform federal
law, whether such questions arise in the context of a suit for
breach of contract or in a suit alleging liability in tort. Any
other result would elevate form over substance, and allow parties
to evade the requirements of § 301 by relabeling their contract
Page 481 U. S. 858
claims for tortious breach of contract."
471 U.S. at 471 U. S. 211
The Court pointed out that, if state law, in the context of a tort
action, were allowed to determine the meaning of particular
contract phrases or terms in a collective bargaining agreement,
"all the evils addressed in Lucas Flour
would recur"; the
"parties would be uncertain as to what they were binding themselves
to" in a collective bargaining agreement, and, as a result, "it
would be more difficult to reach agreement, and disputes as to the
nature of the agreement would proliferate." Ibid.
the Court applied the rule that a
tort claim "inextricably intertwined with consideration of the
terms of the labor contract" is preempted under § 301, 471 U.S. at
471 U. S. 213
and concluded that the claim in Allis-Chalmers
that category. The employee's allegation there was that his
employer and its insurance company intentionally had failed to make
required disability payments under a plan negotiated in a
collective bargaining agreement, and that, in so doing, they had
breached a state law insurance duty to act "in good faith" in
paying disability benefits. Id.
at 471 U. S. 206
The Court observed that any attempt to assess liability on the part
of the employer would inevitably involve interpretation of the
underlying collective bargaining contract. First, the disability
plan adopted in the collective bargaining agreement might itself
have included an implied requirement of good faith that the
employer breached by its conduct. The Court explained:
"[I]t is a question of federal contract interpretation whether
there was an obligation under this labor contract to provide the
payments in a timely manner, and, if so, whether Allis-Chalmers'
conduct breached that implied contract provision."
at 471 U. S. 215
Second, under the relevant state law, the duty of "good faith" on
which the plaintiff relied "intrinsically relate[d] to the nature
and existence of the contract." Id.
at 471 U. S. 216
The concept of "good faith" meant "being faithful to one's duty
Page 481 U. S.
ibid., quoting Hilker v. Western Automobile
Ins. Co., 204 Wis. 1, 13, 235 N.W. 413, 414 (1931), and, under
state law, that duty was determined primarily by analyzing the
responsibilities agreed to by the insurer in the written contract.
The Court reasoned:
"Because the right asserted not only derives from the contract,
but is defined by the contractual obligation of good faith, any
attempt to assess liability here inevitably will involve contract
471 U.S. at 471 U. S. 218
Inasmuch as federal law must control the uniform meaning given to
contract terms in a collective bargaining agreement, however, an
employee's state law tort action that necessarily rests on an
interpretation of those terms is preempted by § 301. Id.
at 471 U. S.
Under the principle set forth in Allis-Chalmers,
must determine if respondent's claim is sufficiently independent of
the collective bargaining agreement to withstand the preemptive
force of § 301. Respondent's state law tort claim is based on her
allegation that the Union owed a duty of care to provide her with a
safe workplace and to monitor her work assignments to ensure that
they were commensurate with her skills and experience. Under the
common law, however, it is the employer, not a labor union, that
owes employees a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing a
safe workplace. See, e.g.,
W. Keeton, D. Dobbs, R. Keeton,
& D. Owen, Prosser and Keeton on The Law of Torts 569 (5th
Page 481 U. S. 860
1984); White v. Consolidated Freight Lines,
146, 148, 73 P.2d 358, 359 (1937). Under Florida case law, as under
the general common law, the employer "owes a duty to his employees
to furnish a reasonably safe place to work, and must use ordinary
care and diligence to keep it safe." 2 Fla.Jur.2d Agency and
Employment § 154, p. 343 (1977) (footnote omitted); see, e.g.,
Putnam Lumber Co. v. Berry,
146 Fla. 595, 604-607, 2 So. 2d
133, 137-138 (1941). See also
Fla.Stat. § 440.56(1) (1981)
("Every employer . . . shall furnish employment which shall be safe
for the employees therein, furnish and use safety devices and
safeguards . . . and do every other thing reasonably necessary to
protect the life, health, and safety of such employees").
