Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. American Train Dispatchers Association

PETITIONER:Norfolk & Western Railway Company
RESPONDENT:American Train Dispatchers Association
LOCATION:Where police chase began

DOCKET NO.: 89-1027
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1990-1991)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

CITATION: 499 US 117 (1991)
ARGUED: Dec 03, 1990
DECIDED: Mar 19, 1991

Jeffrey S. Berlin – on behalf of the Petitioners
Jeffrey P. Minear – on behalf of the Federal Respondents supporting the Petitioners
William G. Mahoney – on behalf of the private Respondents

Facts of the case


Media for Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. American Train Dispatchers Association

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument – December 03, 1990 in Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. American Train Dispatchers Association

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement – March 19, 1991 in Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. American Train Dispatchers Association

William H. Rehnquist:

The opinion of the Court in No. 89-1027, Norfolk & Western Railway versus American Train Dispatchers’ Association will be announced by Justice Kennedy.

Anthony M. Kennedy:

These are consolidated cases, which comes to us on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

They involve the Interstate Commerce Commission’s authority to approve rail carrier consolidations.

The case turns on one phrase in a federal statute.

Under 49 U. S. C. 11341(a), a rail carrier in an ICC approved consolidation is “exempt from the antitrust laws and from all other law, including state and municipal law, as necessary to let it carryout the transaction.”

And the question here is the meaning and application of the term, “all other law”.

The cases here today involve two different railroad consolidations.

One involves the acquisition and consolidation of Norfolk & Western Railway, Co. and Southern Railway Company; and the other, involves the acquisition and consolidation of Chessie System, Inc. and Seaboard Coastline Industries, Inc., both of which are parent corporations of railroad companies.

In each of those cases, the ICC approved the consolidated transaction.

The merge to railroads then combined in coordinated operations in the manner that required displacement of jobs.

The petitioners are Unions of the displaced employees.

They invoked arbitration and claimed that the job displacements violated certain collective bargaining agreements.

The arbitration panels in both cases ruled for the railroad carriers.

The ICC affirmed the arbitration decisions reasoning that the statute here in question exempted the parties to the transaction from the obligations of the collective bargaining agreements.

The Court of Appeals reverse the ICC and remanded holding that the federal statute does not authorize the ICC to relieve a party of collective bargaining obligations even if the obligations impede implementation of an approved transaction.

In an opinion filed today, we reverse.

We hold that the exemption in the statute from all other law extends to a carrier’s legal obligations under a collective bargaining agreement.

The exemption language in the statute is clear, broad, and unqualified, manifesting an unambiguous congressional intent to exempt any obligation by law as necessary to carryout an ICC approved transaction.

The exemption is broad enough to override the obligations imposed by the law which make the collective bargaining agreements binding, namely the Railway Labor Act.

Our interpretation of the statute, we think, makes sense of the Interstate Commerce Act’s consolidated provisions which were designed to promote efficiency in interstate transportation by removing the burdens of excessive expenditures.

Section 11341(a) guarantees that once employee interests are accounted for in the ICC’s approval of the transaction, then the Railway Labor Act whose major dispute resolution process is often interminable will not prevent the efficiencies of the consolidation from being achieved.

Our reading at 11341(a) does not exempt carriers from all law but rather, as the statute requires from all law necessary to carryout an approved transaction.

Justice Stevens has filed a dissenting opinion in which Justice Marshall joins.