JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.
We must decide whether the National Labor Relations Board may issue a cease-and-desist order to halt the prosecution of a state-court civil suit brought by an employer to retaliate against employees for exercising federally protected labor rights, without also finding that the suit lacks a reasonable basis in fact or law.
The present controversy arises out of a labor dispute at "Bill Johnson's Big Apple East," one of four restaurants owned and operated by the petitioner in Phoenix, Ariz. It began on August 8, 1978, when petitioner fired Myrland Helton, one of the most senior waitresses at the restaurant. Believing that her termination was the result of her efforts to organize a union, she filed unfair labor practice charges against the restaurant with the Board.
On September 20, after an investigation, the Board's General Counsel issued a complaint. On the same day, Helton, joined by three co-waitresses and a few others, picketed the restaurant. The picketers carried signs asking customers to boycott the restaurant because its management was unfair to the waitresses. Petitioner's manager confronted the picketers and threatened to "get even" with them "if it's the last thing I do." Petitioner's president telephoned the husband
On the morning of September 25, petitioner and three of its co-owners filed a verified complaint against Helton and the other demonstrators in an Arizona state court. Plaintiffs alleged that the defendants had engaged in mass picketing, harassed customers, blocked public ingress to and egress from the restaurant, and created a threat to public safety. The complaint also contained a libel count, alleging that the leaflet contained false and outrageous statements published by the defendants with the malicious intent to injure the plaintiffs. The complaint sought a temporary restraining order and preliminary and permanent injunctive relief, as well as compensatory damages, $500,000 in punitive damages, and appropriate further legal and equitable relief. App. 3-9. After a hearing, the state court declined to enjoin the distribution of leaflets but otherwise issued the requested restraining order. Id., at 19-23. Expedited depositions were also permitted. The defendants retained counsel and, after a hearing on the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction on November 16, the court dissolved the temporary restraining order and denied preliminary injunctive relief. Id., at 52.
Meanwhile, on the day after the state-court suit was filed, Helton filed a second charge with the Board alleging that petitioner had committed a number of new unfair labor practices in connection with the dispute between the waitresses and the restaurant. Among these was a charge that petitioner had filed the civil suit in retaliation for the defendants' protected, concerted activities, and because they had filed
In December 1978, an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) held a 4-day consolidated hearing on the two unfair labor practice complaints.
In Power Systems, the Board inferred that the employer had acted with retaliatory animus from the fact that the employer lacked "a reasonable basis upon which to assert" that its suit had merit. Similarly, in the present case, the ALJ found that petitioner's suit lacked a reasonable basis and then concluded from this fact that the suit violated the Act because it was "an attempt to penalize Helton for having filed charges with the Board, and to penalize the other defendants for assisting Helton in her protest of the unfair labor practice committed against her." 249 N. L. R. B., at 165. He bolstered his conclusion by noting the direct evidence that the suit had been filed for a retaliatory purpose, i. e., the threats to "get even with" and "hurt" the defendants. Ibid.
The ALJ reached his conclusion that petitioner's state suit lacked a reasonable basis "on the basis of the record and from [his] observation of the witnesses, including their demeanor, and upon the extensive briefs of the parties." Id., at 164. In the view of the ALJ, the "evidence fail[ed] to support" the complaint's allegations that the picketers clogged the sidewalks, harassed customers, or blocked entrances and exits to the restaurant. Id., at 165. The libel count was deemed baseless because "the evidence establishe[d] the truthfulness" of everything stated in the leaflet.
The Court of Appeals enforced the Board's order in its entirety, 660 F.2d 1335 (CA9 1981), holding that substantial evidence supported both the Board's findings that the employer's "lawsuit lacked a reasonable basis in fact, and that it was filed to penalize Helton [and] the picketers for engaging in protected activity." Id., at 1342. Petitioner sought certiorari, urging that it could not properly be enjoined from maintaining its state-court action.
The question whether the Board may issue a cease-and-desist order to halt an allegedly retaliatory lawsuit filed by an employer in a state court has had a checkered history before the Board.
