Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 v. Terry - Oral Argument - December 06, 1989

Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 v. Terry

Media for Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 v. Terry

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 20, 1990 in Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 v. Terry

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 06, 1989 in Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 v. Terry

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument next in No. 88-1719, Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers v. Terry.

Mr. James.

J. David James:

Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

The question presented in this case is whether there is a right to a jury trial in a case where an employee sues his union alleging a breach of the duty of fair representation whenever he seeks also some type of monetary damages, which in this case are the back pay.

It doesn't sound very interesting.

J. David James:

It certainly didn't draw the crowd that the first one did.

[Laughter]

It is, however, important for not only these parties, but for the large number of cases that this raises.

We contend that there is no right to a jury trial in such a case, and we do that based upon the historical analysis that this Court has set forth we should follow in Seventh Amendment questions.

We have to go to the Seventh Amendment because, like everybody agrees, there is no statutory right to a jury trial and so the question turns on if there is a right to a jury trial, it could be found only in the Seventh Amendment.

The first, and this Court has set out that that's a two-pronged test, look at the historical analog to see if this is more like an equitable or a legal action, and then turn to the more important issue, what are the types of remedies asked for in the case, the nature of those remedies and are they more legal or equitable in nature.

We say, turning to the first prong, that this, while not recognized in... at the time the Constitution and the Seventh Amendment was enacted... the duty of fair representation action was not recognized then... that the duty of fair representation action does have its origin in the traditions of equities law trust.

And we have discussed that our brief... in our briefs at some length, how the union in a duty of fair representation case is much like a trustee situation that was found prior to the enactment of the Seventh Amendment.

A union, like a trustee, is given discretionary power to be exercised for the benefit of certain employees.

In Steele v. L&N Railroad, this Court recognized that the union, like a trustee, must act on behalf of these employees non-arbitrarily, must act in good faith.

The relationship that we find between a union and the employees that it represents is very much like that between a trustee and beneficiaries that it represents.

The union has broad discretion, just like a trustee has broad discretion.

The trustee, or a union, can represent employees or beneficiaries with divergent, even conflicting interests.

That's unlike the lawyer/client relationship where the client controls and tells the lawyer what he has to do and can withdraw, have other counsel, if he does not like what the attorney is doing.

With a union, an employee cannot insist that the union take any specific action.

It... the union, like a trustee... has discretion to decide itself what to do.

And as long as it stays within the certain bounds allowed by the courts in that discretion, the employee cannot force the union, just like a beneficiary could not force a trustee to take any particular action.

Thus, we say that the duty of fair representation action is very similar to the trust action which was found prior to the enactment of the Seventh Amendment, and it's clear that those trust actions were developed solely in equity, that they were not recognized in law courts.

And we say that, therefore, if you look at the nature of the duty of fair representation action, it is most like that trust analogy and it's thus equitable.

That's particular seen in the sort of hybrid action that we have here where a union is sued by an employee who claims that the union did not take some action properly and at the same time the employee claims the company that it... is its employer also acted improperly.

That is very similar to the old trust actions where a... an... a beneficiary of a trust would say the trustee should have taken some action against a third party but... and it was an abuse of its discretion, the trustee's discretion, not to take that action.

And, therefore, in equity courts... not in law courts, could not do it there... but in equity courts the beneficiary would go in and say to the court, the trustee has acted improperly in not taking this action against the third party, and the third party has acted improperly.

Give me a remedy against them.

That is something that it is clear could not be done in law courts.

William H. Rehnquist:

What sort of a remedy would the chancellory court give in that situation?