MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS delivered the opinion of the Court.
In 1944 Florida adopted an amendment to her Constitution
Shortly thereafter this suit was instituted to enjoin the enforcement of that provision on the ground that it violated the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and the Contract Clause of Article I, § 10 of the Federal Constitution and was in conflict with the National Labor
The appellants (plaintiffs below) are various national and local labor organizations operating in Florida, individual employee members of those organizations who are citizens of the United States, and three employers doing business in Florida.
The bill alleges that appellee law enforcement officials have taken the position that closed-shop agreements violate the Florida law and that they intend to enforce compliance with it by civil and criminal proceedings. The bill alleges that appellee Watson threatens to institute quo warranto proceedings against various companies with whom appellant unions have collective bargaining agreements containing closed-shop agreements, whereby it will be sought to cancel their corporate franchises unless the
Irreparable injury is alleged as follows: the threatened actions (a) will result in interminable litigation and multiplicity of prosecutions and legal proceedings; (b) will cause widespread disruption of employment relations and production; (c) will deprive appellants of the benefits of existing contracts; (d) will cause appellant unions to lose present and prospective members and imperil the security of the unions and their members; (e) will make it impossible for one of the appellant employers (R.J. Gould) to obtain sufficient skilled labor to conduct his business; and (f) will cause a cessation of collective bargaining relations between the appellant unions and employers and will result in the disorganization and disintegration of the unions.
The prayer was for a temporary and permanent injunction. A motion to dismiss was made which, though denying a showing of irreparable damage, raised no issue of fact, other than the question whether the amount involved in the controversy exceeds $3,000.
The district judge granted a temporary restraining order and pursuant to a prayer of the bill caused a three-judge court to be convened. § 266 Judicial Code, 28 U.S.C. § 380. The District Court concluded that it had jurisdiction
The initial question is whether the District Court had jurisdiction as a federal court to hear and decide the merits.
Another preliminary question is whether this is a proper case for a three-judge court. The statute provides that only a three-judge court may issue an interlocutory injunction suspending or restraining "the enforcement, operation,
Phillips v. United States, 312 U.S. 246, 251. And see Sterling v. Constantin, 287 U.S. 378, 393. It would, as the court below stated, be somewhat incongruous to hold that a single judge, while prohibited from enjoining action under an act of the state legislature, would be free to act if the state constitution alone were involved. The policy underlying § 266 admits no distinction between state action to enforce a constitutional provision and state action to enforce an act of the legislature. There is no suggestion in the history of § 266 that Congress was willing to give the federal courts a freer hand when state constitutional provisions were involved. In our view the word "statute" in § 266 is a compendious summary of various enactments, by whatever method they may be adopted, to which a
But even though a district court has authority to hear and decide the case on the merits, it should not invoke its powers unless those who seek its aid have a cause of action in equity. Douglas v. Jeannette, supra, pp. 162-163. The power of a court of equity to act is a discretionary one. Pennsylvania v. Williams, 294 U.S. 176, 185. Where a federal court of equity is asked to interfere with the enforcement of state laws, it should do so only "to prevent irreparable injury which is clear and imminent . . ." Douglas v. Jeannette, supra, p. 163; Spielman Motor Co. v. Dodge, 295 U.S. 89; Di Giovanni v. Camden Fire Ins. Assn., 296 U.S. 64; Watson v. Buck, 313 U.S. 387.
