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U.S. Supreme Court

Automobile Workers v. Russell, 356 U.S. 634 (1958)

International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural

Implement Workers of America (UAW-CIO) v. Russell

No. 21

Argued December 11-12, 1957

Decided May 26, 1958

356 U.S. 634


In 1952, respondent, a nonunion employee in an industry affecting interstate commerce, brought a common law tort action in a state court against a labor union and its agent to recover compensatory and punitive damages for malicious interference with his lawful occupation, alleging that, by mass picketing and threats of violence during a strike, they prevented him from entering the plant where he was employed and from engaging in his employment for over a month. It is assumed that such action also constituted an unfair labor practice under § 8(b)(1)(A) of the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, for which the National Labor Relations Board could have awarded respondent back pay under §10(c).

Held: the Act did not give the Board such exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter as to preclude the state court from entertaining the action and awarding compensatory and punitive damages. Pp. 356 U. S. 635-646.

(a) The union's activity in this case clearly was not protected by federal law. P. 356 U. S. 640.

(b) Congress has not deprived a victim of the kind of tortious conduct here involved of his common law rights of action for all damages suffered. United Workers v. Laburnum Corp., 347 U. S. 656. Pp. 356 U. S. 640-642.

(c) That, under § 10(c) of the Federal Act, the Board had limited power to award back pay to respondent does not create such a conflict as to deprive the state courts of jurisdiction to award common law damages for lost pay. Pp. 356 U. S. 642-645.

(d) To hold that the limited power of the Board under § 10(c) to award back pay in its discretion excludes the power of the State to enforce the employee's common law rights of action would, in effect, grant to unions a substantial immunity from the consequences of mass picketing or coercion such as was employed here. Pp. 356 U. S. 645-646. chanroblesvirtualawlibrary

Page 356 U. S. 635

(e) An employee's right to recover in the state courts all damages caused him by this kind of tortious conduct cannot fairly be said to be preempted without a clearer declaration of congressional policy than is found here. P. 356 U. S. 646.

(f) The power to award punitive damages is within the jurisdiction of the state courts, but not within that of the Board. P. 356 U. S. 646.

264 Ala. 456, 88 So.2d 175, affirmed.

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