During the next 18 years after Clyde Taylor, the Board's decisions do not appear to us to have been entirely consistent.
Although the Board in Power Systems purported to distinguish Clyde Taylor and its progeny on the basis that the lawsuit in each of those cases "was not a tactic calculated to restrain employees in the exercise of their rights under the Act," 239 N. L. R. B., at 449, the distinction was illusory. In Clyde Taylor itself the Board found no unfair labor practice despite the ALJ's specific finding that the employer's lawsuit "was for the purpose of preventing his employees from exercising the rights guaranteed to them under the Act, rather than for the purpose of advancing any legitimate interest of his own." 127 N. L. R. B., at 121. Since 1978, the Board has consistently adhered to the Power Systems rule that an employer or union who sues an employee for a retaliatory motive is guilty of a violation of the Act.
At first blush, the Board's position seems to have substance. Sections 8(a)(1) and (4) of the Act are broad, remedial provisions that guarantee that employees will be able to enjoy their rights secured by § 7 of the Act — including the right to unionize, the right to engage in concerted activity for mutual aid and protection, and the right to utilize the Board's processes — without fear of restraint, coercion, discrimination, or interference from their employer. The Court has liberally construed these laws as prohibiting a wide variety of employer conduct that is intended to restrain, or that has the likely effect of restraining, employees in the exercise of protected activities.
There are weighty countervailing considerations, however, that militate against allowing the Board to condemn the filing of a suit as an unfair labor practice and to enjoin its prosecution. In California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510 (1972), we recognized that the right of access to the courts is an aspect of the First Amendment right to petition the Government for redress of grievances. Accordingly, we construed the antitrust laws as not prohibiting the filing of a lawsuit, regardless of the plaintiff's anticompetitive intent or purpose in doing so, unless the suit was a "mere sham" filed for harassment purposes. Id., at 511. We should be sensitive to these First Amendment values in construing the NLRA in the present context. As the Board itself has recognized: "[G]oing to a judicial body for redress of alleged wrongs . . . stands apart from other forms of action directed at the alleged wrongdoer. The right of access to a court is too important to be called an unfair labor practice solely on the ground that what is sought in the court is to enjoin employees from exercising a protected right." Peddie Buildings, 203 N. L. R. B. 265, 272 (1973), enf. denied on other grounds, 498 F.2d 43 (CA3 1974). See also Clyde Taylor Co., 127 N. L. R. B., at 109.
Moreover, in recognition of the States' compelling interest in the maintenance of domestic peace, the Court has construed the Act as not pre-empting the States from providing a civil remedy for conduct touching interests "deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility." San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 244 (1959). It
In Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, supra, at 65, we held that an employer can properly recover damages in a tort action arising out of a labor dispute if it can prove malice and actual injury. See also Farmer v. Carpenters, supra, at 306. If the Board is allowed to enjoin the prosecution of a well-grounded state lawsuit, it necessarily follows that any state plaintiff subject to such an injunction will be totally deprived of a remedy for an actual injury, since the "Board can award no damages, impose no penalty, or give any other relief" to the plaintiff. Linn, supra, at 63. Thus, to the extent the Board asserts the right to declare the filing of a meritorious suit to be a violation of the Act, it runs headlong into the basic rationale of Linn, Farmer, and other cases in which we declined to infer a congressional intent to ignore the substantial state interest "in protecting the health and well-being of its citizens." Farmer, supra, at 302-303. See also Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Carpenters, supra, at 196; Linn, supra, at 61.
