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Price v. Carpenters' Dist. Council of Greater St. Louis & Vicinity

October 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reagan, District Judge


A. Introduction and Procedural Overview

On September 24, 2010, Andrew Kevin Price filed suit in this Court alleging infringement of his free speech rights and retaliation in violation of Title I of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 411-415. Price's complaint seeks injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs and attorney's fees from four Defendants: (1) the Carpenters' District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity ("the Council"); (2) the Executive Committee of the Council; (3) Terry Nelson, the Executive Secretary/Treasurer of the Council; and (4) Robert Vosburgh, the Business Representative for the Council. With the complaint, Price filed a motion for temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction (Doc. 4).

The Court enjoys subject matter jurisdiction under the federal question statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Price's motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction is fully briefed via supporting and opposing memoranda (Docs. 5, 12).

On the day Price filed the motion, the Court set a status conference for September 28, 2010 (see Doc. 6). But prior to that date, notice was given, counsel entered on behalf of Defendants, and defense counsel filed a thorough memorandum opposing Price's motion (complete with affidavits, exhibits and other documents). With agreement of counsel, the Court converted the status conference to a hearing, proceeded past the TRO request, and entertained the motion for preliminary injunction.

B. Summary of Key Facts, Allegations and Arguments*fn1

Price is a dues-paying member and elected delegate of Local 638 of the Carpenters District Council of Greater St. Louis and Vicinity. The Council, a labor organization as defined under the LMRDA, represents various Carpenters local unions throughout Missouri and Southern Illinois , including Local 638. Historically, the Council represented carpenters, millwrights, cabinet workers and flooring installers. In 2008, the Council, under the direction of Defendant Nelson, chartered a new affiliate called "Local 57." Local 57 was formed as the Council's electrical division.*fn2

The Council then signed several non-union electrical contractors to labor agreements. The Council has dedicated union resources to promoting Local 57. The Council's support for Local 57 has been a topic of considerable discussion and severe disagreement within the union. Nelson, the Executive Secretary/Treasurer of the Council who also serves on the Executive Committee of the Council, has vocally supported Local 57. Certain carpenters support Local 57. Other rank-and-file Carpenters' members, including Price, oppose Local 57.

Indeed, Price has a history of opposing the union leadership and policies of Terry Nelson. In the summer of 2010, as an expression of his opposition to Nelson's policies and Local 57, Price put an anti-Local 57 sticker on his personal truck.*fn3 What followed lies at the heart of this litigation and of the motion now before this Court.

On August 9, 2010, Price was working as a carpenter at Chili's Restaurant in Carbondale, Illinois for Schimpf Construction when Business Representative Vosburgh told Price to take the sticker off his truck. Price told Vosburgh he would "think about it." Vosburgh returned the following day and told Price that if he did not remove the "anti-57 sticker," he would be brought up on union charges. Price did not remove the sticker, and Vosburgh filed charges (see Vosburgh Affidavit, Doc. 12-12).

A letter dated August 10, 2010 and signed by Nelson advised Price that he had been charged with violating District Council Trade Rule 22 (Paragraph J) plus Section 51 (Paragraph A-1 and A-13) of the General Constitution of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (General Constitution). Specifically, Price is charged with failing to remove the sticker as instructed by Vosburgh (thereby violating Trade Rule 22) and "causing dissension amongst the Brotherhood" (thereby violating the General Constitution)(see Exhibits 2 and 3 to Complaint; Doc. 2-2, pp. 1-2).

Under the General Constitution, the Executive Board of the District Council reviews all charges filed against a member and may (a) reprimand the member (but cannot impose penalties), (b) refer the charges to trial, or (c) adopt a procedure in which the accused pleads guilty and pays a fine.

On September 14, 2010, Price appeared before the Executive Board on the charges against him and again voiced his opposition to Local 57.*fn4 By letter dated September 17, 2010, Nelson notified Price that he would stand trial on the charges October 19, 2010, conducted by a standing Trial Committee. Under the General Constitution, the Trial Committee can recommend, and the District Council can approve, a fine against Price. If a fine is imposed, Price can appeal to the International Union.

Facing the October 19, 2010 trial, and claiming that Defendants have deliberately squelched dissent from him and other union members by prosecuting the internal union charges against him and chilling the rights of expression from those who oppose Local 57, Price seeks a preliminary injunction from this Court.

Specifically, Price asks the undersigned Judge to (1) order Defendants to cancel the October 17, 2010 trial, (2) order Defendants to refrain from further processing the charges against him, (3) enjoin Defendants from prosecuting similar charges against him or other union members who wear anti-Local 57 stickers or voice Local 57 opposition, and (4) enjoin Defendants from infringing on his free speech rights or retaliating against him for exercising those rights (Doc. 4, p. 3).

C. Analysis

A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must establish that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest. Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., -- U.S. --, 129 S.Ct. 365, 374 ( 2008).

The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit articulates the requirements for issuance of a ...

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