INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMEN'S ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 1291 v. PHILADELPHIA
MARINE TRADE ASSOCIATION.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT. No. 34.
Argued October 12 and 16, 1967.
Decided November 6, 1967. *
[ Footnote * ] Together with No. 78, International Longshoremen's Association, Local 1291, et al. v. Philadelphia Marine Trade Association, also on certiorari to the same court.
A dispute between petitioner longshoremen's union and respondent, an employer's association, over the interpretation of a "set-back," or postponement of hours of work, provision in a collective bargaining agreement, was submitted to arbitration as provided in the agreement. On June 11, 1965, the arbitrator ruled that respondent's interpretation was correct. Respondent sought orders from the District Court enforcing the arbitrator's award, following work stoppages in July and September 1965 by stevedores who disputed the meaning of the set-back provision. The court expressed no opinion on the union's contentions that the later disputes were distinguishable from the one involved in the arbitrator's award, but on September 15 merely entered a decree requiring that the award "be specifically enforced," and ordering the union "to comply with and to abide by the said Award." Although the union's counsel noted that the award contained only an abstract proposition and no command capable of "enforcement," counsel's request for clarification of the court's order was unavailing. When further set-back disputes disrupted work in February 1966, the court issued a rule to show cause why the union and its officers should not be held in contempt for violating the September 15 order. Without explaining precisely what acts violated the order, the judge held the February strike "illegal . . . under the circumstances," found the union in civil contempt, and fined the union $100,000 per day. The Court of Appeals affirmed the original decree and the contempt order. Held: Since the District Court's decree, which was an "order granting an injunction" within the meaning of Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 65 (d), did not [389 U.S. 64, 65] comply with the Rule's requirement that it state in specific terms the acts that it commands or prohibits, neither it nor the decision holding the union in contempt can stand. Pp. 74-76.
365 F.2d 295, 368 F.2d 932, reversed.
Abraham E. Freedman argued the cause for petitioners in both cases. With him on the briefs was Martin J. Vigderman.
Francis A. Scanlan argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent in both cases.
Edward Silver and George G. Gallantz filed a brief for the Maritime Service Committee, Inc., et al., as amici curiae, urging affirmance in both cases.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART delivered the opinion of the Court.
These cases arise from a series of strikes along the Philadelphia waterfront. The petitioner union, representing the longshoremen involved in those strikes, had entered into a collective bargaining agreement in 1959 with the respondent, an association of employers in the Port of Philadelphia. The agreement included provisions for compensating longshoremen who are told after they report for duty that they will not be needed until the afternoon. 1 The union construed those "set-back" provisions [389 U.S. 64, 66] to mean that, at least in some situations, longshoremen whose employment was postponed because of unfavorable weather conditions were entitled to four hours' pay; the association interpreted the provisions to guarantee no more than one hour's pay under such circumstances.
In April 1965, when this disagreement first became apparent, the parties followed the grievance procedure established by their collective bargaining contract and submitted the matter to an arbitrator for binding settlement. 2 On June 11 the arbitrator ruled that the [389 U.S. 64, 67] association's reading of the set-back provisions was correct. 3 In July, however, a group of union members refused to unload a ship unless their employer would promise four hours' pay for having set back their starting [389 U.S. 64, 68] time from 8 a. m. to 1 p. m. The union sought to arbitrate the matter, but the association viewed the original arbitrator's decision as controlling and instituted proceedings in the District Court to enforce it. The complaint alleged that the union had refused "to abide by the terms of the Arbitrator's Award . . . resulting in serious loss and damage to [the] Employer . . . and to the Port of Philadelphia." This refusal, the complaint charged, constituted "a breach of the applicable provisions of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement between the P. M. T. A. and the Union." The complaint concluded with a prayer "that the Court set an immediate hearing and enter an order enforcing the Arbitrator's Award, and that plaintiff may have such other and further relief as may be justified."
