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United Transportation Union v. Long Island Rail Road Co.

decided: September 15, 1980.


Appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Hon. Jacob Mishler, Judge, granting a declaratory judgment that appellee's members have the right to engage in self help under the Railway Labor Act and permanently enjoining appellants from further prosecuting any state court action based on the Taylor Law. Reversed.

Before Mulligan, Circuit Judge, and Spears*fn* and Sweet,*fn** District Judges.

Author: Sweet

This appeal presents the question of whether employees of the Long Island Rail Road Company (the "LIRR") are subject to the provision in New York's Taylor Law, N.Y.Civ.Serv.Law §§ 200-214 (the "Taylor Law"), prohibiting strikes by public employees,*fn1 or the provision in the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. (the "RLA"), allowing for such self help.*fn2 Resolution of this question presents the difficult and vexing task of determining the line which separates state and federal power in the penumbra where both state and federal legislation have been enacted. Since in this case we conclude that the RLA impairs the State's ability to structure employer-employee relationships in its role as sole provider of an essential public service, the rationale of National League of Cities v. Usery, 426 U.S. 833, 96 S. Ct. 2465, 49 L. Ed. 2d 245 (1976) requires that we reverse the decision of the district court.


The LIRR is a rail common carrier serving five counties within the metropolitan New York City area. It was acquired by New York State in 1966 through the agency now known as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (the "MTA"), which continues to have day-to-day responsibility for the operation of the LIRR.

The LIRR carries approximately 250,000 passengers each week day and is the only common carrier by rail serving the public and industries in Nassau and Suffolk Counties. While its physical operations are solely within New York State, it interchanges freight with more than a dozen interstate rail carriers and handles from 800-1000 freight cars per week. Its revenue from freight operations in 1979 was in excess of $12.1 million. These freight revenues have decreased steadily over the years and now provide a fraction of its total income, which is estimated at more than $300 million.

The appellee United Transportation Union (the "UTU") is one of seven collective bargaining representatives for the LIRR operating and train employees. On December 7, 1979, as the parties were on the verge of exhausting the collective bargaining procedures provided by the Railway Labor Act, the UTU filed this suit in the Eastern District of New York seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the relationship between the parties was governed by the RLA and that the employees could thus not be subjected to the sanctions of the Taylor Law in the event they engaged in self help; and (2) injunctive relief to protect those rights of the employees guaranteed by the Act, including an injunction against the commencement or prosecution of a state court action seeking to invoke the Taylor Law.

The next day, the unions, including the UTU, went on strike. On December 14, 1979, a Presidential Emergency Board was established pursuant to § 10 of the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 160, and the employees returned to work.*fn3

Appellants moved to dismiss this action but before the motion was heard, on February 8, 1980, converted the LIRR from a private stock corporation to a public benefit corporation whose employees would be at least facially subject to the Taylor Law. On February 12, the UTU responded by moving for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunctive relief restraining the defendants from commencing a state court action pursuant to the Taylor Law to enjoin a strike by UTU members.

Following additional litigation*fn4 the UTU moved for summary judgment. In his opinion granting the motion, then Chief Judge Jacob Mishler found that the LIRR is a "carrier" engaged in interstate transportation and therefore subject to the Railway Labor Act. After further analysis, he concluded that the federal scheme preempts the State from regulating the labor relations of the railroad's employees, rejecting the invitation to find that such regulation improperly displaces the State's freedom to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions.*fn5

The district judge then issued a permanent injunction restraining the LIRR and the MTA from taking any action in state court based on an alleged violation of the Taylor Law. The UTU was also enjoined from engaging in any "self help" pending this Court's review of the case.*fn6


Appellants argue, at the outset, that the State Attorney General is an indispensable party to this action because he is independently obligated to take the action that the UTU has sought to enjoin. Specifically, they refer to N.Y.Civ.Serv.Law § 211, which provides that the chief legal officer of the government involved shall apply to the supreme court for an injunction against a threatened violation of the Taylor Law.*fn7

In this case the joinder of the Attorney General as a party is not necessary for the granting of complete relief, nor would the disposition of the action in his absence leave any of the parties subject to a substantial risk of incurring inconsistent obligations. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a).*fn8 To begin with, there is no authority for the proposition that the Attorney General must proceed as a plaintiff in his own name in addition to bringing the action of the aggrieved state parties. Instead, the Attorney General or other "chief legal officer" must simply act as legal representative of such agencies in Taylor Act proceedings. See Yorktown Central School Dist. No. 2 v. Yorktown Congress of Teachers, 42 A.D.2d 422, 348 N.Y.S.2d 367, 371 (2d Dept. 1973).

Since in this case the Attorney General did not represent appellants, it could be argued that he should have been joined as a separate, indispensable party. However, the record indicates that the Attorney General was involved in a related action in state court, see note 4, supra, and that he undoubtedly had knowledge of the instant action and could have participated therein had he chosen to do so. Moreover, in light of the fact that the MTA and LIRR, in opposing the injunction, took the same position as the Attorney General would have taken, he cannot be heard to claim that the disposition of the action in his absence impairs his ability to protect the State's interests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 19(a)(2)(i).

Finally, disposition of this action without the presence of the Attorney General would not subject any party to a substantial risk of incurring inconsistent obligations. As the district judge noted, the Attorney General would be bound by any injunction in this action of which he had actual notice under Fed.R.Civ.P. 65(d).*fn9 ...

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