MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The case before us presents the question whether, and to what extent, the National Labor Relations Act, as amended, 61 Stat. 136, 29 U. S. C. § 141 et seq. (1964 ed.), bars the maintenance of a civil action for libel instituted under state law by an official of an employer subject to the Act, seeking damages for defamatory statements published during a union organizing campaign by the union and its officers. The District Court dismissed the complaint on the ground that the National Labor Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the subject matter. It held that such conduct "would arguably constitute an unfair labor practice under Section 8 (b)" of the Act and that San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959), compelled a dismissal on pre-emption grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed, 337 F.2d 68, assuming without deciding that the statements in question were "false, malicious, clearly libelous and damaging to plaintiff Linn, albeit they were relevant to the union's campaign." At p. 69. We granted certiorari, 381 U.S. 923. We conclude that where either party to a labor dispute circulates false and defamatory statements during a union organizing campaign, the court does have jurisdiction to apply state remedies if the complainant pleads and proves that the statements were made with malice and injured him. The judgment is, therefore, reversed.
Petitioner Linn, an assistant general manager of Pinkerton's National Detective Agency, Inc., filed this
The complaint further alleged that Linn was one of the managers referred to in the leaflet, and that the statements in the leaflet were "wholly false, defamatory and untrue" as respondents well knew. It did not allege any actual or special damage but prayed for the recovery of $1,000,000 on the ground that the accusations were libelous per se. Federal jurisdiction was based on diversity of citizenship.
All respondents, save Doyle, moved to dismiss, asserting that the subject matter was within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Board. The record indicates that prior to the institution of this action Pinkerton had filed unfair labor practice charges with the Regional Director
In an unpublished opinion the District Judge dismissed the complaint holding, as we have already noted, that even if the union were responsible for distributing the material the case was controlled by Garmon, supra. The Court of Appeals affirmed, limiting its holding "to a suit for libelous statements growing out of and relevant to a union's campaign to organize the employees of an employer subject to the National Labor Relations Act." At 72.
The question before us has been a recurring one in both state and federal tribunals,
Our task is rendered more difficult by the failure of the Congress to furnish precise guidance in either the language of the Act or its legislative history.
The Court has dealt with specific pre-emption problems arising under the National Labor Relations Act on many occasions, going back as far as Allen-Bradley Local v. Wisconsin Employment Relations Board, 315 U.S. 740 (1942). However, in framing the pre-emption question before us we need look primarily to San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959). There in most meticulous language this Court spelled out the "extent to which the variegated laws of the several States are displaced by a single, uniform, national rule . . . ." At 241. The Court emphasized that it was for the Board and the Congress to define the "precise and closely limited demarcations that can be adequately fashioned only by legislation and administration," while "[o]ur task is confined to dealing with classes of situations." At 242. In this respect, the Court concluded that the States need not yield jurisdiction "where the activity regulated was a merely peripheral concern of the Labor Management Relations Act . . . [o]r where the regulated conduct touched interests so deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility that, in the absence of compelling congressional direction, we could not infer that Congress had deprived the States of the power to act." At 243-244. In short, as we said in Plumbers' Union v. Borden, 373 U.S. 690, 693-694 (1963):
We note that the Board has given frequent consideration to the type of statements circulated during labor controversies, and that it has allowed wide latitude to the competing parties.
In the light of these consideration it appears that the exercise of state jurisdiction here would be a "merely peripheral concern of the Labor Management Relations Act," provided it is limited to redressing libel issued with knowledge of its falsity, or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false. Moreover, we believe that "an overriding state interest" in protecting its residents from malicious libels should be recognized in these circumstances. This conclusion is buttressed by our holding in United Construction Workers v. Laburnum Construction Corp., 347 U.S. 656 (1954), where Mr. Justice Burton writing for the Court held:
In United Automobile Workers v. Russell, 356 U.S. 634 (1958), we again upheld state jurisdiction to entertain a compensatory and punitive damage action by an employee for malicious interference with his lawful occupation. In each of these cases the "type of conduct" involved, i. e., "intimidation and threats of violence," affected such compelling state interests as to permit the exercise of state jurisdiction. Garmon, supra, at 248. We similarly conclude that a State's concern with redressing malicious libel is "so deeply rooted in local feeling and responsibility" that it fits within the exception specifically carved out by Garmon.
We acknowledge that the enactment of § 8 (c) manifests a congressional intent to encourage free debate on issues dividing labor and management.