Before the court could take any action, the employer had met the union's demands and the men had returned to work. The District Court heard evidence in order to "put the facts on record" but concluded that the case was "moot at the moment" and decided simply to "keep the matter in hand as a judge [and] take jurisdiction . . . [i]f anything arises." A similar situation did in fact arise - this time in September. Again, before the District Court could act, the work stoppage ended. The association nonetheless requested
When the District Court first indicated that it would issue such a decree, counsel for the union asked the court for clarification:
When further set-back disputes disrupted work throughout the Port of Philadelphia in late February 1966, the District Court issued a rule to show cause why the union and its officers should not be held in contempt for violating the order of September 15. Throughout the contempt hearing held on March 1, 1966, counsel for the union sought without success to determine precisely what acts by the union, its officers, or its members were alleged to have violated the court's order. "We have a right to know," he said, "what it is that we are being accused of . . . ." The District Judge refused to comment. 6 [389 U.S. 64, 72] At some points in the proceedings, it appeared that the alleged violation consisted of the work stoppage during the last few days of February; but at other times the inquiry focused upon the union's request for a grievance meeting on February 28 to discuss the latest set-back problem. "Why," counsel for the association asked, did the union seek "to rearbitrate the award . . . ?" As the contempt hearing drew to a close, counsel for the association suggested yet another possibility - that union officials violated the District Court's decree when they "castigated" the arbitrator's award and failed to "tell [the men] that their work stoppage was unauthorized" under the award entered some eight months earlier. "[I]n failing to do that," counsel said, "they have shown that they do not intend to abide by the arbitrator's award which was the essence of the order which Your Honor issued . . . ."
Invited to make a closing argument, counsel for the union said:
Much of the argument in the Court of Appeals and in this Court has centered upon the District Court's power to issue the order of September 15, 1965. 9 The union maintains that the order was an injunction against work stoppages and points out that in Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson, 370 U.S. 195 , we held that, because of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, a federal court cannot enjoin a work stoppage even when the applicable collective bargaining agreement contains a no-strike clause. The association, on the other hand, argues that the order no more than enforced an arbitrator's award, and points out that in Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448 , we held that, under 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, a federal court may grant equitable relief to enforce an agreement to arbitrate. The parties have strenuously argued the applicability of Sinclair and Lincoln Mills to the facts before us. We do not, however, reach the underlying questions of federal labor law these arguments present. For whatever power the District Court might have possessed under the circumstances disclosed by this record, the conclusion is inescapable that the decree which the court in fact entered was too vague [389 U.S. 64, 74] to be sustained as a valid exercise of federal judicial authority.
On its face, the decree appears merely to enforce an arbitrator's award. But that award contains only an abstract conclusion of law, not an operative command capable of "enforcement." When counsel for the union noted this difficulty and sought to ascertain the District Court's meaning, he received no response. Even at the contempt hearing on March 1, the union was not told how it had failed to "comply with and . . . abide by the [Arbitrator's] Award," in accordance with the District Court's original order. That court did express the view on March 1 that the February walkouts had been "illegal . . . under the circumstances." But such strikes would have been "illegal" - in the sense that they would have been violative of the collective bargaining agreement - even if the District Court had entered no order at all, Teamsters Local v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95 , and the record does not reveal what further "circumstances" the court deemed relevant to the conclusion that the union had violated its decree. Thus the September 15 decree, even when illuminated by subsequent events, left entirely unclear what it demanded.
Rule 65 (d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure was designed to prevent precisely the sort of confusion with which this District Court clouded its command. That rule provides:
The order in this case clearly failed to comply with that rule, for it did not state in "specific . . . terms" the acts that it required or prohibited. The Court of Appeals viewed this error as "minor and in no way decisional." 15 We consider it both serious and decisive.
The judicial contempt power is a potent weapon. When it is founded upon a decree too vague to be understood, it can be a deadly one. Congress responded to that danger by requiring that a federal court frame its orders so that those who must obey them will know what the court intends to require and what it means to forbid. Because the decree of this District Court was not so framed, it cannot stand. And with it must fall the District Court's decision holding the union in contempt. We do not deal here with a violation of a court order by one who fully understands its meaning but chooses to ignore its mandate. We deal instead with acts alleged to violate a decree that can only be described as unintelligible. The most fundamental postulates of our legal order forbid the imposition of a penalty for disobeying a command that defies comprehension.
