International Union, United Mine Workers of America v. Bagwell

PETITIONER: International Union, United Mine Workers of America
RESPONDENT: Bagwell
LOCATION: Jackson Circuit Court

DOCKET NO.: 92-1625
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1993-1994)
LOWER COURT:

CITATION: 512 US 821 (1994)
ARGUED: Nov 29, 1993
DECIDED: Jun 30, 1994

Facts of the case

A Virginia trial court warned the United Mine Workers of America union to refrain from certain unlawful strike-related activities. Over the course of the next few months, finding that the union had disregarded the warning more than 400 times, the court fined them more than $64 million in what it termed civil fines, payable to the state of Virginia. After the strike was settled the court refused to cancel the fines, despite the fact that the strike settlement had called for their cancellation. The Court ruled that the fines were payable to the state, not the mining company, and that the settlement could not therefore cancel them. The Virginia Court of Appeals reversed, canceling the fines in accordance with the settlement agreement, but on further appeal the Supreme Court of Virginia reinstated the fines. It held that the union had been warned in advance and could have avoided the fines, meaning that it controlled its own destiny. The fines were therefore not criminal (imposing criminal fines would have required a jury trial) but instead civil, as the trial court had argued, because they were intended to maintain order and respect for the courts by encouraging compliance with a court order.

Question

Were the fines assessed against the United Mine Workers of America union, amounting to more than $64 million, criminal or civil in nature?

Media for International Union, United Mine Workers of America v. Bagwell

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 29, 1993 in International Union, United Mine Workers of America v. Bagwell

William H. Rehnquist:

We'll hear argument first this morning in No. 92-1625 the International Union, United Mine Workers of America v. John L. Bagwell.

Mr. Gold.

Laurence E. Gold:

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

This case grows out of a strike and ensuing equity proceeding to enjoin various kinds of wrongdoing and a series of contempt proceedings which have generated huge fines.

The essential first question posed by the case is whether this... these fines were criminal fines which could only be imposed through criminal contempt and through procedures which meet the requirements of criminal due process, most particularly the right to jury.

This is not a new question in this Court, and we rely on statements of the essential rules going back to 1911 in the Gompers case, and rules which have been restated and reaffirmed as recently as the Fiat case in 485 U.S.--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Mr. Gold, do you take the position that the defendant has to continue to have an opportunity to avoid payment of the fine in order for it to be classified as civil?

Laurence E. Gold:

--We think that that is--

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Is that a hard and fast test, in your view, of this case?

Laurence E. Gold:

--We think that that is one of the underlying points which leads to what we understand to be the basic point when you're dealing with fines and imprisonment.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

But it's your position that that's a requirement.

Laurence E. Gold:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

How can that ever be coercive?

I mean, if a defendant can always avoid it by eventually doing the act.

Laurence E. Gold:

The... when I say that it has to be avoidable, what it... what I understand the cases to say is that in a situation in which a fine or a... an imprisonment is imposed in order to coerce an act, where that is done to coerce a discrete affirmative act, there is a sense in which the individual has... to use the phrase which runs from the beginning and the... to the end of these cases, has the keys to the prison or the... to his own strongbox in his hands, in a way which is different from the situation in which there is a prohibition and an alleged violation of the prohibition.

The effort is to secure a discrete act from the individual.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, if your response is that it also depends upon whether it's mandatory or prohibitory--

Laurence E. Gold:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

--I suppose in this case there were both types of things involved.

Laurence E. Gold:

Yes, and in that... in that sense, Justice O'Connor, the first of the arguments we make is first because it raises the larger, more general question.

But it is, for our purposes, narrower in its effect than the second argument we make on the effect of settlement.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Well, in this case, this very case, do you say that the fines could be imposed insofar as they applied to those things that the union was asked to do separate and apart from violent acts?

Laurence E. Gold:

Yes.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Uh-hum.

Laurence E. Gold:

Yes.

We acknowledge... we take the sweet with the sour in terms of the law as it's developed, a law which distinguishes between the ability of the courts to coerce discrete acts that provide a unique benefit to the plaintiff and rules which have to do with the statement of prohibitions in court orders and the levying of fines or imprisonment for violating those orders.

William H. Rehnquist:

Mr. Gold--

--Mr. Gold, how much of the law that you're talking about is constitutional law which would be imposed on the States by the con, and how much of it is just Federal court law.

I mean, Gompers, for example, was a Federal court case.

Laurence E. Gold:

The opinion in Gompers talks about the rules being rules of constitutional import having to do with, as the phrase in the case, substantive rights and constitutional privileges.