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RILEY v. MCCARTHY

March 8, 1989

CHARLES RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM J. McCARTHY, et al., Defendants


Harold H. Greene, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENE

HAROLD H. GREENE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 Plaintiff, a member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) and a smaller organization known as Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), sought a temporary restraining order under the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 401 et seq., charging that the IBT was violating his right to a meaningful vote and to speak effectively to other members about a proposed collective bargaining agreement. Specifically, plaintiff sought to delay balloting on the proposed National Signal Delivery Service Agreement until ten days after he had been provided a copy of the complete national agreement. This would enable him to study the Agreement and to disseminate literature to his fellow members expressing his views and the views of the Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU).

 A hearing on the motion was held on November 4, 1988. At the hearing, the union stated that it was providing copies of the complete agreement to local unions. Members could inspect the agreement at the union offices, but the IBT was not providing copies to members or directing its local offices to make copies available to members. Because the complete agreement, with all of its local supplements, was hundreds of pages long, the Court suggested that interested members would not be able to examine the agreement fully unless a copy was made available to them.

 Claiming that he prevailed in this case, plaintiff now seeks to recover attorneys' fees and costs. A prevailing party in a suit brought under the LMRDA is entitled to attorneys' fees under the common benefit doctrine. Hall v. Cole, 412 U.S. 1, 36 L. Ed. 2d 702, 93 S. Ct. 1943 (1973). Thus the question is whether plaintiff is the prevailing party in this case and whether the lawsuit provided a benefit or service to union members.

 I

 Plaintiff Prevailed

 For purposes of recovering attorneys' fees, a party need not proceed to judgment on the merits in order to be considered the prevailing party. All that is necessary is that the suit is not frivolous, the party substantially obtains the relief sought and that the lawsuit is an important factor in obtaining that relief. See Grano v. Barry, 251 U.S. App. D.C. 289, 783 F.2d 1104, 1108-11 (D.C.Cir. 1986); Commissioners Court of Medina County, Texas v. United States, 221 U.S. App. D.C. 116, 683 F.2d 435, 440-41 (D.C.Cir. 1982).

 Prior to the institution of this lawsuit, plaintiff had received no answer from IBT regarding his request for a complete agreement. The date of the balloting was fast approaching, although plaintiff had limited information as to what the date was. Defendants have provided no evidence that they intended to provide plaintiff with the information he sought even in the absence of a lawsuit. To the contrary, even at the hearing on the motion for a temporary restraining order, the IBT indicated that it did not intend to provide copies to members, but rather would allow them to inspect the complete agreement at local union offices. It was not until after the hearing, and after the Court had expressed doubt as to whether the inspection of the agreement at union offices would be sufficient, that the union made copies of the full agreement available to plaintiff.

 In examining whether there is a causal relationship between litigation and results, Courts can "consider the chronological sequence of events and draw conclusions from the facts at hand." 683 F.2d at 442. The chronological sequence of events in this case indicates that the litigation was an important factor leading to plaintiff's receipt of the full agreement he sought. Thus although it was not ultimately necessary for the Court to grant plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order, plaintiff's suit was not frivolous and it was an important factor contributing to plaintiff's eventual receipt of the information he sought. Plaintiff is the prevailing party in this action.

 II

 Common Benefit

 Defendants contend that attorneys' fees are not available under the common benefit doctrine in this case. They argue that because plaintiff did not obtain copies for other members the information obtained by plaintiff was primarily for his personal benefit. Because it is clear that plaintiff's purpose in seeking the information was to prepare and disseminate literature regarding the complete ...


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