Another party, such as a labor union, of course, may assume a
responsibility towards employees by accepting a duty of care
through a contractual arrangement. If a party breaches a
contractual duty, the settled rule under Florida law is that the
aggrieved party may bring either an action for breach of contract
or a tort action for the injuries suffered as a result of the
contractual breach. See, e.g., Banfield v. Addington,
Fla. 661, 669-670, 140 So. 893, 897 (1932); Parrish v.
107 Fla. 598, 603, 145 So. 848, 850 (1933) ("[A]n
action may arise for the breach of the contract, or for the
positive tort committed by the violation of a duty arising out of
the assumption of the contractual relation"); Safeco Title Ins.
Co. v. Reynolds,
452 So. 2d 45, 48 (Fla.App.1984) (it is a
"long-established general principle that injuries caused by the
allegedly negligent performance of a contractual duty may be
redressed through a tort action"). The threshold inquiry for
determining if a cause of action exists is an examination of the
contract to ascertain what duties were accepted by each of the
parties and the scope of those duties. See
Negligence § 17, p. 29 (1982); Vorndran v. Wright,
2d 1070 (Fla.App.1979) (architect's contract did not include a duty
to ensure compliance with safety regulations, and thus employee
injured on the job had no cause of action
Page 481 U. S. 861
against the architect); Schauer v. Blair Construction
374 So. 2d 1160, 1161 (Fla.App.1979) (summary judgment in
favor of architect improperly granted when genuine issue of
material fact existed regarding architect's alleged contractual
obligation to supervise construction).
In her complaint, respondent alleges precisely this type of
tortious breach of contract claim. She asserts that "pursuant to
contracts and agreements" between the Union and Florida Power, "to
which contracts and agreements the Plaintiff was a third-party
beneficiary," the Union owed respondent a duty of care to ensure
her a safe working environment. App. 4. Having assumed this duty
under the collective bargaining agreement, the Union -- according
to the complaint -- was then negligent
"by allowing [Hechler] to be assigned to work in . . . a
dangerous location and environment and by failing to provide her
with or ascertaining that she had the necessary training,
experience, background, and education to work in such a dangerous
and was further negligent in failing to
"provid[e] and/or enforc[e] safety rules, regulations and
requirements which would preclude such persons with inadequate and
insufficient background, training, education, and experience, such
as the Plaintiff, . . . from being placed in such an inherently
dangerous working environment."
Respondent's allegations of negligence assume significance if --
and only if -- the Union, in fact, had assumed the duty of care
that the complaint alleges the Union breached. The collective
bargaining agreement between the Union and Florida Power, and
ancillary agreements between those parties, contain provisions on
safety and working requirements for electrical apprentices on which
Hechler could try to base an argument that the Union assumed an
implied duty of care. [Footnote
Page 481 U. S. 862
In order to determine the Union's tort liability, however, a
court would have to ascertain, first, whether the collective
bargaining agreement in fact placed an implied duty of care on the
Union to ensure that Hechler was provided a safe workplace, and,
second, the nature and scope of that duty, that is, whether, and to
what extent, the Union's duty extended to the particular
responsibilities alleged by respondent in her complaint. Thus, in
this case, as in Allis-Chalmers,
it is clear that
"questions of contract interpretation . . . underlie any finding of
tort liability." 471 U.S. at 471 U. S. 218
The need for federal uniformity in the interpretation of contract
terms therefore mandates that here, as in Allis-Chalmers,
respondent is precluded from evading the preemptive force of § 301
by casting her claim as a state law tort action. [Footnote 5
Page 481 U. S. 863
If respondent's suit is treated as a § 301 claim, a court must
determine whether her claim is time-barred by the applicable
Page 481 U. S. 864
statute of limitations under federal law. The Union argues that
respondent's claim can be characterized only as a "duty of fair
representation" claim against the Union for failing properly to
represent Hechler's interests before the employer, and that her
claim must therefore be governed by the 6-month period of
limitations prescribed by DelCostello v. Teamsters,
462 U. S. 151
(1983). [Footnote 6
argues, however, that her suit is not a "duty of fair
representation" claim, but is simply a § 301 claim, on the basis of
her status as a third-party beneficiary of the collective
Page 481 U. S. 865
and the Union's breach of duties assumed under that agreement.