That is a strict test. But we think appellants satisfy it. We reach that conclusion on the basis of the allegations concerning the disruption of the collective bargaining processes and the injury to the unions and to the employers alike, if the closed-shop agreement is outlawed. As we have said, it is averred that there are about 500 contracts with Florida employers containing closed-shop agreements and affecting about 100,000 employees. Each contract is affected if the closed-shop agreement is held unlawful. Some of those contracts have expired and it is desired to renew them. Others are sought to be negotiated. Thus, in case of plaintiff, R.J. Gould, it is alleged that although he is anxious and willing to enter into such a contract, he is prevented from doing so by the threats of appellees. As a result, it is alleged, he is and has been unable to secure sufficient skilled labor to conduct his business. It is alleged that there are numerous other situations of the same character. And it is shown that one employer, against whom quo warranto proceedings have been instituted, already has given notice of the suspension of the closed-shop agreement which it had with one of the appellant unions. Allegations are made that outlawry of closed-shop agreements
Moreover, the threat to enforce the Florida law is real and imminent. Quo warranto proceedings have been instituted against several of the corporations who are parties to the suit on the basis that they have closed-shop agreements with the unions. And appellee Watson has announced
As we have said, the District Court passed on the merits of the controversy. In doing so at this stage of the litigation, we think it did not follow the proper course. The merits involve substantial constitutional issues concerning
There is, in the first place, some question whether this new provision of Florida's constitution is self-executing
We give these illustrations to indicate how uncertain it is what constitutional issues will emerge once the Florida law receives an authoritative interpretation. A decision today on the constitutionality of this Florida law would be based on a preliminary guess concerning its meaning, not on an authoritative construction of it. We have already noted that this law may be so construed as to eliminate any conflict alleged to exist between it and the National Labor Relations Act. If so, one of the constitutional questions presented by this case would disappear. It is suggested, however, that the due process question is ripe for adjudication no matter how the Florida law is construed. But if the law does no more than to grant an individual working man a cause of action in case he is denied employment unless he joins a union, or if it goes no further than to make closed-shop agreements unenforceable between the parties, no case or controversy raising the due process question would be presented for decision by the present bill. For individual working men are not here asserting rights against unions or employers. Nor does the present case involve litigation by unions to enforce closed-shop agreements against employers. Furthermore, if, as the District Court thought, this Florida law is not self-executing, suits seeking to raise the due process question or any other constitutional question would be premature until Florida supplied sanctions for its enforcement. A decision today on the merits might, therefore, amount to no more than an advisory opinion. In Railroad Commission
It is said that since the continuance of litigation in the state courts is the only ground asserted for equitable relief, the entire purpose of the present suit will be defeated by retaining the bill pending determination of proceedings in the state courts. But the problem is not unique. It was implicit in Railroad Commission v. Pullman Co., supra. Moreover, the case for equitable relief rests not merely on the presence of a few cases in the state courts but also on the threat of wholesale prosecutions under a state law which the chief law enforcement official of the State maintains outlaws contracts for collective bargaining which labor and management have widely made. The resources of equity are not inadequate to deal with the problem so as to avoid unnecessary friction with state policies, while selective cases go forward in the state courts for an orderly and expeditious adjudication of the state law questions.
We reverse the judgment of the District Court and remand the cause to it with directions to retain the bill pending the determination of proceedings in the state courts in conformity with this opinion.
By consent of the parties the Cigar Manufacturers Association of Tampa was dismissed as a party defendant in
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON took no part in the consideration or decision of this case.
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE STONE, dissenting.
I think the suit should be dismissed for want of jurisdiction in equity.
A criminal prosecution or other litigation conducted in state courts by a state official, within the scope of his authority as such, may, it is true, cause apprehension on the part of those ;who are alleged to be lawbreakers. Such apprehensions and those of others may lead to changes in business practices to the injury of the alleged lawbreakers. But the conduct of such proceedings, in good faith and in conformity to law, is not actionable at law or in equity. Damage or loss to one's business or pocketbook, resulting from such proceedings, is but an incident to the necessary performance of a public function of state government. It is damnum absque injuria. Spielman Motor Co. v. Dodge, 295 U.S. 89, 95, and cases cited; Beal v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., 312 U.S. 45, 49, 50, and cases cited. And even when the threatened injury is attributable to the state court proceeding to enforce a state statute which is asserted to be unconstitutional, it does not follow that equity will or should exercise its jurisdiction to restrain the prosecution.
Congress has adopted the policy of leaving to the courts of the states the trials for criminal violations of state law and of quo warranto proceedings against their own corporations. Federal courts of equity, in the exercise of their sound discretion, conform to that policy by refusing to interfere with proceedings in the state courts except where unusual circumstances clearly call for equitable relief. Hence it is well recognized that measures taken by state
Until the state questions here mooted are authoritatively settled by the state courts, and the constitutional questions which it is asserted they raise are settled by this Court, the threat to the closed shop will continue to embarrass labor unions and employers who have or seek to have closed-shop contracts. That embarrassment can be removed only by the process of adjudication which the state is constitutionally entitled to pursue, so long as the state and its officials proceed according to law. Davis & Farnum Mfg. Co. v. Los Angeles, 189 U.S. 207; Fenner v. Boykin, supra; Spielman Motor Co. v. Dodge, supra, 95.
There is no contention here that the state officials are acting outside their authority as such, that they are not acting in good faith, Beal v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., supra, 49; Douglas v. Jeannette, supra, 164, or that they threaten to make oppressive or malicious use of the legal processes of the state. Cf. Gumbel v. Pitkin, 124 U.S. 131. Nor is there any showing that the litigation of pending questions in the federal courts will be any less embarrassing or injurious to appellants than the litigation of suits already pending in the state courts with review by this Court. Douglas v. Jeannette, supra, 164.
There are no allegations which would take this case out of the rule that in general a federal court of equity will not exercise its power to stay litigation lawfully proceeding in state courts, or at all except where it is plain that by the exercise of its jurisdiction and its decision of the issue pending in the state courts it will avoid some immediate and irreparable injury to a plaintiff. The case is to be distinguished from those sustaining federal equity jurisdiction where the acts sought to be enjoined, which are asserted to be unlawful, do not involve any resort by an enforcement officer to the courts, where their lawfulness would, as here, be determined. Utah Fuel Co. v. Coal Comm'n, 306 U.S. 56; Hague v. C.I.O., 307 U.S. 496.