Nor should the fact that defamation arises during a labor dispute give the Board exclusive jurisdiction to remedy its consequences. The malicious publication of libelous statements does not in and of itself constitute an unfair labor practice. While the Board might find that an employer or union violated § 8 by deliberately making false statements, or that the issuance of malicious statements during an organizing campaign had such a profound effect on the election as to require that it be set aside, it looks only to the coercive or misleading nature of the statements rather than their defamatory quality. The injury that the statement might cause to an individual's reputation—whether he be an employer or union official—has no relevance to the Board's function. Cf. Amalgamated Utility Workers v. Consolidated Edison Co., 309 U.S. 261 (1940). The Board can award no damages, impose no penalty, or give any other relief to the defamed individual.
On the contrary, state remedies have been designed to compensate the victim and enable him to vindicate his
Judicial condemnation of the alleged attack on Linn's character would reflect no judgment upon the objectives of the union. It would not interfere with the Board's jurisdiction over the merits of the labor controversy.
But it has been insisted that not only would the threat of state libel suits dampen the ardor of labor debate and truncate the free discussion envisioned by the Act, but that such suits might be used as weapons of economic coercion. Moreover, in view of the propensity of juries to award excessive damages for defamation, the availability of libel actions may pose a threat to the stability of labor unions and smaller employers. In order that the recognition of legitimate state interests does not interfere with effective administration of national labor policy the possibility of such consequences must be minimized. We therefore limit the availability of state remedies for libel
The standards enunciated in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), are adopted by analogy, rather than under constitutional compulsion. We apply the malice test to effectuate the statutory design with respect to pre-emption. Construing the Act to permit recovery of damages in a state cause of action only for defamatory statements published with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard of whether they were true or false guards against abuse of libel actions and unwarranted intrusion upon free discussion envisioned by the Act.
As we have pointed out, certain language characteristic of labor disputes may be held actionable per se in some state courts. These categories of libel have developed without specific reference to labor controversies. However, even in those jurisdictions, the amount of damages which may be recovered depends upon evidence as to the severity of the resulting harm. This is a salutary principle. We therefore hold that a complainant may not recover except upon proof of such harm, which may include general injury to reputation, consequent mental suffering, alienation of associates, specific items of pecuniary loss, or whatever form of harm would be recognized by state tort law.
Since the complaint here does not make the specific allegations that we find necessary in such actions, leave should be given Linn on remand to amend his complaint, if he so desires, to meet these requirements. In the event of a new trial he, of course, bears the burden of proof of such allegations.
Finally, it has been argued that permitting state action here would impinge upon national labor policy because the availability of a judicial remedy for malicious libel would cause employers and unions to spurn appropriate administrative sanctions for contemporaneous violations of the Act. We disagree. When the Board and state law frown upon the publication of malicious libel, albeit for different reasons, it may be expected that the injured party will request both administrative and judicial relief. The Board would not be ignored since its sanctions alone can adjust the equilibrium disturbed by an unfair labor practice. If a malicious libel contributed to union victory in a closely fought election, few employers would be satisfied with simply damages for "personal" injury caused by the defamation. An unsuccessful union would also seek to set the election results aside as the fruits of an employer's malicious libel. And a union may be expected to request similar relief for defamatory statements which contribute to the victory of a competing union.
As was said in Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, 75: "[T]he use of the known lie as a tool is at once at odds with the premises of democratic government and with the orderly manner in which economic, social, or political change is to be effected." We believe that under the rules laid down here it can be appropriately redressed without curtailment of state libel remedies beyond the actual needs of national labor policy. However, if experience shows that a greater curtailment, even a total one, should be necessary to prevent impairment of that policy, the Court will be free to reconsider today's holding. We deal here not with a constitutional issue but solely with the degree to which state remedies have been pre-empted by the Act.
Reversed and remanded.
MR. JUSTICE BLACK, dissenting.
The Court holds that an individual participant on the employer's side of a labor dispute can sue the union for libel on account of charges made by the union in the heat of the dispute. By the same token I assume that under the Court's holding, individual labor union members now have the right to sue their employers when they say naughty things during labor disputes. This new Court-made law tosses a monkey wrench into the collective bargaining machinery Congress set up to try to settle labor disputes, and at the same time exalts the law of libel to an even higher level of importance in the regulation of day-to-day life in this country.
