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Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53 (1966)

Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers

No. 45

Argued November 18, 1965

Decided February 21, 1966

383 U.S. 53


Petitioner, an official of the employer, filed this civil libel action under state law against an employee, a union, and two of its officers, alleging that statements in leaflets circulated in connection with a campaign to organize the employees, applied to him, were "false, defamatory and untrue" and libelous per se. The suit was filed in federal court on the basis of diversity of citizenship. A dismissal motion was made on the ground that the NLRB had exclusive jurisdiction of the subject matter. The employer had previously filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB's Regional Director, asserting that the leaflets and other material restrained and coerced the employees in violation of § 8(b)(1)(A) of the National Labor Relations Act. The Regional Director refused to issue a complaint, finding that the leaflets were circulated by respondent employee, who was not a member or agent of the union, and that the union was not responsible for their distribution. The Board's General Counsel sustained the ruling. The District Court dismissed the libel complaint, holding that the alleged 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, compelled dismissal on preemption grounds. The Court of Appeals affirmed, assuming without deciding that the statements were "false, malicious, clearly libelous and damaging," though "relevant to the union's campaign."

Held: Where a party to a labor dispute circulates false and defamatory statements during a union organizing campaign, the court has jurisdiction to apply state remedies if the complainant pleads and proves that the statements were made with malice and injured him. Pp. 383 U. S. 55-67.

(a) The States need not yield jurisdiction to the Federal Government where the activity regulated is but a peripheral concern of the Act or touches local interests so deeply rooted that it cannot be assumed that Congress, absent contrary direction, had deprived States of the power to act. San Diego Building Trades Council, supra. Pp. 383 U. S. 59-60.

Page 383 U. S. 54

(b) While the NLRB tolerates intemperate, abusive and inaccurate statements made by a union during organizing efforts, it does not interpret the Act as giving either party license to injure the other intentionally by circulating defamatory or insulting material known to be false. P. 383 U. S. 61.

(c) The exercise of state jurisdiction limited to redressing libel issued with knowledge of its falsity, or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false, would reflect an overriding state interest in protecting its residents, and would be a "merely peripheral concern" of the Act. Pp. 383 U. S. 61-62.

(d) Section 8(c) of the Act manifests congressional intent to encourage free debate on labor-management issues; but malicious utterance of defamatory statements cannot be condoned, and malicious libel enjoys no protection in any context. Pp. 383 U. S. 62-63.

(e) The fact that defamation arises during a labor dispute does not give the NLRB exclusive jurisdiction thereof, as the malicious publication of libelous statements does not, of itself, constitute an unfair labor practice. P. 383 U. S. 63.

(f) The NLRB is concerned with the effect on a representation election, while state remedies are designed to compensate the victim. Pp. 383 U. S. 63-64.

(g) To prevent interference with effective administration of national labor policy the availability of state remedies for libel is limited to instances where the defamatory statements were circulated maliciously and caused damage to the complainant. Pp. 383 U. S. 64-65.

(h) The availability of a state judicial remedy for malicious libel with not impinge upon the national labor policy by causing employers and unions to spurn the administrative remedies offered by the NLRB; both remedies, which are not inconsistent, will be available in appropriate cases. Pp. 383 U. S. 66-67.

337 F.2d 68, reversed and remanded.

Page 383 U. S. 55

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