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U.S. Supreme Court

Summit Valley Indus., Inc. v. Carpenters, 456 U.S. 717 (1982)

Summit Valley Industries, Inc. v. Local 112,

United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners of America

No. 81-497

Argued April 28, 1982

Decided June 1, 1982

456 U.S. 717


As the result of a labor dispute between petitioner employer and respondent union, petitioner filed an unfair labor practice charge against the union, alleging that it had violated the secondary boycott and jurisdictional picketing prohibitions of § 8(b)(4) of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The National Labor Relations Board (Board) found against the union, and the Board's order was judicially enforced. Petitioner filed this action in Federal District Court pursuant to § 303 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), seeking damages resulting from the union's illegal activity in an amount that included both business losses and attorney's fees incurred during the Board proceedings. Section 303(a) makes it unlawful for a union to engage in conduct defined as an unfair labor practice under § 8(b)(4) of the NLRA, and § 303(b) provides that whoever is injured in his business or property because of a violation of § 303(a) may sue in a federal district court "and shall recover the damages by him sustained and the cost of the suit." The District Court entered judgment for petitioner, awarding it an amount that represented its business losses, but concluded that petitioner was not entitled to recover attorney's fees as part of its damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Attorney's fees incurred during Board proceedings are not a proper element of damages under § 303(b) of the LMRA. Pp. 456 U. S. 721-727.

(a) Neither the language nor the legislative history of § 303 supports petitioner's contention that § 303 provides statutory authorization for such attorney's fees for purposes of the American Rule that attorney's fees are not ordinarily recoverable in the absence of a statute or enforceable contract providing therefor. The legislative history instead shows that Congress did not intend to expand the ordinary meaning of the term "damages" in § 303(b) to include attorney's fees. Cf. Teamsters v. Morton, 377 U. S. 252. Pp. 456 U. S. 721-724.

(b) Nor can allowance of attorney's fees incurred during Board proceedings be justified on the asserted ground that it would further Congress' intent to protect employers from the adverse effects of a union's illegal secondary activity. This interest is adequately protected by the

Page 456 U. S. 718

award of compensatory damages for the business losses resulting from the union's prohibited conduct. Even assuming that attorney's fees are necessary to "fully" compensate the victimized employer, this justification alone is not sufficient to create an exception to the American Rule in the absence of express congressional authority. Cf. F. D. Rich Co. v. United States ex rel. Industrial Lumber Co., 417 U. S. 116, 417 U. S. 128-129. To adopt petitioner's analysis would authorize the recovery of attorney's fees in every case where the plaintiff has prevailed against the defendant in prior litigation involving the same issues. Such a result is clearly barred by this Court's prior decisions and by the American Rule. Pp. 456 U. S. 724-726.

652 F.2d 65, affirmed.

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