CHAUFFEURS LOCAL 391 V. TERRY, 494 U. S. 558 (1990)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Chauffeurs Local 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558 (1990)

Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 v. Terry

No. 88-1719

Argued December 6, 1989

Decided March 20, 1990

494 U.S. 558


McLean Trucking Company and petitioner Chauffeurs, Teamsters and Helpers Local No. 391 (Union) were parties to a collective bargaining agreement which covered respondent employees. When the Union declined to refer to the grievance committee respondents' charges against McLean -- arising from McLean's layoff and recall policies -- on the ground that the relevant issues had been determined in two prior proceedings concerning complaints that the Union had referred to the committee on respondents' behalf, respondents filed suit in the District Court. Alleging that McLean had breached the collective bargaining agreement in violation of § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 1947, and that the Union had violated its duty of fair representation, they requested injunctive relief and, inter alia, compensatory damages for lost wages and health benefits. They also made a jury demand for all issues triable by a jury. After McLean filed for bankruptcy, the action against it, and all claims for injunctive relief, were dismissed. The Union then moved to strike the jury demand on the ground that no right to a jury trial exists in a duty of fair representation suit. The District Court denied the motion, and the Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the Seventh Amendment entitled respondents to a jury trial on their claim for monetary relief.

Held: The judgment is affirmed.

863 F.2d 334, affirmed.

JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-B, and IV, concluding that the Seventh Amendment entitles respondents to a jury trial. Pp. 494 U. S. 563-564, 494 U. S. 570-574.

(a) To recover money damages in an action for breach of the duty of fair representation, an employee must prove both that the employer's action violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and that the union breached its duty of fair representation in handling the grievance. DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U. S. 151, 462 U. S. 163-164. Pp. 462 U. S. 563-564.

(b) The remedy respondents seek entitles them to a jury trial on all issues presented in the suit. That remedy -- compensatory damages -- is traditionally legal relief, and has none of the attributes that must be present before this Court will characterize money damages as equitable.

Page 494 U. S. 559

The relief is not restitutionary, because the backpay sought is not money wrongfully held by the Union, but wages and benefits respondents would have received from McLean had the Union processed their grievances properly. Nor is the monetary award incidental to, or intertwined with, injunctive relief, because respondents here are seeking only money damages. Moreover, although backpay under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is considered an equitable remedy, this characterization does not require that money damages for breach of the duty of fair representation be considered equitable as well. Congress has specifically characterized Title VII backpay as a form of "equitable relief," but it has made no similar pronouncement regarding damages for breach of the duty of fair representation. Further, this Court has noted that Title VII backpay sought from an employer would generally be restitutionary in nature. Pp. 494 U. S. 570-574.


1. To determine whether a particular action will resolve legal (as opposed to equitable) rights, such that the plaintiff is entitled to a jury trial, courts must examine both the nature of the issues involved and, more importantly, the remedy sought. Tull v. United States, 481 U. S. 412, 481 U. S. 417-418. Pp. 494 U. S. 564-565.

2. A comparison of respondents' action to 18th-century causes of action leaves the jury trial question in equipoise, because it reveals that this action presents both equitable and legal issues. The duty of fair representation claim is comparable to an equitable action by a trust beneficiary against a trustee for breach of fiduciary duty. DelCostello, supra -- which, in determining the appropriate statute of limitations in a hybrid action, noted in dicta that an attorney malpractice action, historically an action at law, is the closest state law analogy to a duty of fair representation claim -- did not consider the trust analogy, which more fully captures the relationship between the Union and the represented employees. Nevertheless, respondents' action cannot be characterized as wholly equitable, since the § 301 issue -- which respondents must prove in order to prevail -- is comparable to a breach of contract claim, a legal issue. United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U. S. 56. Pp. 494 U. S. 565-570.

JUSTICE BRENNAN proposed that the historical test mandated by the Seventh Amendment should turn solely on the comparison of the relief sought to relief historically available in equity or at law, and that the Court should dispense with the process of comparing the right at issue with 18th-century English forms of action. Since the nature of the remedy is always given more weight than the nature of the analogous right, it is unlikely that the proposed analysis would result in different decisions.

Page 494 U. S. 560

Comparisons of contemporary rights with ancient writs have needlessly convoluted Seventh Amendment jurisprudence and embroiled courts in recondite controversies better left to legal historians. Moreover, the nature of the rights available under modern statutes is so remote in form and concept from 18th-century forms of action that, too often, there is no firm basis for comparison. Because the nature of remedies available today corresponds far more directly to the nature of remedies available in Georgian England, the proposed analysis would not only be more manageable than the current test, but also more reliably grounded in history. Pp. 494 U. S. 574-581.

JUSTICE STEVENS concluded that the relevant historical question is not whether the suit was specifically recognized at common law, but whether the nature of the substantive right asserted is analogous to common law rights, and whether the relief sought is typical of an action at law. A sufficient basis for the Court's holding is provided by the evolution of the duty of fair representation doctrine through suits tried to juries, the well-recognized duty to scrutinize any proposed curtailment of the right to a jury trial with the utmost care, and the fact that a duty of fair representation action resembles a common law attorney malpractice action more closely than it does any other action. Pp. 494 U. S. 581-584.

MARSHALL, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to Parts I, II, III-B, and IV, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and BRENNAN, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and STEVENS, JJ., joined, and an opinion with respect to Part III-A, in which REHNQUIST, C.J.,and WHITE and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. BRENNAN, J., post, p. 494 U. S. 574, and STEVENS, J., post, p. 494 U. S. 581, filed opinions concurring in part and concurring in the judgment. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which O'CONNOR and SCALIA, JJ., joined, post, p. 494 U. S. 584.

Page 494 U. S. 561

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