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ROGERS v. LUCASSEN

November 20, 1991

JOHN R. ROGERS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
SIGURD LUCASSEN, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHEY

 Plaintiffs, three incumbent officers in the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America ("UBCJA") and eight affiliated union councils, bring this action to prevent the Defendants from installing newly-elected officers prior to the expiration of the incumbents' terms. The parties agreed to maintain the status quo pendente lite, and agreed to consolidate the Plaintiffs' request for preliminary injunction with a hearing on the merits pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65(a)(2). See Order, Rogers v. Lucassen, Civ. 91-2689 (D.D.C., Oct. 23, 1991). Upon consideration of the Plaintiffs' Motion, the Defendants' response thereto, the arguments of the parties, the record herein, and the applicable law, the Court grants the Plaintiffs' motion for permanent injunction and declaratory relief. This Opinion shall constitute the Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a).

 I. Background

 The UBCJA held an election at its national convention in October 1991. From all accounts, the election was a hotly-contested race between two warring factions within the union. Defendant Lucassen, the incumbent General President of the UBCJA, sought another term as General President. Plaintiff Rogers, then serving as General Secretary of the Union, challenged Lucassen for the General President position. As part of the Rogers' ticket, Plaintiff Wayne Pierce ran for reelection as General Treasurer, and Plaintiff John McMillan ran for reelection as Second General Vice President. The Defendants' slate of candidates prevailed in the general election. *fn1"

 The day after the election, General President Lucassen issued memoranda to the Plaintiffs Rogers, Pierce and McMillan, requesting them to vacate their offices immediately because their successors, recently-elected Lucassen-slate candidates, had been "duly chosen, qualified and sworn in" earlier in the day. See Exhibit 2, attached to Defendants' Memorandum in Opposition to Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction (hereinafter, "Def. Opp."). Plaintiffs refused to vacate their respective offices, claiming that they were entitled to remain for a full five-year term which did not expire until April of 1992. See Plaintiffs' Memorandum in Support of Temporary Restraining Order, at 8-11 (hereinafter, "Pl. Mem."). Under protest and fearing possible violence, Plaintiffs vacated the building and instituted this action.

 Relying upon Section 9C of the UBCJA Constitution, Plaintiffs contend that the Defendants breached a contract between labor organizations, in violation of Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Plaintiffs also allege violations of Section 101(a) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 411(a)(1) and 411(a)(2), alleging that the rights of the union members who elected the incumbent officers have been abridged by virtue of the summary removal of the three anti-Lucassen incumbents. Plaintiffs also allege violations of District of Columbia contract law, and interference with employee benefits in violation of Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1140.

 I. Plaintiffs Have Shown That Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies Would Be Futile.

 Plaintiffs did not exhaust the available administrative remedies within the union. Although, as a general matter, courts encourage plaintiffs to exhaust administrative remedies available within the union, failure to exhaust administrative remedies may be excused when the Court finds that the Plaintiffs are unlikely to receive a fair hearing due to the hostility of the reviewing officials. See, e.g., Winter v. Local Union No. 639, Teamsters, 186 App. D.C. 315, 569 F.2d 146, 149 (D.C. Cir. 1977); Doty v. Sewall, 908 F.2d 1053, 1061 (1st Cir. 1990). The hostility between the two warring factions of the union is palpable. Because many of the officials whose actions are challenged would review the Plaintiffs' administrative complaint, the Court cannot require Plaintiffs to follow that route, especially when time is of the essence.

 II. Because Defendants' Interpretation of the UBCJA Constitution and By-laws Was Unreasonable and in Bad Faith, and Because the Members' Right to a Meaningful Vote Has Been Denied, The Court Shall Issue Judgment for the Plaintiffs.

 This case begins with the parties' dispute over the Defendants' interpretation of Section 9C of the UBCJA Constitution and By-laws. Section 9C provides, in relevant part:

 The election shall be conducted by an Election Committee, the members of which shall be appointed by the General President. No nominee for General Office shall be eligible to serve on said General Committee. Upon completion of the tabulation of the votes, the Election Committee shall report to the General President the names of the General Officers elected and the same shall be reported to the Convention, and those elected shall hold office for a term of three (3) years, commencing April 1, 1979, and thereafter five (5) years, commencing April first following election, and continuing thereafter until their successors are duly chosen and qualified.

 See Exhibit 2, attached to Plaintiff's Documents submitted October 31, 1991. Under the Defendants' interpretation of the Constitution, the newly-elected officers may assume office as soon as they are "duly chosen and qualified," without regard to the April 1 date. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend that the Constitution, as consistently interpreted by the union, provides that the new term begins in April after the election. Plaintiffs also argue that ejecting the incumbent officers in October-- prior to the April date for the expiration of their terms-- would deprive these candidates and their constituents of a full five-year elected representative.

 Although a union's interpretation of its Constitution "is entitled to considerable deference," a court may override the union's interpretation if it finds that the interpretation "was unreasonable or made in bad faith." Monzillo v. Biller, 237 App. D.C. 20, 735 F.2d 1456, 1458 (D.C. Cir. 1984). Union members do not have a cause of action merely for a breach of the union's Constitution or by-laws. Bunz v. Moving Picture Machine Operators' Protective Union, Local 224, 186 App. D.C. 124, 567 F.2d 1117, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 1977). Rather, in order for a court to exercise jurisdiction over a case in which there is an alleged violation of the union's Constitution or by-laws, there must exist a violation of "a specific right" guaranteed by the labor laws. Id. In this instant case, the Court finds that the Defendants' interpretation of the UBCJA Constitution was unreasonable and made in bad faith, and that the Defendants' actions violated the rights of members to a meaningful vote, as guaranteed by Section 101(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act. See 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(1). *fn2"

 Defendants essentially telescope the Court's review and ask the Court to find that, solely on the basis of the language of Section 9C, the Defendants' interpretation is sufficiently reasonable to escape judicial review. While the Court agrees that it need not, and should not, engage in parsing the clauses of a union's Constitution and by-laws, the Defendants' proposed analysis is unduly constricted. Consideration of contextual factors is clearly appropriate. See, e.g., Davey v. Fitzsimmons, 413 F. Supp. 670, 673 (D.D.C. 1976) (courts refer to the "history, purposes, and context of the document involved"); Taylor v. Great Lakes Seamen's Union, Local 5000, 701 F.2d 590, 592 (6th Cir. 1983) (looking to consistent interpretation of the union's constitution); Monzillo v. Biller, supra, 735 F.2d at 1464 (instructing the District Court to "consider the interpretive resolution which was adopted by a majority of the voting members at the National Convention" when determining whether the Board interpreted the union Constitution in bad faith) (dicta). Defendants' line of analysis would incorrectly preclude the Court from considering the union's long tradition of beginning the new term in April and the fact that ...


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