National Labor Relations Board v. Natural Gas Utility District of Hawkins County, Tennessee

PETITIONER: National Labor Relations Board
RESPONDENT: Natural Gas Utility District of Hawkins County, Tennessee
LOCATION: Interstate Commerce Commission

DOCKET NO.: 785
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 402 US 600 (1971)
ARGUED: Apr 20, 1971
DECIDED: Jun 01, 1971

Facts of the case

Question

Media for National Labor Relations Board v. Natural Gas Utility District of Hawkins County, Tennessee

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - April 20, 1971 in National Labor Relations Board v. Natural Gas Utility District of Hawkins County, Tennessee

Warren E. Burger:

We’ll hear arguments next in Number 785, National Labor Relations Board against the Natural Gas Utility District.

Mr. Manoli you may proceed when you’re ready.

Dominick L. Manoli:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

This case is here on a writ of certiorari to the Sixth Circuit.

The board issued its order directing the respondent utility district to bargain collectively with the union which a -- the voice of the district in an appropriate unit had previously designated as her bargain representative.

The district contending that under the laws of the State of Tennessee that it is a political subdivision for an arm or instrumentality of the state has refused to comply with the order.

The statute specifically excludes from the definition of the term employer, the United States or any state, or any critical subdivision thereof.

The two questions presented here are first, whether for purposes of the Labor Act, federal standards or state law governs the determination whether an entity is a political subdivision within the meaning of the statute or an employer within the meaning of the statute.

Secondly, if federal standards and not state law govern that determination whether boards find it that the district here is not a political subdivision within the meaning of the Labor Act but an employer is entitled to affirmance.

The court below rejecting the board’s view held that state law is controlling with the respect of the determination of whether an entity is a political subdivision or not and on the basis of the state, the code of the State of Tennessee and the Supreme Court’s -- and the decision of the Supreme Court of Tennessee confirming the legislation.

It held that the district here was a political subdivision within the meaning of the Labor Act and therefore not an employer.

Warren E. Burger:

I do not recall from the briefs at the moment Mr. Manoli but does the -- does Tennessee’s law permit private corporations that is a telephone company for example to exercise the right of eminent of domain?

Dominick L. Manoli:

Yes it does.

There are cases that are cited in our brief indicating that --

Warren E. Burger:

I wasn’t sure whether they applied with – for Tennessee cases.

Dominick L. Manoli:

If they are Tennessee cases, (Voice Overlap) --

Warren E. Burger:

That’s fairly common, isn’t it every where?

Dominick L. Manoli:

Sir?

Warren E. Burger:

That’s fairly common, isn’t it?

Dominick L. Manoli:

Yes it is.

Warren E. Burger:

The railroads and telephone companies?

Dominick L. Manoli:

Yes, eminent domain is not a unique characteristic of political subdivisions.

Private concerns quasi-public you might say have been given that sort of authority.

Now, I want to summarize perhaps a little bit more at length than I normally as the case in this Court.

I do want to summarize one of the facts, custodian facts that relate to the district’s status as an employer under the act or as the other side would have it as a political subdivision under the Act.

The district sells and distributes natural gas without profit to residential homes, commercial businesses and industrial firms in Hopkins County, Tennessee.

It was incorporated in December 1957 under the Tennessee Utility District Law.

Under the provisions of that law, a group of local real property holders in Hawkins County filed a petition with the county court setting forth the statement of the need for the service to be supplied, the estimated cost and the names of free local residence proposed these commissioners of the district.

After a hearing, the chairman of the county court, the chairman of the county court is a judge.

The chairman of the county court found that public convenience and necessity justified the creation of the proposed district that it was economically sound and desirable and accordingly granted the petition.