Gunther v. San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway Company

RESPONDENT: San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway Company
LOCATION: South Carolina General Assembly

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1965-1967)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

CITATION: 382 US 257 (1965)
ARGUED: Nov 08, 1965
DECIDED: Dec 08, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for Gunther v. San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway Company

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 08, 1965 in Gunther v. San Diego & Arizona Eastern Railway Company

Earl Warren:

Number 27 F.J. Gunther, Petitioner versus San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Company.

Mr. Decker.

Charles W. Decker:

May it please the Court.

The parties to this litigation are my clients, a railroad worker named Fred Gunther, who lives in San Diego, California, and his employer, or ex-employer, the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Company.

For the purposes of clarity in my remarks, I'm going to refer to Mr. Gunther as the petitioner.

He is the only petitioner before the Court and I will refer to the respondent, San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Company, rather than by that long name as the carrier.

Before I recite briefly the background, upon which the question before the Court is predicated, I think I will allude briefly to the issue because I think that that will clarify our approach to the whole problem.

I take it to that.

We're not concerned here with the narrow question as to whether or not there was a factual question for trial before the judge in the District Court at the time he granted the respondent's motion for summary judgment.

I think I'm entitled to assume and I certainly urge that a larger question presents itself to the Court because of the unique aspect of the case, not being one where a plaintiff is pursuing an ordinary civil remedy or a common law remedy, but a case where the petitioner is suing pursuant to Section 153 (p) of Title 45 of the United States Code to enforce an award of the National Railroad Adjustment Board.

That was the nature of the petition.

And so the larger question it seems to me is, did the District Court, as affirmed by the Court of Appeals respond to that petition in a manner consistent with congressional purpose and with the policy underlying our labor laws when it chose to interpret the collective bargaining agreement in a manner contrary to the way it had been interpreted by the National Railroad Adjustment Board and on the basis of that to grant summary judgment.

I see the light is --

Earl Warren:

We'll recess now Mr. Decker.

Charles W. Decker:

That the judicial remedy provided by Section 153 (p) of Title 45 is of extreme importance to the railroad worker.

If he goes, takes his grievance or his claim to the Railroad Adjustment Board as is his right under the Railway Labor Act and if that claim is sustained, he wins his case before the board, and then because the award is not self-enforcing, if his employer refuses to comply with that award, he has only one place to go for relief and that's the District Court under Section 153 (p).

Obviously, this is an important remedy.

Now, to get to the background of this particular case, my client, Mr. Gunther has worked for the San Diego and Arizona Eastern Railway Company for many, many years, most of it as an engineer so that by 1954, he was the most senior engineer and the employee of the company.

During that time, he was General Chairman for the Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman and Engineman, a standard railway organization which up until 1958, as I recall, held the contract on the property for firemen and hostlers.

It can be presumed then that during this time he was participating in enforcing and applying that collective bargaining agreement.

In 1953, on December 8, as a matter of fact, of 1953, Mr. Gunther became 70 years of age and at that time, although in the past he'd only been required to take a physical examination once a year.

The company required him to start taking physical examinations each three months, which he did without anything untoward occurring until the last such examination which occurred on December 15, 1954 or thereabouts, at which time he was informed by his employer that the company doctors did not consider that he was physically fit to continue in service as a railroad engineer.

The findings of these physicians were reviewed by the chief surgeon in San Francisco and he advised, and it's in the record before the board as well as the court, that in his opinion, Mr. Gunther was likely to suffer an acute coronary episode.

On the basis of that, Mr. Gunther was taken out of service.

He immediately initiated and commenced the exhaustion of his administrative remedy and eventually his case wound up before the National Railroad Adjustment Board.

There was an initial award in 1956 which established a three-doctor panel and a subsequent award or interpretation thereof in 1958, which on the basis of the reports of the physicians in the three-doctor panel established that Mr. Gunther should be reinstated to his position with back pay.

Is there any claim that the railroad examination or the examination by the railroad doctor was not a good faith determination?

Charles W. Decker:

This is not alleged.

There's no such allegation in the petition and there was no such allegation in any of the affidavits before the court at the time when summary judgment was entered.

The award itself, I think we should take a look at, it's found at page 9 of the record.