Winter,*fn* Aldisert and Gibbons, Circuit Judges.
At issue here is the propriety of a preliminary injunction entered by the district court enjoining appellants from "picketing or patrolling highways for the purpose of interfering with, or obstructing or delaying any equipment belonging to the [appellees] or their customers, or those serving either the [appellees] or their customers."
The individual appellants are owners of specially equipped tractor-trailers commonly referred to as steel hauling rigs. The organizational appellants, generally known as the Fraternal Association of Steel Haulers (FASH), are associations whose members are owners and drivers of the rigs. Some owners drive their own equipment; others, called fleet owners, do not. The owners-operators and fleet owners lease their equipment and furnish drivers to the common carriers of steel products who are certified by federal or state regulatory bodies, and for this service they receive a percentage of the gross revenue of the carrier.*fn1
Appellees are steel manufacturers who engage the certified carriers for the transportation of their products. The freight rates they pay are based on published tariffs approved by the Interstate Commerce Commission or, in the case of intrastate operations, by appropriate state regulatory agencies.
The confrontation between the parties was precipitated in April, 1970, when members of FASH decided to withdraw their rigs from service to the carriers. In addition, FASH members sought by concerted action to dissuade other truckers from supplying service to and from appellees' mills and plants. FASH contended that the withdrawal of services resulted from its disaffection with the Teamsters Union which had represented a majority of its members in past negotiations with the carriers. Appellees, however, insist that FASH's actions were designed to force the steel producers to pay higher tariffs to the carriers, thus increasing the proportionate share of FASH members.
Following the withdrawal of rigs in April, 1970, FASH established marshalling areas throughout Western Pennsylvania where other steel haulers were invited by FASH members to pull off the highway and participate in discussions. In many instances, these invitations resulted in shootings, arson, rock throwing, tire slashing, and other assorted acts of wanton vandalism.
This then was the background that precipitated the filing of the complaint for injunctive relief. The companies charged that the individual appellants and FASH combined and conspired to restrain interstate commerce in violation of Sections 1 and 2 of the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1 and 2 and Sections 4, 12 and 16 of the Clayton Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 15, 22 and 26. In opposing the request for the injunction, appellants argued that they are trade unionists and, accordingly, come within the anti-injunction protection of § 13(c) of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, 29 U.S.C.A. § 113(c).
The testimony disclosed a concerted and successful effort to withdraw services from appellees, an effort etched in violence. A Pennsylvania state police lieutenant testified that from April 6 to the day of his testimony, May 4, 1970, there were 566 reported incidents of trucking violence in Western Pennsylvania. From its review of the testimony, the district court concluded that FASH members were substantially responsible for this violence.
The district court further found that the individual appellants, as owners of their own rigs and fleets, were businessmen*fn2 who, through the concerted action of FASH and its related organizations, had illegally interfered with and disrupted the free flow of commerce and constituted an unlawful restraint of trade in violation of the Sherman and Clayton Acts. In so concluding, the court rejected appellants' primary contention that they are a labor organization exempt from the anti-trust laws and within the Norris-LaGuardia anti-injunction umbrella. On this issue this appeal must turn, for appellants concede, as they must, that their activities directed against the steel companies can only be validated if viewed as a legitimate exercise of labor's acknowledged right to withhold its services. There can be no doubt that the activities described herein -- a boycott designed to interfere with the free play of market forces -- would be an illegal restraint of trade if engaged in by non-labor groups. United States v. Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., 310 U.S. 150, 84 L. Ed. 1129, 60 S. Ct. 811 (1940); Klor's, Inc. v. Broadway-Hale Stores, Inc., 359 U.S. 207, 3 L. Ed. 2d 741, 79 S. Ct. 705 (1959). Thus, if the district court was justified in concluding that appellants are not a labor group, the issuance of a preliminary injunction must be affirmed.
Moreover, it is essential to emphasize that this appeal involves only a review of a preliminary determination by the district court, dictated by the trial judge's finding that appellees established a reasonable probability of success at final hearing coupled with a demonstration of irreparable harm absent preliminary relief. We stress the preliminary nature of these findings because we detect a tendency on the part of appellants to add to these proceedings an aura of finality which simply is not present. This court has consistently confined its review of preliminary injunctions to the narrow question whether the grant or denial of the injunction was an abuse of discretion. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co. v. White Consol. Indus., 414 F.2d 506 (3 Cir. 1969); Bieski v. Eastern Automobile Forwarding Co., 354 F.2d 414 (3 Cir. 1965). As Judge Biggs noted in United States v. Ingersoll-Rand Co., 320 F.2d 509, 523 (3 Cir. 1963):
We start, of course, with the fundamental proposition that the issuance of an interlocutory injunction rests within the sound discretion of the trial court and that its discretion may not be interfered with on appeal unless it has been exercised improvidently.
This limited review is necessitated because the grant or denial of a preliminary injunction is almost always based on an abbreviated set of facts, requiring a delicate balancing of the probabilities of ultimate success at final hearing with the consequences of immediate irreparable injury which could possibly flow from the denial of preliminary relief. Weighing these considerations is the ...