System Federation v. Wright

PETITIONER: System Federation
LOCATION: Circuit Court of Montgomery County

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1958-1962)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 364 US 642 (1961)
ARGUED: Dec 05, 1960
DECIDED: Jan 16, 1961

Facts of the case


Media for System Federation v. Wright

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - December 05, 1960 in System Federation v. Wright

Earl Warren:

Number 48, System Federation Number 91, Railway Employees' Department, AFL-CIO, et al., Petitioner, versus O.V. Wright et al.

Mr. Lyman.

Richard R. Lyman:

Mr. Chief Justice, if the Court please.

I represent the petitioners in this case who are a group of railroad labor organizations, commonly referred to as shop craft unions as well as some of their subsidiary component local unions who were enjoined along with the respondent Louisville & Nashville Railroad Company some 15 years ago from discriminating against a group of non-union plaintiffs with respect to affording those plaintiffs' full and equal enjoyment of all of the rights given to them and other employees in their respective crafts, under collective bargaining agreements that were negotiated between this petitioner organizations in the railroad company.

We are now here seeking for reversal of decisions of the courts below which refuse to modify that old injunction to the extent of permitting us to ask the railroad to execute a union shop, union security agreement with this petitioner labor organizations as bargaining representatives.

The type of agreement we sought to negotiate of course is the type that was authorized by the 1951 amendments to Railway Labor Act which came along some six years after this old injunction was issued and which subject to enumerated safeguards, did authorize union security agreements in the railroad industry which had previous had been an open shop industry.

And this Court is very familiar with that in view of the decision in the Hanson case which was the first time that those 1951 amendments had been held to be constitutional.

We petition for modification of this injunction in accordance with Rule 60 (b) subparagraph 5 under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which authorizes modification of an injunction in its prospective application when circumstances have so changed as to make it inequitable for the injunction to be continued in an effect -- in effect in its original form.

What we --

Hugo L. Black:

Is that rule printed in your brief?

Richard R. Lyman:

It appears at page 14 of our brief Your Honor, our original brief.

Hugo L. Black:

Thank you.

Richard R. Lyman:

What we asked the Courts to do was not to vacate the injunction, not to open the door to any unlawful discrimination against these original plaintiffs and members of their class, but simply to give us a pro tanto modification.

So that the injunction which at time of its issuance had declared and protected plaintiffs' rights under the Railway Labor Act as it existed at that time would now be modified so that it would protect the rights of these plaintiffs and their class under the Railway Labor Act in its present form.

And we sought and obtained a review by this Court on three questions that we urged that were involved, three points in which we stated that the courts below aired in the decision that they reached.

First of all, the Courts concluded, both the District Court and the per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals which was primarily a paraphrasing of the decision and reasoning of the District Court, the Courts concluded first that the amendment of the Railway Labor Act is so as to permit union shop agreements, which had previously been unlawful, was not a sufficient change in circumstances as to justify removing this injunctive prohibition against our negotiating such agreements.

Then they also ruled that in view of the fact that the original decree of an injunction had been a consent decree rather than a decree written by the Court following a complete trial and litigation of the old suit.

Therefore, we must be deemed to have agreed with this original plaintiff's and their class that never at anytime in the future would we ever negotiate a union shop agreement.

So the courts below both fell into the error that this Court come in to (Inaudible) Swift case of treating the consent decree as a contract rather than as a judicial act.

And third, both courts --

Charles E. Whittaker:

(Inaudible) decree, there's a contract did you say?

Richard R. Lyman:

Yes Your Honor, and of course in the Swift case, this Court discussed that concept in considerable length.

And third, both of the courts below give such comments in their opinions to evidence submitted over the objections of the moving parties, the petitioners here that -- that we must consider that they give weight to it and -- and give it effect in refusing to modify injunction.

That evidence was to the effect that as a result of an economic strike on the Louisville & Nashville Railroad in 1955, they remain a great deal of bitterness and hostility among the employees of the railroad and the evidence showed that these petitioner organizations had find and expelled members who worked during the strike.

The L & M claim that 2500 of these employees stayed at work during the strike.

And now, they came in this proceeding to modify the old injunction to permit us and negotiate a union shop and urged that because there was this antipathy among the employee groups, which had nothing whatsoever to do with the original injunction against discrimination in the enjoinment of contract rights, had nothing whatever to do with this union shop agreement but was simply bitterness in strike out of -- between strikers and strike breakers that this should be construed as holding us without clean hands and hence not entitled to negotiate the union shop agreement.

John M. Harlan II:

Is the District Court opinion printed in the record on page --

Richard R. Lyman:

Yes Your Honor that -- Judge Sherburne's opinion appears at page 69 of the record.

It's -- it goes from page 69 to page 80.

John M. Harlan II:

Oh, yes.