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MAXWELL v. UNITED AUTO. AEROSPACE & AGR.

May 1, 1980

HUBERT MAXWELL, HAROLD COLE, DWAINE SLYE, WILLIAM DITCH, DONALD RENNER, JAMES FOILES, ERICK NIEBISCH, RALPH VANNESTE, EDWARD WIERENGA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE & AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS(UAW), LOCAL NO. 1306, AND TERRANCE J. HAMILTON, PETER S. SIERRA, OF AMERICA ANTHONY DESMET, JOSEPH NUSSBERGER, DAVID GAUL, BUD W. RANSDELL, ALBERT GRUBER, GENE TAWNEY, FRANK SCHIBILLA, AND DON HAKEMAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert D. Morgan, Chief Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

In this action nine members of Local 1306 of the United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW) are seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages, from UAW Local 1306 and ten individuals who are members or member-officials of the Local. All plaintiffs and defendants have moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56, F.R.Civ.P. While plaintiffs do not ask for summary judgment on the matter of damages, based on this court's view that there exists no genuine issue as to any material fact, the entire case may be, and is, resolved through these motions.

FACTS

In October 1978, ten members of Local 1306 (the nine current plaintiffs and an additional former plaintiff who has dismissed his complaint as to all defendants) authored a letter*fn1 which expressed "concern over the implementation of the contract in relation to walk outs and wildcat strikes." Specifically, the letter is critical of the fact that no disciplinary action was taken by anybody against individuals involved in the walkouts and wildcat strikes. The letter states that this lack of discipline has resulted in dissension between employees who have worked and those who have walked out. The letter is addressed to and was sent to the president of International Harvester Co., the employer of the members of Local 1306. The ten individuals all signed their names to the letter.

Subsequently, other members of Local 1306 became aware of the letter and the identities of the ten members who had signed it. Around November 10, 1978, plaintiffs received notice that charges of conduct unbecoming a union member were being brought against them. Defendants admit that the letter was the basis for these charges. On December 19, 1978, a proceeding was held before the trial committee of Local 1306. The trial committee consisted of defendants DeSmet, Nussberger, Gaul, Ransdell, and Gruber. The manner in which the trial committee was selected and the procedure it followed were established by the UAW International and Local constitutions. Five of the current plaintiffs were present for this proceeding, where defendants Tawney, Schibilla, and Hakeman, members of Local 1306, testified that plaintiffs' letter was against the UAW International and Local constitutions and damaging to members of the union. Defendants Hamilton and Sierra are, respectively, the president and recording secretary of Local 1306.

On January 18, 1979, plaintiffs were notified that the trial committee had found them guilty of violating the UAW Ethical Practices Code and would recommend $100 fines at the Local's next membership meeting, and that failure to pay the fines would result in plaintiffs' expulsion from the union. Without any of the plaintiffs appearing at the Local membership meeting on January 27, 1979, the recommendation of the trial committee was approved and adopted. Plaintiffs, under protest, tendered their $100 fines to the Local on February 27, 1979. Plaintiffs allege that, in accord with the International's constitution, they appealed within the Local on February 21, 1979. No action was taken by the Local pursuant to this appeal and the Local claims that no appeal was in fact taken.

In April 1979 plaintiffs then attempted to appeal directly to the International, as provided for in the International's constitution. The International has stated, in letters dated May 11, 1979, June 22, 1979, and October 17, 1979, that an appeal to it is not perfected and cannot be handled unless and until the appealing party furnishes his home address to the International as part of his appeal. Plaintiffs have appealed through their attorneys and have refused to furnish their home addresses to the International. Consequently, no action has been taken by the International in resolution of plaintiffs' appeal. The International states that plaintiffs' failure to furnish their home addresses is the sole reason for this inaction. On July 2, 1979, plaintiffs filed their complaint challenging the disciplinary action taken against them.

STATUTE

This complaint was brought under provisions of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. § 411, 412, and 529. §§ 411 and 412 appear in subchapter II of the LMRDA, which is titled the Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations. § 411 enumerates specific rights which every member of any labor organization shall have, including the rights to meet and assemble freely with other members and to express any views, arguments, or opinions. 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(2). § 412 provides for a civil action in federal court by any person whose Bill of Rights of union membership has been infringed. § 529 expressly prohibits disciplinary action against union members for exercising any right provided for in the LMRDA. The jurisdictional provisions of § 412 are expressly made applicable to § 529.