It is not suggested that appellants will be forced to comply with the Act because the penalties attending its violation are cumulative or so great that appellants may not,
We cannot assume that the pending suits in quo warranto, with review by this Court of the federal questions involved, will not settle all pending legal questions, state and federal, as readily as a suit in the federal court, or that the parties will not abide by the result. The bill of complaint is not framed on the theory of a bill of peace. Cf. Cleveland v. Cleveland City R. Co., 194 U.S. 517; Boise Artesian Water Co. v. Boise City, 213 U.S. 276; Beal v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., supra, 50. It does not allege that repeated, groundless or otherwise vexatious suits will be brought. McDaniel v. Traylor, 212 U.S. 428; Di Giovanni v. Camden Fire Ins. Assn., supra, 68. It does not seek to join all parties threatened by the prosecution of suits or show such singleness of issue of decisive questions as will
And, finally, the determination of the constitutional questions, which is the only purpose of the suit, must turn on the authoritative decision of the numerous and novel state questions presented. Cf. Hygrade Provision Co. v. Sherman, supra; Cline v. Frink Dairy Co., 274 U.S. 445; Spielman Motor Co. v. Dodge, supra; Beal v. Missouri Pacific R. Co., supra, 50. The presence of such state questions in the suit is itself a sufficient ground for our declining to decide the constitutional questions in advance of authoritative determination of the state questions by the state courts. Cf. Alabama State Federation v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 450; C.I.O. v. McAdory, 325 U.S. 472; see Spector Motor Co. v. McLaughlin, 323 U.S. 101.
Further, since the whole aim of appellants' suit is to enjoin the appellees from proceeding in the state courts, this Court's direction to the district court to retain the bill pending the determination of proceedings in the state courts defeats the entire purpose of the present suit and permits the continuance of state litigation which is the only ground asserted for equitable relief. If appellees should at any time make oppressive use of legal processes of the state, bring repeated, groundless suits, or otherwise threaten irreparable damage to appellants, the federal courts are open to them upon their making allegations sufficient to justify intervention by equity. But the mere chance that such irreparable damage may be threatened at some indefinite time in the future, although it is not now, is no reason for the district court to retain the bill which wholly fails to show any ground for equitable relief. There being no showing of damage to the appellants, actual or
MR. JUSTICE MURPHY, dissenting in part.
I dissent from that part of the Court's opinion that holds that the District Court erred in passing upon the merits of the controversy presented by this case.
It may well be that there are serious questions as to how and against whom Florida's new constitutional provision will be enforced. And the provision may be construed so as not to conflict with the National Labor Relations Act. Such matters must wait for authoritative action by the Florida courts. But there are federal constitutional issues inherent on the face of this provision that do not depend upon any interpretation or application made by Florida courts. Those issues were raised and decided in the court below. And they should be given appropriate attention by this Court.
The Court today holds that there is a very real and imminent threat to the entire system of collective bargaining in Florida growing out of the current attempts to enforce the Florida law. It should not be and is not difficult to discover the federal constitutional issues that are involved in that threat. True, we cannot say what constitutional issues may arise out of the law as subsequently interpreted and applied by the Florida courts. But we can say what issues are apparent on the face of the law itself, the law that has given rise to the grave threat to collective bargaining in Florida. Either the provision does or does not violate due process as guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment; either it falls outside or inside the permissible scope of the police power of the state; either it is in accord or in conflict on its face with the National Labor Relations Act. Those are the issues the parties have raised and the court
Moreover, the Court remands the case to the District Court with directions to retain the case until the Florida courts interpret the provision in the Florida constitution. The efficacy of this disposition of the case is less real than apparent. It affords little if any protection to the appellants so far as the issues now in dispute are concerned. They are left unprotected against the very threat which this Court states is real and imminent. And should the Florida courts ultimately decide these issues adversely to appellants' contentions they will have no effective recourse in the District Court, which already has expressed itself fully and adversely relative to those contentions.
I dissent, therefore, from a procedure depriving appellants of a full hearing and a determination of the issues they have properly raised in the District Court and denying them the right to secure the protection the federal equitable power might give them.
These parties were joined as defendants because they had collective bargaining agreements with various of appellant labor organizations. They are called nominal defendants since no relief was sought against them.
The constitutions of some of the appellant unions require that all persons who desire to obtain or retain memberships in the unions shall work only with union members.
It is alleged that membership in appellant unions is open to all who can meet the requirements of skill prescribed for the work, who will submit to the discipline and by-laws of the unions, and who are of good character.