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HITCHMAN COAL & COKE CO. V. MITCHELL, 245 U. S. 229 (1917)

U.S. Supreme Court

Hitchman Coal & Coke Co. v. Mitchell, 245 U.S. 229 (1917)

Hitchman Coal & Coke Company v. Mitchell

No. 11

Argued March 2, 3, 1916

Restored to docket for reargument March 13, 1916

Reargued December 15, 18, 1916

Decided December 10, 1917

245 U.S. 229


The district court ha no power to decree an injunction against parties who were not served with process and who appeared only to object to the jurisdiction over them.

Page 245 U. S. 230

In order that the declarations and conduct of third parties may be admissible against persons sued with respect to acts done to carry out an alleged conspiracy, a combination between them and the defendants must be shown by independent evidence, but the criminal or otherwise unlawful character of the combination may be shown by the declarations themselves.

The same liberty which enables men to form unions, and through the unions to enter into agreements with employers willing to agree, entitles other men to remain independent of the union and other employers to agree with them to employ no man who owes any allegiance or obligation to the union. In the latter case as in the former, the parties are entitled to be protected by the law in the enjoyment of the benefits of any lawful agreement they may make.

The right of action for persuading an employee to leave his employer, universally recognized, rests upon fundamental principles of general application.

The right of workingmen to form unions and to enlarge their membership by inviting other workingmen to join is conceded, provided the objects of the union be proper and legitimate.

The right of workingmen to enlarge the membership of unions by inviting other workingmen to join, like other civil rights, must be exercised with reasonable regard for the conflicting rights of others, and the members of a union, having notice that the employees of an establishment are under contract with their employer not to remain in his employ after joining the union, may not lawfully, for the purpose of unionizing the establishment through an actual or threatened strike, induce or seek to induce such employees to violate their contract by joining the union, or (what in equity is the same) by secretly agreeing to join, and thereafter remaining at work until sufficient new members can be obtained so as to bring about a strike, thus uniting with the union in a plan to subvert the system of employment to which they voluntarily have agreed and upon which their employer and their fellow employees are relying.

An employer is entitled to the goodwill of his employees, irrespective of the fact that they are employed at will and that the relation is terminable by either party at any time; he is entitled to the benefit of the reasonable probability that, by properly treating them, he will be able to retain them in his employ and to fill vacancies occurring from time to time by the employment of other men on the same terms. It is unlawful for a third party, having notice of this relation, to interfere with it without just cause or excuse.

Intentionally to do that which is calculated in the ordinary course of

Page 245 U. S. 231

events to damage, and which does in fact damage, another person in his property or trade is malicious in law and actionable if done without just cause or excuse.

A proffered excuse cannot be deemed a just cause or excuse where it is based upon an assertion of conflicting rights that are sought to be attained by unfair methods and for the very purpose of interfering with plaintiff's rights of which defendants have notice.

Any violation of plaintiff's legal rights, contrived by defendants for the purpose of inflicting damage or having that as its necessary effect -- for example, a combination to procure concerted breaches of contract by plaintiff's employees -- is as plainly unlawful as if it involved a breach of the peace.

The purpose entertained by defendants to bring about a strike at plaintiff's mine in order to compel plaintiff, through fear of financial loss, to consent to the unionization of the mine as the lesser evil was an unlawful purpose, and the methods resorted to by defendants -- the inducing of employees to unite with the union in an effort to subvert the system of employment at the mine by concerted breaches of the contracts of employment known to be in force there -- were unlawful and malicious methods, not to be justified as a fair exercise of the right to increase the membership of the union.

Convinced by costly strikes of the futility of attempting to operate under a closed shop agreement with a certain union, plaintiff established its mine on a nonunion basis, with the unanimous approval of its employees and under a mutual agreement, assented to by them all, that plaintiff would continue to run its mine nonunion, and not recognize the union; that, if any man wanted to become a member of the union, he was at liberty to do so, but he could not be a member and remain in plaintiff's employ. Under that agreement, plaintiff ran its mine for a year and more, and, so far as appears, without the slightest disagreement between it and its men, and without any grievance on their part. Thereupon, defendants, having full notice of the agreement, and acting without any agency for the men, but as representatives of an organization of mine workers in other states, and in order to subject plaintiff to such participation by the union in the management of the mine as necessarily results from the making of a closed shop agreement, sent their agent to the mine, who, with full notice of, and for the very purpose of subverting, the status arising from plaintiff's agreement and subjecting the mine to the union control, proceeded, without physical violence, indeed, but by persuasion accompanied with threats of a reduction of wages and deceptive statements as to the attitude of the mine management,

Page 245 U. S. 232

to induce plaintiff's employees to join the union and at the same time to break their agreement with plaintiff by remaining in its employ after joining, and this for the purpose not of enlarging the membership of the union, but of coercing plaintiff, through a strike or the threat of one, into recognition of the union. Held that plaintiff was clearly entitled to an injunction.

214 F. 685 reversed.

The case is stated in the opinion.

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