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DENVER & RIO GRANDE WESTERN RAILROAD CO. v. BROTHERHOOD RAILROAD TRAINMEN ET AL.

decided: June 5, 1967.

DENVER & RIO GRANDE WESTERN RAILROAD CO
v.
BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD TRAINMEN ET AL.



CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE TENTH CIRCUIT.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, Stewart, White, Fortas

Author: White

[ 387 U.S. Page 557]

 MR. JUSTICE WHITE delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question here concerns the proper venue for a suit against a labor union, an unincorporated association, under 28 U. S. C. § 1391 (b), which at the time this action was brought read as follows: "A civil action wherein jurisdiction is not founded solely on diversity of citizenship may be brought only in the judicial district where all defendants reside, except as otherwise provided by law."

In December 1959 and January 1960, the National Railroad Adjustment Board issued monetary awards in favor of certain members of respondent union on their claims for breach of collective bargaining contracts between the union and petitioner, the Denver & Rio Grande Western Railroad Company. The railroad refused to honor the awards, the union struck to enforce them and the strike was permanently enjoined by the District Court. 185 F.Supp. 369, aff'd, 290 F.2d 266, cert. denied, 366 U.S. 966. The railroad then sued the union for damages in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, also joining as defendants R. E. Carroll, chairman of the union's General Grievance Committee on the property of petitioner, and the chairmen of various local lodges of the union. The complaint alleged that the defendants had breached their duties under the Railway Labor Act, 44 Stat. 577, as amended, 45 U. S. C. § 151 et seq. The District Court overruled

[ 387 U.S. Page 558]

     the union's motion to dismiss for improper venue, held the strike illegal because the union had failed to exhaust its statutory remedies to enforce the Adjustment Board awards, and awarded damages based on the railroad's loss of traffic caused by the illegal strike. The judgment ran against both the union and Carroll, the case against the other defendants being dismissed for failure of proof. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the union could be sued under § 1391 (b) only in the district of its residence and that its residence was not in Colorado.*fn1 Because of the seeming conflict with Rutland R. Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Eng'rs, 307 F.2d 21, we granted certiorari. 385 U.S. 1000. We reverse.

Section 1391 (b) is the general venue statute governing transitory causes of action in the federal courts where jurisdiction does not depend wholly on diversity of citizenship. Following its amendment in 1966, 80 Stat. 1111, the section permits suit either in the district where all of the defendants reside or in the district where the claim arose. At the time this suit was brought, however, venue lay only at the defendant's residence, as had been the case since 1887. 24 Stat. 552, as corrected by 25 Stat. 433 (1888). Thus for almost 80 years proper venue in federal-question cases was limited to the district of the defendant's residence, whether the defendant was an individual, a corporation, or an unincorporated association such as this respondent. During all of this time, down to and including the 1966 amendment, Congress has not expressly defined the residence of an unincorporated association for purposes of the general venue statute. The same was true with respect to corporations until 1948

[ 387 U.S. Page 559]

     when Congress directed that a corporation could be sued in the judicial district "in which it is incorporated or licensed to do business or is doing business, and such judicial district shall be regarded as the residence of such corporation for venue purposes." 28 U. S. C. § 1391 (c). Congress has maintained its silence, however, with respect to the residence of the unincorporated association. The resolution of that issue, as was true for the corporation prior to 1948, has been left to the courts. The issue is now here for the first time.

Of course, venue for a suit against an unincorporated association becomes important only if the association is itself suable. At common law, such an association could be sued only in the names of its members and liability had to be enforced against each member. This principle was rejected in United Mine Workers v. Coronado Co., 259 U.S. 344, where this Court, recognizing the growth and pervasive influence of labor organizations and noting that the suability of trade unions "is of primary importance in the working out of justice and in protecting individuals and society . . . ," 259 U.S., at 390, held that such organizations were suable in the federal courts and that funds accumulated by them were subject to execution in suits for torts committed during strikes. The Coronado holding is now reflected in Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 17 (b).

The Coronado case dealt with capacity to be sued, not with venue, but it did legitimate suing the unincorporated association as an entity. Although that entity has no citizenship independent of its members for purposes of diversity jurisdiction, Steelworkers v. Bouligny, Inc., 382 U.S. 145, a case relied upon by the Court of Appeals here, we think that the question of the proper venue for such a defendant, like the question of capacity, should be determined by looking to the residence of the association itself rather than that of its individual members.

[ 387 U.S. Page 560]

     Otherwise, § 1391 (b) would seem to require either holding the association not suable at all where its members are residents of different States, or holding that the association "resides" in any State in which any of its members resides. The first alternative seems wholly at odds with Coronado and in addition removes federal-question litigation from the federal courts unnecessarily; the second is patently unfair to the association when it is remembered that venue is primarily a matter of convenience of litigants and witnesses. H. R. Rep. No. 1893, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., p. 2. Of course, having concluded that the unincorporated association should be viewed as an entity for purposes of residence under § 1391 ...


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