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Brunt v. Service Employees International Union

March 21, 2002

LYNE BRUNT, DAVID WADINSKI AND JOHN WITTENBERG, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, CROSS-APPELLEES,
v.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION AND DAN IVERSON, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, CROSS-APPELLANTS.



Appeals from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin. No. 00-C-317--Lynn Adelman, Judge.

Before Bauer, Rovner and Williams, Circuit Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bauer, Circuit Judge.

Argued January 16, 2002

Appellants Lyne Brunt, David Wadinski and John Wittenberg filed suit against Service Employees International Union and Union President Dan Iverson, complaining of violations of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) and state law because Iverson terminated Appellants' employment when they refused to support Iverson's re-election as union president. The district court granted the Union's Rule 12(c) motion to dismiss the case and denied Appellants' motion for leave to amend their complaint. The district court also denied the Union's motion for Rule 11 sanctions against Appellants' counsel. Both parties now appeal the district court's rulings. For the following reasons, we affirm the decisions of the district court.

BACKGROUND

Brunt, Wadinski and Wittenberg were full-time members of the Union. They were also employed by the Union as union representatives and their responsibilities included settling and arbitrating grievances, negotiating labor agreements and representing the Union in organization campaigns. In addition, in late 1997, Brunt was promoted to assistant to the union president. In this capacity, her additional duties included assisting other union representatives in bargaining, as well as overseeing troubled facilities. Brunt, Wadinski and Wittenberg each paid their union dues and as a result, they were entitled to the full benefits of union protection regarding the terms and conditions of their employment.

In the spring of 1998, Union President Dan Iverson ran for re-election. Iverson told union members that anyone who ran against him in the presidential election would be fired. Wadinski ran against Iverson in the election. Wittenberg refused to support Iverson and instead, openly supported Wadinski. Iverson asked Brunt for her support, but she refused. Instead, Brunt informed Iverson that she intended to remain "neutral" in the election. Iverson responded that Brunt's "neutral" stance was a dangerous position that could have "possible repercussions" for her future career.

In May of 1998, the union membership re-elected Iverson as Union President. Wadinski and Wittenberg were discharged at Iverson's direction on June 29, 1998 because they had challenged him in the presidential election. Brunt was discharged on August 21, 1998 because of her decision to remain neutral in the election. Appellants' request for a grievance hearing from the Union was denied.

On March 2, 2000, Brunt filed a complaint in federal court, charging the Union and Iverson with violating Title I of LMRDA. The complaint asserted that Brunt was terminated from her position as an appointed union representative for exercising her rights to free speech and that this discipline resulted in the termination of her rights and status as a union member. In June, Brunt amended her complaint, adding Wadinski and Wittenberg as plaintiffs.

On April 18, 2001, the district court granted the Union's Rule 12(c) motion to dismiss Appellants' complaint. The court found that the instant case was indistinguishable from Finnegan v. Leu, 456 U.S. 431 (1982), in which the United States Supreme Court held that LMRDA does not restrict the power of a union president to hire his or her own staff. The district court also denied Appellants' motion for leave to amend their complaint to add an additional LMRDA violation.

On April 30, 2001, the Union moved for reasonable attorney's fees and costs incurred in defending this litigation on the grounds that the Appellants' claims were not warranted by either existing law or a non-frivolous argument for the extension of existing law. The district court denied the motion. This appeal and cross-appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

A. Dismissal of Appellants' Complaint

Appellants first argue that the district court erred in granting the Union's Rule 12(c) motion to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that Finnegan barred their claim. Under Rule 12(c), a party can move for judgment on the pleadings after the filing of both the complaint and answer. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). A court will grant a Rule 12(c) motion only when it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff cannot prove any facts to support a claim for relief and the moving party demonstrates that there are no material issues of fact to be resolved. N. Indiana Gun & ...


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