SEARS, ROEBUCK & CO. V. CARPENTERS, 436 U. S. 180 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. Carpenters, 436 U.S. 180 (1978)

Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. San Diego County

District Council of Carpenters

No. 76-750

Argued November 7, 1977

Decided May 15, 1978

436 U.S. 180


Upon determining that certain carpentry work in petitioner's department store was being done by men who had not been dispatched from its hiring hall, respondent Union established picket lines on petitioner's property. When the Union refused petitioner's demand to remove the pickets, petitioner filed suit in the California Superior Court and obtained a preliminary injunction against the continuing trespass, and the Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court reversed, holding that, because the picketing was both arguably protected by § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act and arguably prohibited by § 8, state jurisdiction was preempted under the guidelines of San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U. S. 236.


1. The reasons why preemption of state jurisdiction is normally appropriate when union activity is arguably prohibited by federal law do not apply to this case, and therefore they are insufficient to preclude the State from exercising jurisdiction limited to the trespassory aspects of the Union's picketing. Pp. 436 U. S. 190-198.

(a) The critical inquiry is not whether the State is enforcing a law relating specifically to labor relations or one of general application, but whether the controversy presented to the state court is identical to or different from that which could have been, but was not, presented to the National Labor Relations Board, for it is only in the former situation that a state court's exercise of jurisdiction necessarily involves a risk of interference with the NLRB's unfair labor practice jurisdiction that the arguably prohibited branch of the Garmon doctrine was designed to avoid. Pp. 436 U. S. 190-197.

(b) Here the controversy that petitioner might have presented to the NLRB is not the same as the controversy presented to the state court. Had petitioner filed an unfair labor practice charge with the NLRB, the issue would have been whether the picketing had a recognitional or work reassignment objective, whereas, in the state court, petitioner only challenged the location of the picketing. Accordingly, permitting the state court to adjudicate petitioner's trespass claim creates

Page 436 U. S. 181

no realistic risk of interference with the NLRB's primary jurisdiction to enforce the statutory prohibition against unfair labor practices. P. 436 U. S. 198.

2. Nor does the arguably protected character of the Union's picketing provide a sufficient justification for preemption of the state court's jurisdiction over petitioner's trespass claim. Pp. 436 U. S. 199-207.

(a) The "primary jurisdiction" rationale of Garmon, requiring that, when the same controversy may be presented to the state court or the NLRB, it must be presented to the NLRB, does not provide a sufficient justification for preempting state jurisdiction over arguably protected conduct when, as in this case, the party who could have presented the protection issue to the NLRB has not done so, and the other party to the dispute has no acceptable means of doing so. Pp. 436 U. S. 202-203.

(b) While it cannot be said with certainty that, if the Union had filed an unfair labor practice charge against petitioner, the NLRB would have fixed the locus of the accommodation of petitioner's property rights and the Union's § 7 rights at the unprotected end of the spectrum, it is "arguable" that the Union's peaceful picketing, though trespassory, was protected, but, nevertheless, permitting state courts to evaluate the merits of an argument that certain trespassory activity is protected does not create an unacceptable risk of interference with conduct that the NLRB, and a court reviewing the NLRB's decision, would find protected. Pp. 436 U. S. 203-207.

17 Cal.3d 893, 553 P.2d 603, reversed and remanded.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and REHNQUIST, JJ., joined. BLACKMUN, J., post, p. 436 U. S. 208, and POWELL, J., post, p. 436 U. S. 212, filed concurring opinions. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which STEWART and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 436 U. S. 214.

Page 436 U. S. 182

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