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Serafinn v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

June 5, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Mark Serafinn ("Plaintiff" or "Serafinn") brought this action under §§ 101(a)(1), (2), (5) and 609 of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (the "LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., against the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local Union No. 722 ("Local 722"); Steven Mongan, the President of Local 722 ("Mongan"); and Joint Council 65 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("the Joint Council" or "JC 65") (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff alleged that intra-union disciplinary charges were brought against him in retaliation for exercising his rights protected under the LMRDA. Plaintiff also alleged that his disciplinary hearing on those charges lacked the procedural safeguards guaranteed by the LMRDA. JC 65 counterclaimed for payment of the fine that it assessed against Plaintiff when it found him guilty of the rules violation alleged in the disciplinary charges.

At summary judgment, this Court dismissed all of Plaintiff's claims against JC 65 and granted JC 65 judgment on its counterclaim. This Court also dismissed Plaintiff's § 101(a)(1) and (a)(5) procedural claims as against all Defendants. This Court, however, found that genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Steven Mongan and Local 722 caused the disciplinary charges to be brought against Plaintiff in retaliation for the exercise of his rights protected in the LMRDA. On November 14, 2006, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff on his retaliation claim against Local 722 and against Plaintiff on his retaliation claim against Steven Mongan. The jury awarded Plaintiff $50,000 in compensatory damages and $55,000 in punitive damages.

The parties have filed several post-trial motions. Plaintiff has filed a Motion for Equitable Relief and Attorneys' Fees wherein the equitable relief he requests is an injunction ordering Local 722 not to engage in any future retaliation and an order reinstating him into the union. Plaintiff seeks essentially the same relief in his Motion Regarding Upcoming Election. Plaintiff also moves for a new trial against Steven Mongan and JC 65. Local 722 moves for a new trial on Plaintiff's claims against it or, in the alternative, to reduce the amount of the compensatory and/or punitive damages awarded by the jury.

Plaintiff is not entitled to equitable relief. First, an injunction is not warranted because Plaintiff has not demonstrated that Local 722 has engaged or threatened to engage in further retaliation. Second, reinstatement or a stay of the discipline imposed against Plaintiff is not appropriate because Local 722's retaliatory motive was not the legal cause of his suspension from the union. Plaintiff also is not entitled to a new trial against Mongan or JC 65. The evidence reasonably supports the jury's verdict denying Plaintiff's claim against Mongan and any additional evidence that came out during trial regarding JC 65 was not sufficient to grant Plaintiff relief from this Court's prior judgment dismissing his claims against JC 65. Likewise, Local 722 has not established that is was denied a fundamentally fair trial nor that the jury's award of the damages was excessive or irrational. This Court reserves judgment on Plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees.

I. Plaintiff's Motion for Equitable Relief

The jury found that Local 722 prosecuted the charges against Plaintiff because he exercised his rights protected under the LMRDA. See Craft v. Board of Trustees of University of Illinois, 793 F.2d 140, 143 (7th Cir. 1986) ("It is well-settled that the court may not make findings contrary to or inconsistent with the jury's resolution . . . of that same issue as implicitly reflected in its general verdict") (citation omitted). Plaintiff now asks this Court to reinstate him to the union because the chain of events which led to his suspension would not have been initiated but for Local 722's unlawful retaliation. On April 18, 2002, JC 65 imposed a fine of $9,082.50 against Serafinn and suspended him for six months from membership in the Teamsters' union. JC 65 assessed the fine after finding Plaintiff guilty of charges brought by two members of Local 722. The charges were referred to JC 65 by the executive board of Local 722. The charges alleged that Serafinn misused his union office to refer himself out to a job site ahead of other teamsters on the referral list. Serafinn has not paid the fine. Article XIX, Section 10(d) of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Constitution states: "In the event of noncompliance with the decision handed down by a trial or appellate body, the member . . . shall stand suspended from all rights and privileges under the Constitution until the provisions of the decision have been complied with . . ." Because Serafinn has not paid the fine, his union rights and privileges have been suspended since 2002 pursuant to § 10(d).

Plaintiff cites Gilbrook v. City of Westminster, 177 F.3d 839, 853-55 (9th Cir. 1999), for the proposition that when charges are sustained by a neutral third party, it does not relieve the defendant who initiated the charges of liability for retaliation, including back pay and other compensatory damages. The paramount question in Gilbrook and other analogous cases is whether the ultimate decisionmaker made an "independent, legitimate decision to [punish] the plaintiff, uninfluenced by the retaliatory motives of the subordinate."*fn1 Id. at 855. The Seventh Circuit has applied the same analysis to situations where a subordinate, motivated by a discriminatory purpose, recommends to a supervisor that the plaintiff be fired; the supervisor then makes the actual termination decision. See Wallace v. SMC Pneumatics, Inc., 103 F.3d 1394, 1400 (7th Cir. 1997). If the decisionmaker made an independent decision regarding the plaintiff, there is no causal link between the retaliatory motive and the adverse action. See Shager v. Upjohn Co., 913 F.2d 398, 405 (7th Cir. 1990). Applied to Plaintiff's situation, the question is whether Local 722 unduly influenced or manipulated the final decision to fine Serafinn or whether JC 65 made a judgment based upon an independent assessment of all the evidence. See Conn v. GATX Terminals Corp., 18 F.3d 417, 420 (7th Cir. 1994).

