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BROTHERHOOD RAILROAD TRAINMEN v. VIRGINIA EX REL. VIRGINIA STATE BAR

decided: April 20, 1964.

BROTHERHOOD OF RAILROAD TRAINMEN
v.
VIRGINIA EX REL. VIRGINIA STATE BAR



CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF THE APPEALS OF VIRGINIA.

Warren, Black, Douglas, Clark, Harlan, Brennan, White, Goldberg; Stewart took no part in the disposition of this case.

Author: Black

[ 377 U.S. Page 1]

 MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Virginia State Bar brought this suit in the Chancery Court of the City of Richmond, Virginia,

[ 377 U.S. Page 2]

     against the Brotherhood of Railroad Trainmen, an investigator employed by the Brotherhood, and an attorney designated its "Regional Counsel," to enjoin them from carrying on activities which, the Bar charged, constituted the solicitation of legal business and the unauthorized practice of law in Virginia.*fn1 It was conceded that in order to assist the prosecution of claims by injured railroad workers or by the families of workers killed on the job the Brotherhood maintains in Virginia and throughout the country a Department of Legal Counsel which recommends to Brotherhood members and their families the names of lawyers whom the Brotherhood believes to be honest and competent. Finding that the Brotherhood's plan resulted in "channeling all, or substantially all," the workers' claims to lawyers chosen by the Department of Legal Counsel, the court issued an injunction against the Brotherhood's carrying out its plan in Virginia. The Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia affirmed summarily over objections that the injunction abridges the Brotherhood's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, which guarantee freedom of speech, petition and assembly. We granted certiorari to consider this constitutional question in the light of our recent decision in NAACP v. Button, 371 U.S. 415.*fn2 372 U.S. 905.

The Brotherhood's plan is not a new one. Its roots go back to 1883, when the Brotherhood was founded as a fraternal and mutual benefit society to promote the welfare of the trainmen and "to protect their families by the exercise of benevolence, very needful in a calling so

[ 377 U.S. Page 3]

     hazardous as ours . . . ."*fn3 Railroad work at that time was indeed dangerous. In 1888 the odds against a railroad brakeman's dying a natural death were almost four to one;*fn4 the average life expectancy of a switchman in 1893 was seven years.*fn5 It was quite natural, therefore, that railroad workers combined their strength and efforts in the Brotherhood in order to provide insurance and financial assistance to sick and injured members and to seek safer working conditions. The Trainmen and other railroad Brotherhoods were the moving forces that brought about the passage of the Safety Appliance Act*fn6 in 1893 to make railroad work less dangerous; they also supported passage of the Federal Employers' Liability Act*fn7 of 1908 to provide for recovery of damages for injured railroad workers and their families by doing away with harsh and technical common-law rules which sometimes made recovery difficult or even impossible. It soon became apparent to the railroad workers, however, that simply having these federal statutes on the books was not enough to assure that the workers would receive the full benefit of the compensatory damages Congress intended they should have. Injured workers or their families often fell prey on the one hand to persuasive claims adjusters eager to gain a quick and cheap settlement

[ 377 U.S. Page 4]

     for their railroad employers, or on the other to lawyers either not competent to try these lawsuits against the able and experienced railroad counsel or too willing to settle a case for a quick dollar.

It was to protect against these obvious hazards to the injured man or his widow that the workers through their Brotherhood set up their Legal Aid Department, since renamed Department of Legal Counsel, the basic activities of which the court below has enjoined. Under their plan the United States was divided into sixteen regions and the Brotherhood selected, on the advice of local lawyers and federal and state judges, a lawyer or firm in each region with a reputation for honesty and skill in representing plaintiffs in railroad personal injury litigation. When a worker was injured or killed, the secretary of his local lodge would go to him or to his widow or children and recommend that the claim not be settled without first seeing a lawyer, and that in the Brotherhood's judgment the best lawyer to consult was the counsel selected by it for that area.*fn8

There is a dispute between the parties as to the exact meaning of the decree rendered below, but the Brotherhood in this Court objects ...


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