The Court of Appeals did not review the District Court's holding
that the 6-month period of limitations adopted in
governs Hechler's suit, because it concluded
that respondent's claim was not preempted under federal labor law.
We believe it appropriate for the Court of Appeals to consider, in
the first instance, whether the period of limitations adopted in
is applicable to Hechler's claim.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
therefore is vacated, and the case is remanded to that court for
further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947 (LMRA)
"Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a
labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting
commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor
organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United
States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the
amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the
29 U.S.C. § 185(a).
See Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U. S.
, 369 U. S. 102
(1962), discussing Charles Dowd Box Co. v. Courtney,
368 U. S. 502
(1962). In Dowd,
the Court impliedly referred to state
courts as working with the federal courts "as there evolves in this
field of labor management relations that body of federal common law
of which Lincoln Mills
368 U. S.
The Court took care in Allis-Chalmers
to define the
precise limits of its holding. The rule there set forth is that,
when a state law claim is substantially dependent on analysis of a
collective bargaining agreement, a plaintiff may not evade the
preemptive force of § 301 of the LMRA by casting the suit as a
state law claim. 471 U.S. at 471 U. S. 220
The Court emphasized, however:
"In extending the preemptive effect of § 301 beyond suits for
breach of contract, it would be inconsistent with congressional
intent under that section to preempt state rules that proscribe
conduct, or establish rights and obligations, independent of a
at 471 U. S.
The provision on "Safety" in the collective bargaining agreement
"The safety of the employees is a matter of paramount
importance, shall receive first consideration, and no employee
shall be allowed or required to take any undue risk in the
performance of his duties which he or his Foreman or Supervisor
consider unsafe to himself or to his fellow workers. Supervisors
and Foreman will be held strictly responsible for the enforcement
of safe working rules."
App. 13-14. The provision also establishes a labor-management
"Joint Safety Committee" which is
"responsible for developing and recommending an effective safety
program for all employees covered by this Agreement, including
changes or additions to present safety rules, conducting
investigations of accidents when deemed necessary."
A second provision, present in a side agreement entitled "The
Manner An Electrical Apprentice Will Work" states:
"It is recognized that an Electrical Apprentice is in training
under Journeymen to become a qualified Journeyman. It is also
recognized that as he progresses in his apprenticeship, he becomes
qualified to perform productive work, and will be expected to
perform all the duties of a Journeyman which he has become
qualified to do. It is not the intention of the Company to use an
Apprentice on any type of work which the Apprentice has not become
qualified to perform through experience and training. In this
regard, the Company will not require an Apprentice to work on,
climb through or work above energized conductors carrying more than
500 volts during his first year of apprenticeship."
In her brief to this Court, respondent argues, for the first
time, that her claim is not dependent on an interpretation of the
collective bargaining agreement, because the Union's duty of care
to her may arise through independent state law responsibilities
placed upon the Union simply by virtue of its relationship with its
members, rather than as a result of the collective bargaining
agreement. Brief for Respondent 15-19. Respondent points out that
she alleged that the Union owed her a duty of care "pursuant to
contracts and agreements" entered into between the Union and
Florida Power "and
pursuant to the relationship by and
between" the Union and Hechler. App. 4 (emphasis added).
Even assuming that respondent's pleadings may be construed
liberally as stating that various, unenumerated Florida laws place
a duty of care on a union to provide a safe workplace for its
members, respondent effectively abandoned that theory in the lower
courts, and we decline to consider the argument here. Hechler
argued below simply that the Union's duty of care arose from and
was determined by the collective bargaining agreement to which she
was a third-party beneficiary. In opposing the Union's motion to
dismiss in the District Court, Hechler conceded: "The nature and
scope of the duty of care owed Plaintiff is determined by reference
to the collective bargaining agreement." 1 Record 98. She made no
reference to an alternative theory that the "nature and scope" of
the Union's duty of care also may be determined by reference to
state law operating independently of the collective bargaining
agreement. Although she repeated her statement that the duty of
care owed her by the Union arose "by virtue of the parties
] relationship and the collective bargaining
she never suggested that the
"relationship" between the parties gave rise to a duty of care
distinct from the duty created by the collective bargaining
agreement. Not surprisingly, the District Court, relying on
Hechler's formulation of her claim, observed: "Significantly, the
duty allegedly owed to plaintiff flows from the collective
bargaining agreement." App. to Pet. for Cert. 3a.