Of course, in light of the Board's special competence in applying the general provisions of the Act to the complexities of industrial life, its interpretations of the Act are entitled to deference, even where, as here, its position has not been entirely consistent. NLRB v. J. Weingarten, Inc., 420 U.S. 251, 264-267 (1975); NLRB v. Seven-Up Co., 344 U.S. 344, 347-349 (1953). And here, were only the literal language of §§ 8(a)(1) and 8(a)(4) to be considered, we would be inclined to uphold the Board, because its present construction of the statute is not irrational. Considering the First Amendment right of access to the courts and the state interests identified in cases such as Linn and Farmer, however, we conclude
Although it is not unlawful under the Act to prosecute a meritorious action, the same is not true of suits based on insubstantial claims — suits that lack, to use the term coined by the Board, a "reasonable basis." Such suits are not within the scope of First Amendment protection:
Just as false statements are not immunized by the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, see Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 171 (1979); Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 340 (1974), baseless litigation is not immunized by the First Amendment right to petition.
Similarly, the state interests recognized in the Farmer line of cases do not enter into play when the state-court suit has no basis. Since, by definition, the plaintiff in a baseless suit has not suffered a legally protected injury, the State's interest "in protecting the health and well-being of its citizens," Farmer, supra, at 303, is not implicated. States have only a
Considerations analogous to these led us in the antitrust context to adopt the "mere sham" exception in California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508 (1972). We should follow a similar course under the NLRA. The right to litigate is an important one, and the Board should consider the evidence with utmost care before ordering the cessation of a state-court lawsuit. In a proper case, however, we believe that Congress intended to allow the Board to provide this remedy. Therefore, we hold that it is an enjoinable unfair labor practice to prosecute a baseless lawsuit with the intent of retaliating against an employee for the exercise of rights protected by § 7 of the NLRA.
Having concluded that the prosecution of an improperly motivated suit lacking a reasonable basis constitutes a violation of the Act that may be enjoined by the Board, we now inquire into what steps the Board may take in evaluating whether a state-court suit lacks the requisite basis. Petitioner insists that the Board's prejudgment inquiry must not go beyond the four corners of the complaint. Its position is that as long as the complaint seeks lawful relief that the state court has jurisdiction to grant, the Board must allow the state litigation to proceed. The Board, on the other hand, apparently perceives no limitations on the scope of its pre-judgment determination as to whether a lawsuit has a reasonable basis. In the present case, for example, the ALJ conducted a virtual trial on the merits of petitioner's state-court claims. Based on this de facto trial, the ALJ concluded, in his independent judgment, based in part on "his observation of the witnesses, including their demeanor," that petitioner's suit lacked a reasonable basis.
We cannot agree with either party. Although the Board's reasonable-basis inquiry need not be limited to the bare
In the present case, the only disputed issues in the state lawsuit appear to be factual in nature. There will be cases, however, in which the state plaintiff's case turns on issues of state law or upon a mixed question of fact and law. Just as the Board must refrain from deciding genuinely disputed material factual issues with respect to a state suit, it likewise must not deprive a litigant of his right to have genuine state-law legal questions decided by the state judiciary.
In instances where the Board must allow the lawsuit to proceed, if the employer's case in the state court ultimately proves meritorious and he has judgment against the employees, the employer should also prevail before the Board, for the filing of a meritorious lawsuit, even for a retaliatory motive, is not an unfair labor practice. If judgment goes against the employer in the state court, however, or if his suit is withdrawn or is otherwise shown to be without merit, the employer has had its day in court, the interest of the State in providing a forum for its citizens has been vindicated, and the Board may then proceed to adjudicate the § 8(a)(1) and § 8(a)(4) unfair labor practice case. The employer's suit having proved unmeritorious, the Board would be warranted in taking that fact into account in determining whether the suit had been filed in retaliation for the exercise of the employees' § 7 rights. If a violation is found, the Board may order the employer to reimburse the employees whom he had wrongfully sued for their attorney's fees and other expenses. It may also order any other proper relief that would effectuate the policies of the Act. 29 U. S. C. § 160(c).
