Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 10 (1994)

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Opinion of the Court

on the side of adjudicating state law disputes whenever it is a close call as to whether a claim is preempted." Id., at 560.10 We granted certiorari, 510 U. S. 1083 (1994), to address the important questions of federal labor law implicated by the Commissioner's policy, and we now reverse.



A state rule predicating benefits on refraining from conduct protected by federal labor law poses special dangers of interference with congressional purpose. In Nash v. Florida Industrial Comm'n, 389 U. S. 235 (1967), a unanimous Court held that a state policy of withholding unemployment benefits solely because an employee had filed an unfair labor practice charge with the National Labor Relations Board had a "direct tendency to frustrate the purpose of Congress" and, if not pre-empted, would "defeat or handicap a valid national objective by . . . withdraw[ing] state benefits . . . simply because" an employee engages in conduct protected

10 In dissent, Judge Kozinski countered that by focusing on whether Livadas was entitled to a correct application of state law, the majority had explored the wrong question. The proper enquiry, the dissent maintained, was not whether the Commissioner has discretion under state law not to enforce wage and penalty claims (which she plainly does) or whether she need enforce claims if doing so would actually be pre-empted by federal law (she plainly need not), but whether she may draw the line for enforcement purposes between individuals covered by collective-bargaining agreements containing arbitration clauses (whose claims will sometimes but not always be pre-empted under 301) and those not so covered. Underscoring that Livadas's claim would not, in fact, have been pre-empted had the federal rule been given its proper scope, the dissent found wanting the majority's "quasi-pre-emption" rationale, 987 F. 2d, at 562. Judge Kozinski concluded that the Commissioner's policy, based on an "honest (though flagrant) mistake of law," id., at 563, could not be squared with the requirements of federal labor law, because the burdened class was defined by the exercise of federal rights and because the burden on collective-bargaining rights, justified only by a mistaken understanding of what 301 requires, served no "legitimate state purpose" at all. Ibid.

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