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TALTON v. BEHNCKE

June 25, 1952

TALTON ET AL.
v.
BEHNCKE.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LA Buy, District Judge.

J.P. Talton and seven others, individually and as members of the Executive Board and of the Board of Directors of Alpa, a labor union, and on behalf of all members of the union, filed their complaint seeking to restrain the defendant, David L. Behncke, from exercising the office of president of Alpa and interfering with Alpa's business personnel. The complaint prays that the defendant be directed to release all funds and property of Alpa under his control and deliver possession of the president's office and Alpa records to Clarence N. Sayen, alleged to be the president of Alpa, for damages against the defendant for allegedly spending monies in excess of that allocated by Alpa's directors or Executive Board members in the construction of Alpa's headquarters, and for resultant damages from the defendant holding himself out as the president of Alpa.

The defendant answers and counterclaims alleging he was elected president of Alpa for the current term expiring January 1, 1953; that the plaintiffs and others have conspired to remove him from office and pursuant thereto held an illegal meeting on July 16-17, 1951 purporting to amend the constitution and by-laws of Alpa so as to shift the power of recalling the president from the membership to the board of directors; that the meeting was illegally convened and the amendment was illegally adopted; that he was illegally recalled from the office of president July 16, 1951; that Clarence Sayen was illegally declared to be president for the unexpired term caused by such recall; that the defendant was divested of his right to the office without notice, trial or hearing and that he still is the duly elected and acting president of Alpa. Defendant denies that in supervising the building of Alpa's headquarters he exceeded his authority by spending money in excess of that allocated for that purpose. He alleges that he made periodic reports to the Executive Board, the board of directors and the members of Alpa who confirmed his action. He asserts that since he is president of Alpa he could not be held responsive to damages for exercising that office; that Sayen is an interloper and he prays an injunction against the plaintiffs to restrain them from interfering with his execution of the office of president and asks for damages resulting from their interference with his duties.

Both parties applied to the court for a temporary restraining order. In view of the conflicting allegations contained in the pleadings, the court held that no temporary injunction should issue and a supervisor of the assets and affairs of Alpa was appointed. All motions for temporary and permanent relief and all actions and counterclaims were consolidated for hearing and referred to a master in chancery to take the proofs and report his findings of fact and conclusions of law to the court. The master has filed his report and both plaintiffs and defendant have filed objections thereto.

Alpa is an unincorporated voluntary association, commonly known as a trade union, having more than 6,000 members who are employed by forty or more major airlines in the United States with whom Alpa has collective bargaining agreements. Alpa has a constitution and by-laws which have been introduced in evidence.

At a board of directors meeting on July 16, 1951, Section 10, Article VIII of the by-laws were amended vesting in the board of directors the power to recall the president. The president was thereupon removed by the board of directors at said meeting and Sayen was appointed president on the same day. The defendant contends that the amendment is invalid and that the president can only be recalled by a petition signed by thirty percent of all the members of Alpa and concurred in by a vote of two-thirds of all Alpa members. The plaintiffs concede that if such amendment was illegally adopted, then their action for injunctive relief must fail.

This case presents a number of important questions of law involving labor unions. One of the principal contentions of the defendant is that the procedure followed by the board of directors in attempting to remove him from the office of president violated due process of law and was contrary to natural justice.

It is inherent in the judicial process of our system of government, applicable as well to labor unions, that every man is entitled to notice, to a specification of charges against him, to confront witnesses against him, and to be given an opportunity to be heard in his own defense. These same principles apply to officers who are elected for a definite term in labor unions, and are clearly defined in "The Law of Labor Unions", Dangel & Schriber, at page 229:

    "Officers who have been elected for a definite
  term, on the other hand, may not be suspended or
  removed from office without notice of the charges and
  an opportunity to reply, and without cause."

In National City Bank v. Union, D.C. Puerto Rico 1949, 83 F. Supp. 235, 238, 239, an interpleader was filed wherein the National City Bank of New York sought a judicial determination of ownership to certain funds deposited in their bank by the union. Two union groups claimed ownership. The group known as the independent group held a meeting and elected a new provisional board of directors. The new board took office immediately and voted to separate from the old union. The court declared the election of the new board of directors void and held as follows:

    "(d) no charges were over preferred against the
  President and Officers of the C.G.T. Union and no
  hearings were ever had for the purpose of ousting the
  old officials".

In this same opinion the court quoted with approval from State ex rel. Welch v. Passaic Hospital Ass'n, 59 N.J.L. 142, 36 A. 702, which involved expulsion of a member of the board of governors without a hearing when the constitution required an inquiry to be held before such action could be taken, as follows:

    "* * * Of course, in the case at bar, the by-laws
  have no provision with respect to removal of
  officers. But in the Welch case, the New Jersey court
  after stating the above principle, continues and lays
  down the following general principle, applicable to
  the case at bar: `But if the constitution and by-laws
  were silent upon this subject, and did not provide
  for an inquiry and determination, still these
  elements of

  judicial action would be absolutely necessary. He
  must have had notice, and must have been given an
  opportunity to be heard upon charges or complaint
  presented against him.' * * *"

It appears clear that even if the constitution and by-laws are silent in respect to the removal of officers that no officer may be removed without notice and an opportunity to be heard.

In Bricklayers etc. v. Bowen, Sup., 183 N.Y.S. 855, 859, this principle is reaffirmed:

    "* * * the law is vigilant to prevent a violation
  of the constitution and by-laws of the association
  involved, and to see to it that suspension or
  expulsion is only had after fair notice to the
  offending member and full opportunity to be heard in
  his own behalf. In other words, the law insures to
  every member of such an association a fair trial, not
  only in accordance with the constitution and by-laws
  of the association, but also with the demands of fair
  play, which in the final analysis is the spirit of
  the law of the land."

In Bentley v. Hurley, 1927, 222 Mo.App. 51, 299 S.W. 604, 606, it is stated:

    "Defendant had no notice that any action seeking to
  declare her office vacant was to be taken at this
  meeting and she was not present. There were no
  charges and no trial."

Further, in Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee v. McGrath, 1951, 341 U.S. 123, at page 170, 71 S.Ct. 624, at page 647, 95 L.Ed. 817, Mr. Justice Frankfurter in speaking of the due process required in civil proceedings stated:

    "The heart of the matter is that democracy implies
  respect for the elementary rights of men, however
  suspect or unworthy; a democratic government
  therefore must practice fairness; and fairness can
  rarely be obtained by ...

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