The Board argues that, since petitioner has not sought review of the factual findings below that the state suit in the present case lacked a reasonable basis and was filed for a
To summarize, we hold that the Board may not halt the prosecution of a state-court lawsuit, regardless of the plaintiff's motive, unless the suit lacks a reasonable basis in fact or law. Retaliatory motive and lack of reasonable basis are both essential prerequisites to the issuance of a cease-and-desist
In view of the foregoing, the judgment of the Court of Appeals is vacated, and the case is remanded to that court with instructions to remand the case to the Board for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
The Court holds today that the National Labor Relations Board may not enjoin the prosecution of a state-court lawsuit unless the suit lacks a "reasonable basis," ante, at 743, and, further, that to find that the suit lacks a reasonable basis on factual grounds the Board must find that there is no "genuine issue of material fact," ante, at 744-748. For me, those are no delphic pronouncements. They are standards that take their content from the basic structures of federal and state — and of administrative and judicial — authority over labor disputes, and they should not be read in an artificial way that ignores their provenance.
It is important to remember that our focus in this case is on the function of judicial review. On the one hand, the National Labor Relations Act constitutes the Board, and not this Court, the principal arbiter of federal labor policy.
Thus, in reviewing the Board's construction of the Act and the remedy it has provided to effectuate the purposes of the Act, our task
On the other hand, this Court's responsibility for interpretation of the labor laws comes particularly into play when the Board's exercise of its broad mandate to develop federal labor policy has constitutional resonances. I do not suggest that a constitutional issue surfaces directly in this case. But
It is in this spirit that the "reasonable basis" and "genuine material dispute" standards must be understood. They are phrases that encapsulate a complex judgment as to what limits a court may infer on the Board's broad authority to set federal labor policy and to vindicate that policy by enjoining prosecution of a state lawsuit.
We have recognized a right under the First Amendment to seek redress of grievances in state courts. California Motor Transport Co. v. Trucking Unlimited, 404 U.S. 508, 510 (1972). Congress can and does pre-empt some state causes of action by providing for exclusive federal jurisdiction over certain types of disputes, see, e. g., 28 U. S. C. § 1338(a); 40 U. S. C. § 270b(b), but such complete pre-emption is not lightly implied. We have also held that Congress has not completely pre-empted the right to sue in state court for defamation that occurs in connection with a labor dispute. Linn v. Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53 (1966). Accordingly,
Somewhat different concerns affect the standards and procedures by which the Board makes its "reasonable basis" determination. While the Constitution protects a person's right to file and to prosecute a lawsuit in state court, it does not guarantee that state law, rather than federal law, will provide the ground for decision. In fact, with regard to labor disputes, federal pre-emption of state law is the rule, not the exception. That pre-emption may be accomplished by congressionally authorized administrative action as well as by legislation. Fidelity Federal Savings & Loan Assn. v. De la Cuesta, 458 U.S. 141, 153 (1982). Even in areas where state law is not pre-empted, there may be a federal overlay — as with defamation actions like the one involved in this case,
Nor does the Constitution guarantee that particular questions of fact will be decided by a state jury. To the extent that a litigant has an "interest in having the factual dispute resolved by a jury," ante, at 745, that interest is completely derivative from the State's interest in providing a particular cause of action with particular procedures. Yet that "State's right" may be pre-empted by federal law whenever Congress or its authorized agent determines that the federal interest in labor relations, in industries affecting commerce, requires different rules.
See also San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 242-243 (1959); Garner v. Teamsters, supra, at 490-491.
That is not to say that Congress has authorized the Board to disregard altogether state-created rights to jury determinations on factual issues and to state-court rulings on state law that has not been pre-empted. Linn and its progeny make clear that it has not. The NLRA requires some accommodation of state interests; the question is how much. The most reasonable inference to draw from the structure of state-federal relations in this area is that the Board may enjoin prosecution of a state lawsuit if, in addition to whatever other findings are required to decide that an unfair labor practice has been committed, it determines that controlling
The scope of our review of the procedures the Board uses to accomplish its mission is limited, and the constitutional constraints on them are attenuated. Unless the agency goes entirely beyond its statutory mandate, violates its own procedures, or fails to provide an affected party due process of law, we have no role in specifying what methods it may or may not use in finding facts or reaching conclusions of law and policy. See Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corp. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 435 U.S. 519, 548-549 (1978). The Court acknowledges this and notes that "we leave the particular procedures for making reasonable-basis determinations entirely to the Board's discretion." Ante, at 745, n. 11. Specifically, the Board may take evidence, although it need not do so in every case, nor would it be wise to do so in every case. Ibid.