JC 65 did not act as a rubber stamp for Local 722 when it decided to fine and suspend Plaintiff. See Gusman v. Unisys Corp., 986 F.2d 1146, 1147 (7th Cir. 1993). This Court held on summary judgment that JC 65 afforded Plaintiff a full and fair hearing on the disciplinary charges against him. See 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5). At the hearing, Plaintiff was given the opportunity to testify, present evidence and confront the witnesses and evidence against him. Following the hearing, JC 65 issued a 27-page opinion explaining its assessment of the evidence and charges against Plaintiff. Because JC 65 made an independent determination on the charges against Plaintiff, the casual chain between Local 722's improper motives and Plaintiff's suspension from the union was broken. See Willis v. Marion County Auditor's Office, 118 F.3d 542, 547 (7th Cir. 1997) ("[I]t is clear that, when the causal relationship between the subordinate's illicit motive and the employer's ultimate decision is broken, and the ultimate decision is clearly made on an independent and a legally permissive basis, the bias of the subordinate is not relevant"). As such, Plaintiff is not entitled to reinstatement in the union based upon the jury's verdict.

In asking for an injunction against future retaliation, Plaintiff relies solely on the jury's verdict that Local 722 retaliated against him. Local 722's past conduct, without more, is not sufficient to justify the exceptional remedy of an injunction. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 109 (1998) ("Because respondent alleges only past infractions of EPCRA, and not a continuing violation or the likelihood of a future violation, injunctive relief will not redress its injury"). To the extent that Plaintiff would argue that Local 722 continues to retaliate by refusing to assign him work or by excluding him from union activities, both of these actions are lawful consequences of his failure to pay the fine assessed by JC 65, not improper retaliation. Accordingly, Plaintiff has not made a clear showing that an injunction is necessary to protect his or other members' constitutional rights. See Wooley v. Maynard, 430 U.S. 705, 712 (1977).

II. Plaintiff's Motions for New Trial Against Steven Mongan and Joint Council 65

Plaintiff has moved for a new trial on his claims against Mongan and JC 65 under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 50, 59 and 60. A court should grant a new trial where "the verdict is against the clear weight of the evidence, the damages are excessive or the trial was unfair to the moving party." Miksis v. Howard, 106 F.3d 754, 757 (7th Cir. 1997); see Lemons v. Skidmore, 985 F.2d 354, 357 (7th Cir. 1993) ("[C]ivil litigants are entitled to a fair trial, not a perfect one"). Defendants argue that Plaintiff's motions for new trial are untimely because they were not filed within 10 days. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b) ("The movant may renew its request for judgment as a matter of law by filing a motion no later than 10 days after the entry of judgment or (if the motion addresses a jury issue not decided by a verdict) no later than 10 days after the jury was discharged"); Fed. R. Civ. P. 59(b) ("Any motion for a new trial shall be filed no later than 10 days after entry of the judgment"). A district court may not forgive the failure to file within the 10-day period absent "unique circumstances." See Hope v. U.S., 43 F.3d 1140, 1143 (7th Cir. 1994); Bailey v. Sharp, 782 F.2d 1366, 1368 (7th Cir. 1986). On November 17, 2006, this Court granted Defendants' oral motion to extend the time for filing post-trial motions. But a minute order from the district court granting the parties an extension typically is not a unique circumstance. See Green v. Bisby, 869 F.2d 1070, 1072-73 (7th Cir. 1989). This Court need not examine whether other unique circumstances exist since Plaintiff's motions can be denied on their merits.

A. New Trial Against Mongan

Plaintiff first argues that he is entitled to judgment or a new trial against Mongan based upon the evidence at trial that Mongan retaliated. According to Plaintiff's Motion, Mongan testified at trial that he brought the internal union charges against Plaintiff because Plaintiff published a newsletter critical of Mongan and Local 722 and to prevent Plaintiff from assembling with other Local 722 members. Plaintiff offers no citations to the trial transcript for these statements. See Spina v. Forest Preserve Dist. of Cook County, 207 F. Supp. 2d 764, 769 (N.D. Ill. 2002) (criticizing failure of movant for new trial to cite to relevant portions of trial transcript). A full review of the entire record at trial, as presented through citations to relevant portions of the transcript and exhibits, is usually necessary to determine judgment as a matter of law. See Byrd v. Illinois Dept. of Public Health, 423 F.3d 696, 700 (7th Cir. 2005). This Court will not overturn the jury's verdict based upon isolated bits of testimony as remembered and represented by Plaintiff.

Plaintiff additionally argues that "[c]learly, the jury was confused and did not believe it could issue a verdict against Mongan and the local." This is where Plaintiff's argument begins and ends. After neither party proposed an instruction on agency, this Court proposed the following instruction to which neither party objected:

Under the law, Defendant Local 722 is considered to be a person. It can only act, however, through its employees, agents, officers or executive board. Therefore, a union is responsible for the acts of its employees, agents, officers or ...

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