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Piscitelli v. Pennsylvania-Reading Seashore Lines

Decided: December 20, 1950.

ANTONIO PISCITELLI, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA-READING SEASHORE LINES, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT



McGeehan, Jayne and Wm. J. Brennan, Jr. The opinion of the court was delivered by McGeehan, S.j.a.d.

Mcgeehan

Judgment dismissing the complaint was entered in the Chancery Division of the Superior Court on the ground that it was without jurisdiction to adjudicate the issues.

In his complaint the plaintiff alleged that while holding a permanent position as a highway crossing watchman he was discharged by the defendant in violation of seniority rights to which he was entitled under an agreement then in effect. This agreement was a collective bargaining agreement between the defendant company and the union, Pennsylvania Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees. He sought reinstatement with back pay, restoration of seniority rights which he alleged were secured to him by this collective bargaining agreement, and restoration of retirement and pension rights. The issues as fixed by the pretrial order were (1) whether he held a permanent position, (2) if he held a permanent position, whether his seniority rights under

the collective bargaining agreement were violated, and (3) whether the court had jurisdiction to interpret and apply the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement.

We agree with the court below that the jurisdiction of the National Railway Adjustment Board, under the Railway Labor Act (45 U.S.C.A. , ยง 151, et seq.), to adjust grievances and disputes of the type here involved is exclusive. Slocum v. Delaware, L. & W.R. Co. , 339 U.S. 239, 94 L. Ed. 795 (April 10, 1950), and Order of R.C. of A. v. Southern R. Co. , 339 U.S. 255, 94 L. Ed. 811 (April 10, 1950).

The Slocum case involved a suit by a railroad company against two unions in a state court seeking a declaratory judgment interpreting the bargaining agreements and declaring which agreement covered the jobs in controversy. The Order of R.C. of A. case involved a suit by a railroad company against a union in a state court seeking a declaratory judgment interpreting the bargaining agreement and declaring that the agreement did not require the claimed extra pay. In both cases the United States Supreme Court held that the jurisdiction of the National Railway Adjustment Board to adjust grievances and disputes of the type involved is exclusive, and that state courts were without power to interpret the terms of such bargaining agreements and adjudicate the disputes. However, in the Slocum case the court, in speaking of the Railway Labor Act, went further and said: "The Act thus represents a considered effort on the part of Congress to provide effective and desirable administrative remedies for adjustment of railroad-employee disputes growing out of the interpretation of existing agreements." After a discussion of its opinion in Order of R. Conductors v. Pitney , 326 U.S. 561, 90 L. Ed. 318, it continued: "This reasoning equally supports a denial of power in any court -- state as well as federal -- to invade the jurisdiction conferred on the Adjustment Board by the Railway Labor Act." It then proceeded to distinguish its holding in Moore v. Illinois Central R. Co. , 312 U.S. 630, 85 L. Ed. 1089 (1941), as follows: "Moore was discharged by the railroad. He could have challenged

the validity of his discharge before the Board, seeking reinstatement and back pay. Instead he chose to accept the railroad's action in discharging him as final, thereby ceasing to be an employee, and brought suit claiming damages for breach of contract. As we there held, the Railway Labor Act does not bar courts from adjudicating such cases. A common-law or statutory action for wrongful discharge differs from any remedy which the Board has power to provide, and does not involve questions of future relations between the railroad and its other employees."

Relying on the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in the Slocum and Order of R.C. of A. cases, the United States District Court of the Northern District of Ohio, in Kendall v. Pennsylvania R. Co. , 94 F. Supp. 875, (August 7, 1950), held that it had no jurisdiction to entertain a suit by a discharged railroad employee seeking reinstatement and damages for his discharge on the ground that his seniority rights under the bargaining agreement were violated; and the New York Supreme Court (Special Term), in a similar case, Haggquist v. Hudson & Manhattan R.R. , 27 L.R.R.M. 2002 (October 24, 1950), reached the same result.

To support his claim that the court below erred, plaintiff relies on Moore v. Illinois Central R. Co. , above; Schlenk v. Lehigh Valley Railroad Co. , 1 N.J. 131 (December 6, 1948), and Coyle v. Erie Railroad Company , 1 N.J. 350 (January 24, 1949).

In the Moore case, the United States Supreme Court held that the lower court had jurisdiction of an action at law by a discharged employee of a railroad company in which he sought damages for his wrongful discharge. In answer to the argument that Moore's suit was prematurely brought because of his failure to exhaust the administrative remedies granted him by the Railway Labor Act, the court said: "But we find nothing in that Act which purports to take away from the courts the jurisdiction to determine a controversy ...


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