Charles Dowd Box Company, Inc. v. Courtney

PETITIONER: Charles Dowd Box Company, Inc.
LOCATION: Vilage of Kake

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)

CITATION: 368 US 502 (1962)
ARGUED: Nov 07, 1961
DECIDED: Feb 19, 1962

Facts of the case


Media for Charles Dowd Box Company, Inc. v. Courtney

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 07, 1961 in Charles Dowd Box Company, Inc. v. Courtney

Earl Warren:

Number 33, Charles Dowd Box Company, Incorporated, Petitioner, versus John F. Courtney et al.

Mr. Mason.

George H. Mason:

May it please the Court.

The federal law here involved is Section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act with the subject of consideration by this Court in Lincoln Mills in 1957.

The principal issue presented here is whether Section 301 preempted to the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal courts, that field of litigation involving collective bargaining contracts where interstate commerce would be effective.

The case comes here in the following manner.

I shall refer to the petitioner here, the defendant in the lower court action of the company and the respondent here is the union for convenience.

The union brought a suit to the Massachusetts Court to enforce an alleged collective bargaining agreement essentially claiming a refusal by the company to comply with the terms of an executed agreement, allegedly executed agreement, an improper termination of that contract by the company and sought as relief an injunction against the termination of the contract by the company, specific performance of the entire agreement, a declaratory judgment and damages for the violation of the contract.

The action was brought by the union -- International Union, United Steelworkers of America through a representative of the international by the local charted by the international.

On behalf of the organizations themselves and of the individual members of those organizations -- for the action can only be instituted as a class suit in Massachusetts, so which does not recognize at the end of the theory with reference to unincorporated organization such as labor unions.

The company filed a demurrer in the action setting up specifically that Section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act deprived the state court of jurisdiction in a suit between a labor organization and an employer for violation of a collective contract.

The company incidentally denied the validity of the agreement that was in issue and determined adversely to the company.

William O. Douglas:

The validity of what?

George H. Mason:

Of the collective agreement --

William O. Douglas:

Of the whole agreement.

George H. Mason:

Of the whole agreement.

William O. Douglas:

That is it was signed by agents not authorized to act --

George H. Mason:

That was one of the defenses raised by the company as to the invalidity of the -- with reference to the validity of the collective agreement.

The company also filed a motion at some stage in the proceedings to dismiss the action for want of jurisdiction alleging the same ground as it did in the demurrer.

The demurrer and the motion was -- the demurrer was overruled and motion was denied by the lower court.

A filed decree was entered in the lower court declaring the agreement valid and binding on the parties and directing payment of specific amounts to individual members of the union in the form of wages alleged to be due under this contract.

Now, I might point out here that the original action sought specific performance of the entire contracts which had many clauses in it -- with reference to union rights qua union such as recognition of the union, union shop, check off, as well as claiming violation of rights which would result in money damages to the individual members for wages alleged to be due.

But the -- by the time the filed decree was entered in 1960, the original contract had expired, so that the question of specific performance of the expired contracts had become moot and the only relief therefore which the Court afforded to the union was to grant the money damages which was alleged to be due under that expired contract or the duration of that contract.

The company appealed from the interlocutory decrees -- decree overruling the demurrer of the company in which it alleged no jurisdiction of the state court and from the lower court's motion to -- denial of the motion to dismiss for want of jurisdiction and from the final decree, the Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the rulings of the lower court in essence holding that the state court did have jurisdiction, not withstanding Section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act that the Taft-Hartley -- the three -- Section 301 did not establish any exclusive jurisdiction in the federal courts.

Now, it may be of interest on the -- as the case arises here that in the findings of fact which are undisputed now in this case, there was a finding in the lower court that the company sells a substantial part of its product and purchases a substantial part of its supplies in interstate commerce.

So I don't think there's any question here of whether the case involves one affecting the interstate commerce.

I think that would be considered by both parties.

It found that the company refused to comply with the contract and terminated it before its expiration date, and that the collective agreement for which specific performance was requested, was valid and contained the usual clauses which are incorporated in a collective agreement so that the case is one to which Section 301 obviously applies.

It was brought by a labor organization against an employer for a violation of a contract between these parties expressly.

The company was engaged in interstate commerce and I think that's undisputed so that this would affect interstate commerce suit conceivably and the suit sought specific performance of the entire contract so that it could not be said that this was a suit to maintain or prosecute uniquely personal rights as distinguished from rights of the union as a union, so that the Westinghouse problem is not yet present.