BE&K Constr. Co. v. NLRB, 536 U.S. 516, 3 (2002)

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  Next

518

BE&K CONSTR. CO. v. NLRB

Syllabus

different and additional to any burden imposed by other penalties. Having identified this burden, the Court must examine the petitioning activity it affects. The Bill Johnson's Court said that the Board could enjoin baseless retaliatory suits because they fell outside the First Amendment and thus were analogous to "false statements." 461 U. S., at 743. At issue here, however, is a class of reasonably based but unsuccessful lawsuits. Whether this class falls outside the Petition Clause at least presents a difficult constitutional question, given the following considerations. First, even though all lawsuits in this class are unsuccessful, the class includes suits involving genuine grievances because genuineness does not turn on whether the grievance succeeds. Second, even unsuccessful but reasonably based suits advance some First Amendment interests. Finally, the analogy of baseless suits to false statements does not directly extend to suits that are unsuccessful but reasonably based. Because the Board confines its penalties to unsuccessful suits brought with a retaliatory motive, this Court must also consider the significance of that particular limitation, which is fairly included within the question presented. Pp. 528-533.

(c) The Board's definition of a retaliatory suit as one brought with a motive to interfere with the exercise of protected NLRA 7 rights covers a substantial amount of genuine petitioning. For example, an employer's suit to stop what the employer reasonably believes is illegal union conduct may interfere with or deter some employees' exercise of NLRA rights. But if the employer's motive still reflects a subjectively genuine desire to test the conduct's legality, then declaring the suit illegal affects genuine petitioning. The Board also claims to rely on evidence of antiunion animus to infer retaliatory motive. Yet ill will is not uncommon in litigation, and this Court, in other First Amendment contexts, has found it problematic to regulate some demonstrably false expression based on the presence of ill will. Thus, the difficult constitutional question is not made significantly easier by the Board's retaliatory motive limitation. The final question is whether in light of the NLRA's important goals, the Board may nevertheless burden an unsuccessful but reasonably based suit that was brought with a retaliatory purpose. While the speech burdens are different here than in the antitrust context, the Court is still faced with the difficult constitutional question whether a class of petitioning may be declared unlawful when a substantial portion is subjectively and objectively genuine. This Court avoided a similarly difficult First Amendment issue in Edward J. DeBartolo Corp. v. Florida Gulf Coast Building & Constr. Trades Council, 485 U. S. 568, 575, by adopting a limiting construction of the relevant NLRA provision. Section 158(a)(1)'s prohibition on interfering, restraining, or coercing is facially as broad as the prohibition in DeBartolo, and it need

Page:   Index   Previous  1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15  Next

Last modified: October 4, 2007