On appeal to the Court of Appeals, Hechler continued to
characterize the Union's duty of care as grounded in the collective
bargaining agreement. She described the issue presented as
"whether the federal labor laws preempt a worker's state common
law action against her union for negligence in breaching its duty
-- created by the union's contract with the employer
insure that the plaintiff was properly trained for her work
Brief for Appellant in No. 84-5799 (CA11), p. ii (emphasis
added): See also id.
at 1, 45, n. 47. Again, there was no
mention by Hechler of the existence of other state law that might
form an alternative source of the Union's duty. The Court of
Appeals accepted the proposition that the Union's duty of care
would arise from the collective bargaining agreement, but agreed
with Hechler that, "[t]hough the contract may be of use in defining
the scope of the duty owed," the suit essentially remained a state
law claim of negligence. 772 F.2d 788, 794 (1985).
Respondent repeated the theory adopted by the Court of Appeals
in her opposition to the Union's certiorari petition in this Court.
Brief in Opposition 4, 8-9. In her brief on the merits to this
Court, she argued for the first time that the Union possibly was
subject to an independent state law duty of care, unconnected to
the collective bargaining agreement, and arising simply from the
relationship of a union to its members. Even if such a state law
obligation, which would directly regulate the responsibility of a
union in a workplace, could survive the preemptive power of federal
labor law, we conclude that it is too late in the day for
respondent to present to the Court this new-found legal theory. We
decline to rule on the impact of hypothetical state law when the
relevance of such law was neither presented to or passed on by the
courts below, nor presented to us in the response to the petition
the Court concluded that a hybrid suit,
consisting of a § 301 claim against an employer and a
duty-of-fair-representation claim against a union, is similar to an
unfair labor practices charge, and that federal courts should
therefore borrow the 6-month limitations period established in §
10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 160(b), for
such charges. A duty of fair representation claim arises when a
union that represents an employee in a grievance or arbitration
procedure acts in a "discriminatory, dishonest, arbitrary, or
perfunctory" fashion. 462 U.S. at 462 U. S. 164
See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U. S. 171
(1967); Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.
(1976). The Court in DelCostello
expressly distinguished the hybrid § 301 duty of fair
representation claim before it from "a straightforward breach of
contract suit under § 301." 462 U.S. at 462 U. S.
An individual employee may bring a § 301 claim against an
employer for violation of the collective bargaining agreement
between the union and the employer. Smith v. Evening News
Assn., 371 U. S. 195
(1962). Although employees usually bring duty of fair
representation claims against their union, rather than § 301
claims, see, e.g., Vaca v. Sipes, supra,
beneficiaries to a contract ordinarily have the right to bring a
claim based on the contract. The Union has not contested
respondent's right to bring a § 301 claim against it based on her
status as a third-party beneficiary to the collective bargaining
agreement, although it has attempted to recast her suit as a duty
of fair representation claim.
JUSTICE STEVENS, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
Respondent has alleged nothing more than a breach of the Union's
federal duty of fair representation. She has not alleged that the
Union breached any specific promise made to her, and her argument
that Florida law has augmented the Union's representational duties
is plainly preempted by federal law. The suggestion that she is a
"third-party beneficiary" of the collective bargaining agreement
that the Union negotiated and executed on her behalf is a concept I
simply do not understand. Whatever rights she has under that
contract are rights against her employer, not against the party
that represented her in its negotiation. Since her claim
Page 481 U. S. 866
against the Union is a duty of fair representation claim, her
complaint is barred by the 6-month period of limitations prescribed
by this Court's decision in DelCostello v. Teamsters,
462 U. S. 151
case to the Court of Appeals is therefore unnecessary. I would
simply reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeals and reinstate
the District Court's order dismissing the complaint.
* The District Court found that respondent had sued the union
"over two years after she sustained her injury." App. to Pet. for