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CHARLES DOWD BOX CO. v. COURTNEY ET AL.

decided: February 19, 1962.

CHARLES DOWD BOX CO., INC
v.
COURTNEY ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPERIOR COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS.

Author: Stewart

[ 368 U.S. Page 502]

 MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.

Section 301 (a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 provides:

"(a) 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

[ 368 U.S. Page 503]

     or without regard to the citizenship of the parties."*fn1

The sole question presented by this case is whether this federal statute operates to divest a state court of jurisdiction over a suit for violation of a contract between an employer and a labor organization.

The petitioner is an employer engaged in an industry affecting commerce as defined in the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. The United Steelworkers of America, an international union, was the collective bargaining representative of the petitioner's production and maintenance employees, organized in Local 5158. A few

[ 368 U.S. Page 504]

     weeks before the expiration of a collective bargaining agreement in 1957, negotiations were initiated between representatives of the union and of the petitioner with respect to proposals which the union had submitted for a new agreement. After a number of negotiating sessions, a "Stipulation" was signed by representatives of each party, continuing in effect many provisions of the old agreement, but providing for wage increases and making other changes with respect to holidays and vacations. The terms of the "Stipulation" were later embodied in a draft of a proposed new agreement. The petitioner originally announced to its employees that it would put into effect the wage changes and other provisions covered by the "Stipulation" and draft agreement, but a few weeks later notified its employees of its intention to terminate these changes and return "to the rates in effect as of May 18, 1957." It was the petitioner's position that its bargaining representatives had acted without authority in negotiating the new agreement, and that the union had been so advised before any contract had actually been concluded.

The present action was then brought in the Superior Court of Massachusetts for Worcester County by the respondents, local union officers and a staff representative of the International Union. The complaint alleged that the plaintiffs "fairly and adequately represent the interests of the entire membership" of the union and Local 5158, and asked for a judgment declaring that there existed a valid and binding collective bargaining agreement, for an order enjoining the company from terminating or violating it, and for an accounting and damages. Responding to the complaint, the petitioner interposed several defenses, among them the contention that, by reason of § 301 (a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, the state court had no jurisdiction over the controversy.

[ 368 U.S. Page 505]

     The trial court rejected this attack upon its jurisdiction, determined on the merits that the collective bargaining agreement was "valid and binding on the parties thereto," and entered a money judgment in conformity with the wage provisions of the agreement.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed, expressly ruling that § 301 (a) has not made the federal courts the exclusive arbiters of suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce. As Chief Justice Wilkins put it, "We do not accept the contention that State courts are without jurisdiction. The statute does not so declare. The conferring of jurisdiction in actions at law upon the appropriate District Courts of the United States is not, in and of itself, a deprivation of an existing jurisdiction both at law and in equity in State courts. The case principally relied upon by the defendant, Textile Wkrs. Union of America v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, does not so state. In the absence of a clear holding by the Supreme Court of the United ...


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