A Memorandum of Settlement, effective October 1, 1964, provided in Article 10 (5) that "[f]or work commencing at 8 AM on Monday or at 8 AM on the day following a holiday," employers [389 U.S. 64, 66] would "have the right because of non-arrival of a vessel in port to cancel the gangs by 7:30 A. M." Article 10 (6) then stated: "Gangs ordered for an 8 AM start Monday through Friday can be set back at 7:30 AM on the day of work to commence at 1 PM at which time a four hour guarantee shall apply. A one hour guarantee shall apply for the morning period unless employed during the morning period."
Article 16 of the Memorandum of Settlement adopted the provisions of the 1959 agreement by reference, with the proviso that, in cases of conflict, "the provisions of [the Memorandum] shall prevail."
[ Footnote 2 ] Article 28 of the 1959 agreement, unchanged by the Memorandum of Settlement, provided:
[ Footnote 3 ] The text of the arbitrator's award was this:
[ Footnote 4 ] The union's position in this regard was twofold. It maintained, first, that even if the July and September disputes had been factually identical to that of April, it was "quite clear . . . from past practice and from the agreement itself that . . . the award as to [any given] dispute relates only to that dispute and is not controlling so far as any future dispute is concerned." The union contended, second, that the disputes were factually different in at least one crucial respect: In the later disputes, the longshoremen were not notified of the set-back by 7:30 a. m., as required by Article 10 of the Memorandum of Settlement. The arbitrator's award, by its own terms, dealt only with situations in which longshoremen were "set back at 7:30 a. m." Counsel for the association seemingly agreed that the question of notice thus presented an independently arbitrable issue. He said: "[T]he factual issues as far as whether or not there was notice . . . should be brought up under the grievance procedure which is in the contract." "The question of notification," he agreed, "was not a matter in the arbitrator's award." He stated that the time and method of notification had not changed from April to September but he conceded that the problem "was never brought to [the arbitrator's] attention by the parties." On this basis, counsel for the union said that his adversary had "admitted on the stand that this situation goes beyond the arbitrator's award." The District Judge thought otherwise: "You have added words to his mouth, my dear boy, and that you can't do."
[ Footnote 5 ] The full text of the decree was this:
[ Footnote 6 ] At the hearing following the July work stoppage, the District Judge had agreed that, as to factual situations going "beyond the arbitrator's award, the union is not bound." The union thus attempted to prove at the contempt hearing on March 1 that the February disputes, like those of the previous July and September, went beyond the arbitrator's award in that they raised a separate [389 U.S. 64, 72] question of notice. Cf. n. 4, supra. The District Judge did not comment upon this aspect of the case in holding the union guilty of contempt.
[ Footnote 7 ] 365 F.2d 295, 368 F.2d 932.
[ Footnote 9 ] Other issues have been argued as well. In light of our disposition of these cases, we do not reach them.
[ Footnote 10 ] Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448 , upheld federal judicial power to issue such an enforcement order. In Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson, 370 U.S. 195 , we described "the equitable relief granted in" Lincoln Mills as "a mandatory injunction to carry out an agreement to arbitrate." Id., at 212.
[ Footnote 11 ] 38 Stat. 738, 28 U.S.C. 383 (1940 ed.).
[ Footnote 12 ] H. R. Rep. No. 627, 63d Cong., 2d Sess., 26 (1914); S. Rep. No. 698, 63d Cong., 2d Sess., 21 (1914).
[ Footnote 14 ] See, e. g., International Brotherhood v. Keystone F. Lines, 123 F.2d 326, 330 (C. A. 10th Cir.); NLRB v. Birdsall-Stockdale Motor Co., 208 F.2d 234, 236-237 (C. A. 10th Cir.); English v. Cunningham, [389 U.S. 64, 76] 106 U.S. App. D.C. 70, 77-78, 269 F.2d 517, 524-525. Cf. Brumby Metals, Inc. v. Bargen, 275 F.2d 46, 48-50 (C. A. 7th Cir.); Miami Beach Federal Savings & Loan Assn. v. Callander, 256 F.2d 410, 415 (C. A. 5th Cir.).
