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U.S. Supreme Court Sides With Plaintiffs In Tort Preemption Dispute

June 16, 2023

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The United States Supreme Court released a highly anticipated decision regarding the rights of workers weighed against the power of pre-emption in <em><a href="">Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 174</a>.</em> In an 8-1 ruling, the Court held that the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) did not preempt plaintiff Glacier’s tort claims alleging that the defendant Union intentionally destroyed the company’s property during a labor dispute.

Glacier is a concrete delivery service which uses ready-mix trucks with rotating drums that prevent concrete from hardening during transportation. Following a labor dispute and subsequent collective bargaining agreement between Glacier and its union-member employees, the Teamsters Union called for a work stoppage the morning that Glacier was set to deliver mixed concrete. This caused the concrete to harden and damaged Glacier’s trucks.

Glacier sued the Union in state court, arguing that it was liable for intentionally destroying the trucks and concrete. The Union moved to dismiss on the basis that the NLRA, legislation creating the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) to protect the rights of employees to self-organize, join, or assist unions, preempted Glacier’s tort claims.

The Supreme Court majority disagreed, observing that “the right to strike is not absolute” and holding that the NLRA does not protect the conduct of union members who fail to take “reasonable precautions” to protect their employer’s property from harm. The Court found that preemption was not available to the Union because the intentional harm to Glacier’s concrete was both foreseeable and serious. In her dissent, Justice Jackson opined that the majority erred because courts should not hear matters simultaneously pending before the NLRB.

The Supreme Court’s decision could have a significant impact on both the rights of employees and the adjudication of preemption defenses to state tort claims. While the decision is fact-specific, it could limit the scope and applicability of federal pre-emption in different contexts.

Thank you to Nicholas Ozorowski for his contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.

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