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November 4, 2002


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert W. Gettleman, United States District Judge


Plaintiffs Richard Berg, Sheila Allen and Lloyd Wright, members of Local 743 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (the "Local"), filed a two-count complaint against the Local and its Secretary Treasurer, Diane Strickland. Count I alleges a violation of the union members' equal right to vote as protected by Title I of the Labor and Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA") 29 U.S.C.A. § 101(a)(1). Count II alleges that Strickland breached her fiduciary duty under state law.

All allegations emanate from a union election held in November 2001, in which plaintiff Berg was a candidate for President of the Local. During that election, Berg filed twelve pre-election protests with the local, pursuant to the union's by-laws. After the election, Berg filed a post-election protest with the union. Berg then filed a complaint with the Secretary of Labor, who made a preliminary finding that there were two violations of the LMRDA, but did not make a final determination, and did not pursue legal action against the Local. Plaintiffs then filed this action. Defendants have moved to dismiss, arguing: 1) that both counts of the complaint are preempted by Title IV of the LMRDA, depriving this court of subject matter jurisdiction; and 2) that plaintiffs failed to exhaust internal remedies. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is denied.


Berg was a candidate for president of Local 743 in its election held on November 3, 2001. The election was conducted through ballots that were mailed to the Local's 13, 576 members. Ballots mailed to incorrect addresses were to be returned to one post office box, while ballots returned by voting members went to another post office box. Based on his campaigning experience, Berg alleges that the Local's mailing list had more than 400 incorrect addresses. Each of the three plaintiffs did not receive an initial ballot, and plaintiff Wright never received a replacement ballot. However, there were no returned ballots in the post office box designated for undeliverable mail. Plaintiffs infer that an unauthorized member of the Local took the undelivered ballots from the post office box, and may have fraudulently used the ballots in the election.

Plaintiffs allege that this conduct in the completed fall 2001 election and the continued failure of the union to maintain an updated mailing list, along with the Local's unwillingness to restructure its election process for future elections, has had a chilling effect on future political activities and has deprived some union members of their equal right to vote as protected by "§ 101(a)(1) of Title I of the LMRDA. Plaintiffs further allege that as secretary treasurer, Strickland had a fiduciary duty to the Local's members, and that she breached this duty when she failed to take safeguards to ensure that undelivered ballots could not be fraudulently used.

In their prayer for relief, plaintiffs request: (1) a declaration that their Title I rights were violated in the 2001 election; (2) a declaration that defendants' conduct in the 2001 election had a chilling effect on future political activities; (3) an order compelling defendants to give plaintiffs access to election records; (4) an order requiring defendants to maintain an updated and current membership list and to provide safeguards for future elections; (5) an order requiring Strickland to give a written accounting of what occurred to the ballots in the 2001 election; and (6) attorney fees and court costs.


Defendants have moved to dismiss plaintiffs' claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that both counts of the complaint are preempted by Title IV of the LMRDA. Plaintiffs argue that they have pled a cognizable claim under Title I that is not preempted by Title IV. Disputes often arise in this area because of the overlap between Title I and Title IV of the LMRDA. Local No. 82. Furniture and Piano Moving, Furniture Store Drivers, Helners, Warehousemen and Packers, et al. v. Crowley, 467 U.S. 526, 534 (1984).

Title I grants union members a "Bill of Rights" including equal protection in the union's political processes. 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(1) Id. at 528. The general purpose of Title I's Bill of Rights is to ensure a democratic process within the union. Finnegan v. Leu, 456 U.S. 431, 435 (1982). On the other hand, Title IV specifically governs union elections, and it "provides an elaborate post-election procedure aimed solely at protecting union democracy through free and democratic elections." Crowley, 467 U.S. at 528. Title IV requires elections by secret ballot, requires certain nominating procedures, and regulates various other aspects of elections for union officers. Calhoon v. Harvey, 379 U.S. 134, 140 (1964).

The enforcement measures for a Title I violation are set forth in Section 412 of LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 412. if a union member's equal protection right to participate in the union's political processes is violated, the union member has a private right of action, and a federal district court has jurisdiction to grant an "appropriate remedy". 29 U.S.C. § 412; 29 U.S.C. § 102; Crowley, 467 U.S. at 537.

Under Title IV, however, only the Secretary of Labor may bring a court challenge if the Secretary determines that there has been a violation. 29 U.S.C. § 482. Any union member may initiate the process that results in the Secretary's Title IV court challenge. 29 U.S.C. § 482(a). Importantly, the remedy provided by Title IV "for challenging an election already conducted shall be exclusive." 29 U.S.C. § 483.

Defendants, relying primarily on Crowley, assert that because the basic thrust of plaintiffs' allegations relate to the completed election, the complaint alleges a Title IV claim not within this court's jurisdiction. Plaintiffs, also relying primarily on Crowley, assert that because they request only declaratory and future relief, and do not seek to invalidate the already completed election, they have stated a cognizable Title I claim not preempted by Title IV.

As parties recognize, Crowley is the starting point for any analysis of the overlap of Title I and Title IV. In Crowley, individual union members brought suit arguing that their Title I rights to equal protection were violated by the union when the members were denied admission to a union meeting called to nominate candidates because the members could not produce a computerized receipt showing that their union dues had been paid. The members filed a protested with the union, which was denied. Election ballots were distributed. The members then filed suit in federal district court, after the ballots had been sent, but prior to the last date on which the ballots could be returned for counting. The district court entered a temporary restraining order, halting the election. After lengthy but futile attempts to negotiate a settlement, the district court ultimately held that Title I remedies were not foreclosed when Title I violations occurred during the course of an election, and rejected the union's argument that the members' exclusive ...

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