Thus, the Board retains broad power to deal with the ways in which resort to judicial process may be used as a "powerful instrument of coercion or retaliation," ante, at 740. There is no constitutionally privileged method of harassing or punishing those who exercise rights protected by §§ 7 and 8 of the NLRA. The Board may not enjoin prosecution of an unpreempted
"It shall be an unfair labor practice for an employer —
"(1) to interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise of rights guaranteed in section [7 of the Act];
"(4) to discharge or otherwise discriminate against an employee because he has filed charges or given testimony under this Act." 61 Stat. 140, 141, 29 U. S. C. §§ 158(a)(1) and (4).
Section 7 guarantees employees "the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, . . . and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection." 61 Stat. 140, 29 U. S. C. § 157.
Meanwhile, there had been other developments. On October 27, 1978, the Board's Regional Director petitioned the United States District Court pursuant to § 10(j) of the Act, 29 U. S. C. § 160(j), for an order enjoining petitioner from maintaining its state-court suit pending a final Board decision. On January 22, 1979, the District Court denied the request for an injunction. App. to Brief for Petitioner C1-C7.
Nash-Finch also requires rejection of petitioner's assertion that the Board is precluded from enjoining a state-court suit by virtue of 28 U. S. C. § 2283, which, subject to certain exceptions, prohibits a court of the United States from enjoining proceedings in a state court. In Nash-Finch, the Court held that § 2283 was inapplicable in instances where the Board files an action to restrain unfair labor practices, because the purpose of § 2283 "was to avoid unseemly conflict between the state and the federal courts where the litigants were private persons, not to hamstring the Federal Government and its agencies in the use of federal courts to protect federal rights." 404 U. S., at 146.
In making reasonable-basis determinations, the Board may draw guidance from the summary judgment and directed verdict jurisprudence, although it is not bound by either. While genuine disputes about material historical facts should be left for the state court, plainly unsupportable inferences from the undisputed facts and patently erroneous submissions with respect to mixed questions of fact and law may be rejected.
Although we leave the particular procedures for making reasonable-basis determinations entirely to the Board's discretion, we see no reason why the Board should want to hear all the employer's evidence in support of his state suit, or any more than necessary, if it can be determined at an early stage that the case involves genuine issues of material fact or law. In appropriate cases, the Board might prefer to rely on documentary evidence alone, as is done in civil practice with summary judgment motions. On the other hand, the Board might prefer to conduct a hearing.
In contrast, suppose that Doe testifies and claims that he was elsewhere on the date of the alleged sexual incident. The question whether the libel suit has merit thus turns in substantial part on the truth or falsity of Doe's testimony. Under these circumstances, we doubt that Congress intended for the Board to resolve the credibility issue and perhaps to disbelieve Doe's story and enjoin the lawsuit for lack of a reasonable basis, thereby effectively depriving Doe of his right to have this factual dispute resolved by a state-court jury. The same would be true if the question turned on the proper factual inferences to be drawn from undisputed facts.
Petitioner also argues that weight should be given to the fact that a Federal District Court denied the Board's petition for temporary injunctive relief. See ibid. At least in the context of the present case, we disagree, because here the District Court denied relief not because it felt that petitioner's lawsuit raised triable issues, but because it was of the erroneous view that a state suit could never be enjoined unless it sought "an unlawful objective, as for example, when a union sues to enforce an unlawful contract." App. to Brief for Petitioner C5.
It appears that only the libel count remains pending before the state court. If petitioner's other claims have been finally adjudicated to be lacking in merit, on remand the Board may reinstate its finding that petitioner acted unlawfully by prosecuting these unmeritorious claims if the Board adheres to its previous finding that the suit was filed for a retaliatory purpose.