[ Footnote 15 ] 365 F.2d 295, 301.
MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN, concurring in result.
I concur in the result. But, like my Brother DOUGLAS, I emphasize that today's disposition in no way implies that Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson, 370 U.S. 195 , [389 U.S. 64, 77] determines the applicability of the Norris-LaGuardia Act to an equitable decree carefully fashioned to enforce the award of an arbitrator authorized by the parties to make final and binding interpretations of the collective bargaining agreement.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I would reverse in No. 78 and in No. 34 remand the case to the District Court for further proceedings.
If the order of the District Court is an "injunction" within the meaning of Rule 65 (d), then I fail to see why it is not an "injunction" within the meaning of the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Legal minds possess an inventive genius as great as that of those who work in the physical sciences. Perhaps a form of words could be worked out which would employ the science of semantics to distinguish the Norris-LaGuardia Act problem from the present one. I for one see no distinction; and since I feel strongly that Sinclair Refining Co. v. Atkinson, 370 U.S. 195 , caused a severe dislocation in the federal scheme of arbitration of labor disputes, I think we should not set our feet on a path that may well lead to the eventual reaffirmation of the principles of that case. My Brother STEWART expressly reserves the question whether the present order is an injunction prohibited by the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Despite this qualification, once we have held that the order constitutes an "injunction," the District Court on remand would likely consider Sinclair, which is not overruled, controlling and apply it to preclude the issuance of another order.
We held in Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448 , that a failure to arbitrate was not part and parcel of the abuses against which the Norris-LaGuardia Act was aimed. We noted that Congress, in fashioning 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, was seeking [389 U.S. 64, 78] to encourage collective bargaining agreements in which the parties agree to refrain from unilateral disruptive action, such as a strike, with respect to disputes arbitrable by the agreement. Hence, if unions could break such agreements with impunity, the congressional purpose might well be frustrated. Although 301 does not in terms address itself to the question of remedies, it commands the District Court to hold the parties to their contractual scheme for arbitration - the "favored process for settlement," as my Brother BRENNAN said in dissent in Sinclair, 370 U.S., at 216 . I agree with his opinion that there must be an accommodation between the Norris-LaGuardia Act and all the other legislation on the books dealing with labor relations. We have had such an accommodation in the case of railroad disputes. See Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen v. Chicago R. & I. R. Co., 353 U.S. 30 . With respect to 301, "Accommodation requires only that the anti-injunction policy of Norris-LaGuardia not intrude into areas, not vital to its ends, where injunctive relief is vital to a purpose of 301; it does not require unconditional surrender." 370 U.S., at 225 .
It would be possible, of course, to distinguish Sinclair from the instant cases. In these cases, the relief sought was a mandate against repetition of strikes over causes covered by the arbitrator's award. The complaint below alleged that the union's "refusal to comply with the terms of the Arbitrator's Award constitutes a breach of the applicable provisions of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement . . . ." Respondent asked that the court "enter an order enforcing the Arbitrator's Award, and that plaintiff may have such other and further relief as may be justified." We do not review here, as in Sinclair, a refusal to enter an order prohibiting unilateral disruptive action on the part of a union before that union has submitted its grievances to the arbitration procedure [389 U.S. 64, 79] provided by the collective bargaining agreement. Rather, the union in fact submitted to the arbitration procedure established by the collective bargaining agreement but, if the allegations are believed, totally frustrated the process by refusing to abide by the arbitrator's decision. Such a "heads I win, tails you lose," attitude plays fast and loose with the desire of Congress to encourage the peaceful and orderly settlement of labor disputes.
The union, of course, may have acted in good faith, for the new dispute may have been factually different from the one which precipitated the award. Whether or not it was, we do not know. To make the accommodation which the Textile Workers case visualizes as necessary between the policy of encouraging arbitration on the one hand and the Norris-LaGuardia restrictions on the other, the basic case must go back for further and more precise findings and the contempt case must obviously be reversed. See Sinclair, 370 U.S., at 228 -229 (dissenting opinion). [389 U.S. 64, 80]