Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB

PETITIONER: Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc.
RESPONDENT: National Labor Relations Board
LOCATION: New Orleans District Attorney's Office

DOCKET NO.: 81-2257
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 461 US 731 (1983)
ARGUED: Mar 29, 1983
DECIDED: May 31, 1983

Carolyn F. Corwin - on behalf of the Respondents
Lawrence Allen Katz - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 29, 1983 in Bill Johnson's Restaurants, Inc. v. NLRB

Warren E. Burger:

We will hear arguments next in Bill Johnson's Restaurants against National Labor Relations Board.

Mr. Katz, you may proceed whenever you are ready.

Lawrence Allen Katz:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court, the issue before the Court in this case is the extent to which restraints should be placed upon the power of the National Labor Relations Board to interfere with civil proceedings instituted in state court and growing out of a labor dispute.

The civil litigation in this case was a suit filed in the Arizona Superior Court by petitioner, Bill Johnson's Restaurants, against several persons who were demonstrating in front of the restaurant in September, 1978.

The suit alleged that the protesters had defamed the restaurant by publishing leaflets which accused the restaurant in engaging in a refusal to pay lawful overtime, in sexually harassing waitresses, in discharging a waitress for union activity, and maintaining filthy restrooms.

The suit also asked for injunctive relief and for damages for misconduct occurring during the demonstrations.

This Court has held in the past that some controversies arising out of labor disputes are so deeply rooted in matters of local concern and responsibility that the state courts have primary jurisdiction to hear and determine these controversies even though they may touch on matters of federal concern as well, and I refer here to suits growing out of labor controversies involving defamation, involving violence, involving trespass and other torts out of such labor disputes where the public peace and order are threatened.

In these cases, the state has been held to have an overriding interest in the resolution of the controversy.

Despite this history, the National Labor Relations Board has in the present case ordered the restaurant to withdraw its civil suit and to compensate the defendants for all expenses incurred by them in the defense of the suit, including expenses incurred by them in the prosecution of their counterclaims.

The Board does not justify its order in this case by any finding that the complaint filed by the restaurant on its face asked for relief barred by the National Labor Relations Act.

The Board does not justify its order in this case by any finding that the complaint filed by the restaurant was pre-empted by the National Labor Relations Act, or that it raised issues that were already pending before the Board.

Instead, the Board attempts to justify its intrusion into the parties' civil litigation by a finding that the restaurant's suit constituted an effort to retaliate against those demonstrators who were outside its premises.

To reach that result, the Board performed adjudicatory responsibilities that should have been performed by the state court.

After the restaurant filed its suit, the Board compelled the restaurant to demonstrate that the suit had some reasonable factual basis, that it had merit.

Considerable evidence was presented before the Board's Administrative Law Judge on the same questions that were then pending in front of the state trial court.

For example, were the offensive statements of the demonstrators true or false?

Did the demonstrators publish those statements knowing them to be true or false?

Did the demonstrators improperly obstruct or interfere with the restaurant's operations?

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Katz, were these--

Lawrence Allen Katz:

Yes, Your Honor.

William H. Rehnquist:

--questions of federal law, state law, or some of both?

Lawrence Allen Katz:

Questions of defamation arising out of a labor dispute are questions of state law.

The questions should have been heard and determined by the state court.

William H. Rehnquist:

Are you saying that the Administrative Law Judge examined issues that were concededly of state law, such as whether there was a publication under the Arizona law of libel?

Lawrence Allen Katz:

The question of whether there was a publication was not at issue, but other questions decided by the Administrative Law Judge, Justice Rehnquist, were in fact then pending before the state court.

For example, were the--

William H. Rehnquist:

A federal question could be pending before the state court.

I was more interested in whether the Administrative Law Judge also examined question that were concededly only of state law.

Did the Administrative Law Judge say there wasn't anything to the suit under state law?

Lawrence Allen Katz:

--Yes, he did.