The intent of Congress in establishing the Bill of Rights of union members was to protect such members in their relationships with their union. The statute attempts to insure procedural due process to members subjected to union discipline and generally provides for democratic processes in the conduct of union affairs. NLRB v. Allis-Chalmers Mfg. Co., 388 U.S. 175, 194, 87 S.Ct. 2001, 2013, 18 L.Ed.2d 1123 (1967). However, it was not the intent of Congress, in passing the LMRDA, to either weaken unions as collective bargaining agents or unduly interfere in internal union affairs. Wirtz v. Bottle Blowers Assn., 389 U.S. 463, 470, 88 S.Ct. 643, 647, 19 L.Ed.2d 705 (1968).

EXHAUSTION

Defendants assert that the court lacks jurisdiction over this case by reason of plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their intra-union remedies. § 411(a)(4), dealing with the protection of the right of union members to sue, contains a proviso requiring exhaustion of intra-union remedies before an action is brought against the union or its officers. Express limitations on this exhaustion requirement are that it only applies to reasonable hearing procedures that do not exceed four months in duration. Defendants argue that plaintiffs have failed to appeal the decision of the Local to the International in accord with the procedures in the UAW constitution. The dispute in this regard concerns plaintiffs' refusal to supply their home addresses to the International and the International's refusal to process the appeal until the home addresses are furnished.

The exhaustion requirement of § 411(a)(4) was considered at length by the Second Circuit in 1961, after the passage of the LMRDA in 1959. Detroy v. American Guild of Variety Artists, 286 F.2d 75 (2d Cir. 1961), cert. denied, 366 U.S. 929, 81 S.Ct. 1650, 6 L.Ed.2d 388 (1961). From the recent legislative history, the court in Detroy determined that the inclusion of the exhaustion requirement in § 411 was intended "to preserve the exhaustion doctrine as it had developed and would continue to develop in the courts," 286 F.2d at 78. Relying on existing exhaustion principles, the Detroy court held that after the institution of an action in the courts, it is discretionary with the court whether or not to require exhaustion of intra-union remedies. This interpretation reflects the plain meaning of the words of the statute, i.e., "may be required to exhaust." Other courts that have reached the issue have adopted this view as to the discretionary nature of § 411(a)(4) exhaustion. Buzzard v. Local Lodge 1040, 480 F.2d 35, 41 (9th Cir. 1973); Semancik v. United Mine Workers, 466 F.2d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 1972); Fulton Lodge No. 2 v. Nix, 415 F.2d 212, 216 (5th Cir. 1969); Simmons v. Avisco, 350 F.2d 1012, 1016 (4th Cir. 1965); NLRB v. Marine Workers, 391 U.S. 418, 426, 88 S.Ct. 1717, 1722, 20 L.Ed.2d 706 (dicta) (1968).

In determining the propriety of exercising its discretion to not require exhaustion, courts should consider each case on its own facts, Detroy, supra, and in light of the policies underlying the exhaustion doctrine. The relevant policies were stated in Detroy:

    "The Congressionally approved policy of first
  permitting unions to correct their own wrongs is
  rooted in the desire to stimulate labor
  organizations to take the initiative and
  independently to establish honest and democratic
  procedures. Other policies, as well, underlie the
  exhaustion rule. The possibility that corrective
  action within the union will render a member's
  complaint moot suggests that, in the interest of
  conserving judicial resources, no court step in
  before the union is given its opportunity.
  Moreover, courts may find valuable the assistance
  provided by prior consideration of the issues by
  appellate union tribunals." (citations omitted)
  286 F.2d at 79.

Considering these policies, common law exhaustion principles, and the factual circumstances of a particular case, courts have developed exceptions to the exhaustion requirement.

Plaintiffs assert that the exception for void disciplinary proceedings applies to the facts here. This voidness exception arises when "the disciplinary action taken by the union against a member was indisputably illegal or void." Keeffe Bros. v. Teamsters Local 592, 562 F.2d 298, 303 (4th cir. 1977); Simmons v. Avisco, supra at 1016; Libutti v. DiBrizzi, 337 F.2d 216, 219 (2d Cir. 1964); Caravan v. Typographical Union 36, 381 F. Supp. 14 (E.D.Pa. 1974); Eisman v. Clothing Workers, 352 F. Supp. 429 (D.Md. 1972).*fn2 The meaning of the term void in this context was addressed in Libutti, supra:

    "Voidness is an elastic concept. Because it is
  tied up with the merits of the claim, its
  indiscriminate application could reduce the
  exhaustion requirement to the tautology that a
  plaintiff can find present relief in the courts
  only if his claim has legal merit. That this is a
  danger, however, does not mean that it is an
  inevitable result of applying the exception. When
  conceded or easily determined facts show a
  serious violation of the plaintiff's rights, the
  reasons for requiring exhaustion are absent: the
  commitment of judicial resources is not great;
  the risk of misconstruing procedures unfamiliar
  to the court is slight; a sufficient remedy given
  by the union tribunal would have to approximate
  that offered by the court. ...

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