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UNITED CREDIT BUREAU AMERICA v. NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD

SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES


decided: November 2, 1981.

UNITED CREDIT BUREAU OF AMERICA, INC
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD

C. A. 4th Cir. Reported below: 643 F.2d 1017.

[ 454 U.S. Page 994]

Certiorari denied.

JUSTICE REHNQUIST, dissenting.

In this case, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) found that petitioner had committed an unfair labor practice by filing a civil action for damages in state court against a discharged employee who had filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB. The NLRB ordered petitioner to dismiss the state court action and reimburse the employee for all legal expenses she had incurred in defending the lawsuit. Because I believe that principles of federalism and comity should preclude the NLRB from interpreting the National

[ 454 U.S. Page 995]

     Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to empower the NLRB to enjoin a state-court damages action between two private entities, I dissent from the denial of certiorari.

 Tonia Anderson was hired by petitioner as a probationary employee for a period of 120 days. After discussing working conditions with other employees, Anderson spoke with her supervisor, informing him of her desire for a number of benefits. After a subsequent meeting attended by Anderson and two supervisors, Anderson was informed that her employment was terminated because her attitude toward her job had changed and, therefore, she would be unable to perform her work satisfactorily.

Anderson then filed unfair labor practices charges with the NLRB, which issued a complaint against petitioner alleging violations of §§ 8(a)(1), (3) of the NLRA, 61 Stat. 140, as amended, 29 U. S. C. §§ 158(a)(1), (3). One day prior to the NLRB hearing on these charges, petitioner filed a damages action against Anderson in state court. Petitioner's complaint alleged that Anderson had contrived a fraudulent scheme in order to obtain a paid vacation with her new husband. The complaint alleged that Anderson knew that if she could provoke petitioner into discharging her, NLRB settlement procedures, following the filing of her unfair labor practice charge, would result in her reinstatement with backpay within a relatively short period of time. The NLRB subsequently issued a second complaint, alleging that petitioner violated §§ 8(a)(1), (4), 29 U. S. C. §§ 158(a)(1), (4), by initiating the damages action against Anderson.

Based solely on the complaint petitioner filed in the state-court action,*fn1 the NLRB concluded that petitioner violated §§ 8(a)(1), (4) because its damages action "was filed purely for purposes of retaliation to punish Anderson for seeking redress

[ 454 U.S. Page 996]

     for her discharge from the [NLRB] and to discourage other employees from ever emulating Anderson in seeking to enforce their rights."*fn2 242 N. L. R. B. 921, 926 (1979). The employer's allegations that Anderson had schemed to obtain a paid vacation were rejected by the NLRB as mere "speculation."*fn3

[ 454 U.S. Page 997]

     The NLRB ordered petitioner to dismiss its damages action and reimburse Anderson for her legal expenses incurred in defending that suit.*fn4 The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit enforced the NLRB's order, rejecting, inter alia, petitioner's contention that its state-court action was not pre-empted by federal labor law jurisdiction under Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Carpenters, 436 U.S. 180 (1978).

By ordering petitioner to dismiss its damages action against Anderson, it is clear that the NLRB has enjoined a pending lawsuit in state court, even though the NLRB's order is addressed to petitioner and not the state court. See Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 287 (1970). Since 1793, the Anti-Injunction Act has prohibited federal courts from enjoining state-court proceedings, unless the injunction may be justified by one of three specifically defined exceptions. See 28 U. S. C. § 2283. There is no reason why the concerns of federalism

[ 454 U.S. Page 998]

     and comity comprehended by the Anti-Injunction Act should not apply to the NLRB as well. As this Court has explained in Locomotive Engineers, the premise of the Act is that ours is a country of essentially two separate legal systems. 398 U.S., at 286. Each system functions independently of the other. Our lower federal courts do not have the power to review the decisions of state courts. Only this Court has such a power, and we cannot exercise that power unless some federal issue or interest is at stake. 28 U. S. C. § 1257. This dual system cannot function absent respect by each for the judicial process of the other. Federal interference with the States' judicial processes is no less contrary to the policies underlying § 2283 if that interference comes from a federal agency rather than from a federal court.

I do not doubt that § 8(a)(4) of the NLRA serves an important federal interest in ensuring employees that they may file unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB without fear of reprisal from their employer. Nevertheless, such an interest is insufficient to justify the massive intrusion into the State's judicial processes undertaken by the NLRB in this case. This Court has held that a federal court may not enjoin a pending lawsuit in state court even when "those proceedings interfere with a protected federal right or invade an area pre-empted by federal law, even when the interference is unmistakably clear." Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers, supra, at 294; see Clothing Workers v. Richman Brothers Co., 348 U.S. 511, 517 (1955).

Whatever coercive effect petitioner's state-court action may have had upon its employees' right to file charges with the NLRB, that alone is insufficient to warrant injunctive relief. The NLRB did not consider whether the state-court proceeding interfered with its ability to consider or dispose of Anderson's charges. Unlike Capital Service, Inc. v. NLRB, 347 U.S. 501 (1954), the state court in the instant case had not taken any action, let alone one that could have

[ 454 U.S. Page 999]

     interfered with the NLRB's ability to consider the merits of a matter within its exclusive jurisdiction. If the NLRB concludes that a pending state-court proceeding interferes with its jurisdiction, it may seek an injunction in a federal district court. Id., at 505-506; see 29 U. S. C. § 160(j).

The proper forum to determine the merits of a suit by an employer or a union against an employee is not the NLRB, but the forum in which the suit is brought. If the lawsuit lacks merit, then the court in which the suit was brought will dismiss the suit. If the subject matter of the lawsuit is preempted by federal labor law jurisdiction, as the Court of Appeals has determined in the instant case, then the proper tribunal to make such a determination is the court in which the action was brought. If the application of state tort law interferes with the national objective that employees not be impeded in cooperating with the NLRB in enforcing the NLRA, then our decisions have held that the state court may not apply that law. See Nash v. Florida Industrial Comm'n, 389 U.S. 235, 239-240 (1967). If lower state courts err in their determination of these issues, the party claiming error may appeal through the state system and ultimately to this Court.*fn5

Because I do not believe that the NLRB has the power to enjoin an action for damages in state court, I dissent from the denial of certiorari.


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