When Congress passed the National Labor Relations Act, it must have known, as almost all people do, that in labor disputes both sides are masters of the arts of
Moreover, we held in Thornhill v. Alabama, 310 U.S. 88, 102, that "In the circumstances of our times the dissemination of information concerning the facts of a labor dispute must be regarded as within that area of free discussion that is guaranteed by the Constitution." Discussion is not free, however, within the meaning of our First Amendment, if that discussion may be penalized by judgments for damages in libel actions. See the concurring opinions of MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS and myself in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, and Garrison v. Louisiana, 379 U.S. 64, and my opinion in Rosenblatt v. Baer, post, p. 94. It is rather strange for this Court to import its novel ideas on libel suits into the area of labor controversies where the effect is bound to
MR. JUSTICE FORTAS, with whom THE CHIEF JUSTICE and MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS join, dissenting.
In my opinion, the Court's decision in the present case opens a major breach in the wall which has heretofore confined labor disputes to the area and weaponry defined by federal labor law, except where violence or intimidation is involved. By arming the disputants with the weapon of libel suits and the threat of punitive damages the Court jeopardizes the measure of stability painstakingly achieved in labor-management relations. It introduces a potentially disruptive device into the comprehensive structure created by Congress for resolving these disputes. In so doing, the Court not only sanctions an arrangement inconsistent with the intent of Congress, but, I think, departs from its own decisions narrowly limiting the occasions on which the disputants may, outside of the statutory framework, litigate issues arising in labor disputes.
In my judgment, the structure provided by Congress for the handling of labor-management controversies precludes any court from entertaining a libel suit between parties to a labor dispute or their agents where the allegedly defamatory statement is confined to matters
Petitioner Linn is an officer of the employer sought to be organized by respondent union. The allegedly defamatory statements, set out in the opinion of the Court, relate to management conduct during the course of the dispute. The leaflets in question allegedly accuse management of lying both to the NLRB and to employees in order to deprive some employees of their right to vote in NLRB elections and to certain pay increases.
As an illustration of the kind of hyperbole characteristic of labor-management strife, this "libel" is hardly incendiary. To the experienced eye, it is pale and anemic when compared with the rich and colorful charges freely exchanged in the heat of many labor disputes.
In response to such a pallid "libel," the Court today holds that petitioner, perceiving himself the target of a purportedly false and defamatory statement, may sue the union and several of its officers for damages—so long as he pleads that the statement is defamatory, was made with malice, and caused some injury to him. Should he succeed in clearing the hurdles thus set in his path, he may recover not only compensation for his "injuries," but punitive or exemplary damages as well. These requirements that petitioner plead and prove both malice and special damages—arising from what I regard as the Court's well-founded concern that libel suits might otherwise "pose a threat to the stability of labor unions and smaller employers"—may be cold comfort to the potential defendant in a libel suit. "Malice," which the Court defines as a deliberate intention to falsify or a malevolent
Until today, the decisions of this Court have consistently held that the federal structure for resolving labor disputes may not be breached or encumbered by state remedies where the tortious conduct allegedly involved is either protected or prohibited by federal labor legislation, or even "arguably subject to" federal law
By narrowly restricting the permissible exceptions to the general rule of pre-emption and by excluding generally the right to compensation for purely private wrongs, the Court has contributed to the Nation's success in domesticating the potentially explosive warfare between labor and management. The decision announced today
I find support for my view in the evidence as to the intent of Congress. As the majority concedes, Congress has in unmistakable terms recognized the importance of labor-management dialogue untrammelled by fear of retribution for strong utterances. It has manifested awareness that lusty speech provides a useful safety valve for the tensions which often accompany these controversies. For example, Congress has provided that an unfair labor practice charge may not be based on the "expressing of any views, argument, or opinion . . . if such expression contains no threat of reprisal or force or promise of benefit." 29 U. S. C. § 158 (c) (1964 ed.).
The foregoing considerations do not apply to the extent that the use of verbal weapons during labor disputes is not confined to any issue in the dispute, or involves a person who is neither party to nor agent of a party to the dispute. In such instances, perhaps the courts ought to be free to redress whatever private wrong has been suffered. But this is not such a case. The fact that the Court today rules that, after appropriate amendment of the complaint, a libel action may be maintained on the basis of the circumscribed accusation contained in the leaflet in question demonstrates how very substantial is the breach opened in the wall which has heretofore insulated labor disputes from the vagaries of lawsuits.