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Harris v. International Longshoremen's Association

August 5, 1963

HERBERT HARRIS, ET AL., APPELLANTS
v.
INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMEN'S ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 1291, ET AL., APPELLEES.



Author: Hastie

Before BIGGS, Chief Judge and HASTIE and GANEY, Circuit Judges.

HASTIE, C.J.: The question on this appeal is whether this suit by members in good standing of Local 1291 of the International Longshoremen's Association against the local and its president for alleged violations of Title I, the "Bill of Rights", of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, 73 Stat. 522, 29 U.S.C. §§ 411-415, is premature because the plaintiffs have not first sought relief within the union. Answering this question in the affirmative, 210 F. Supp. 4, the district court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiffs have appealed.

Facts relevant to various issues were developed in affidavits annexed to the motion for summary judgment and in extensive uncontradicted testimony taken at hearings on plaintiffs' unsuccessful motions for preliminary injunctions. However, the opinion below in support of the granting of summary judgment unambiguously confined the issue sub judice to the exhaustion of internal remedies. See 210 F. Supp. at 8. Accordingly, we shall consider only that issue, leaving the merits of the plaintiffs' grievance for future determination whether within the association or through future litigation.

A union member's obligation to resort to internal remedies before suing his union is based upon the provision of section 101 (a)(4) of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 411 (a)(4), that:

"No labor organization shall limit the right of any member thereof to institute an action in any court, . . . irrespective of whether or not the labor organization or its officers are named as defendants . . .: Provided, That any such member may be required to exhaust reasonable hearing procedures (but not to exceed a four-month lapse of tive proceedings against such organizations or any officer thereof . . . ."

In the present case, the relevant union requirement is contained in article XIX, section 5, of the "Constitution and Rules of Order of International Longshoremen's Association, As amended at the 39th Convention . . . July 13-16, 1959, and Executive Council Meetings of October 28, 1959 and December 1, 1959". See Sheridan v. United Bhd. of Carpenters, 3d Cir. 1962, 306 F.2d 152, 159-160 (concurring opinion). That section provides that:

"No member . . . shall institute any civil action . . . against the I.L.A., any of its Local Unions, . . . or any officer . . . on account of any controversy for which a remedy by trial or appeal is provided for in this Constitution, unless and until he has first exhausted all such remedies of trial and appeal."

The plaintiffs have taken no steps to invoke any of the remedies established by the I.L.A. constitution. They contend, however, that they may bypass these remedies and institute this action immediately because (1) the procedures set forth in the constitution are unreasonable in that they are confusing and contradictory; (2) the procedures give no assurance of final disposition of a complaint within the four-month period contemplated by the Act; and (3) the existence of the procedures was unknown to the plaintiffs when this action was commenced.

The complaint alleged that the defendant president's wilful misconduct of union meetings has deprived the plaintiffs of their right to participate effectively in such meetings.*fn1 Specifically, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant president, at various times, knowingly and wilfully made erroneous parliamentary rulings, permitted conversations while members were recognized to speak, vilified one of the plaintiffs when he attempted to address a meeting, refused to permit debate on certain debatable questions, and declined to entertain appeals from his rulings.

Such intentional departures from the basic rules of orderly, democratic parliamentary procedure by the president of the local union, if proved, would constitute violations not only of the LMRDA, but also of the local president's official duty to enforce the rules of order of the I.L.A. constitution.See article XIII, section 4. In such a case, article XVIII of the constitution provides an appropriate internal remedy.

Section 1(b) of article XVIII provides that "any . . . officer . . . shall be subject to discipline who is found guilty . . . of violating any provision of this Constitution". In section 1(a) "discipline" is defined broadly enough to encompass relief for union members whose right to participate in union meetings has been abridged by the illegal conduct of a local president. Disciplinary proceedings may be initiated against an officer of a local union by "any member" of the union filing charges with the Executive Board of the local union, the District Council or District organization, or the Executive Council of the international union. Any of these bodies has jurisdiction to entertain such proceedings.Sections 3 to 5 of article XVIII set forth rules governing the conduct of such proceedings. Section 6 provides that "appeals from decisions in disciplinary cases . . . may be taken . . . by the accused or by the person filing the charge".

The plaintiffs do not seriously question that such disciplinary proceedings under the I.L.A. constitution could give them the relief which they seek.*fn2 Instances of possible confusion suggested by the plaintiffs do not negate the substantial probability that if they had attempted, in good faith, to follow the procedures established in those articles, they would have received an appropriate hearing of their grievances by a union tribunal empowered to grant them relief. We think the prescribed hearing procedures meet the standard of reasonableness stated in section 101(a)(4) of the LMRDA. See Edsberg v. Local 12, Int'l. Union of Operating Engineers, 9th Cir. 1962, 300 F.2d 785.

But even if adequate provision is made for an initial disposition of a complaint, the plaintiffs contend that the multiplicity of appellate agencies renders the provisions for appeals unreasonable. Cf. Johnson v. Local 58, Int'l. Bhd. of Elec. Workers, E. D. Mich. 1960, 181 F. Supp. 734, 737. Article XIX, section 1, does enumerate several levels of the I.L.A. through which "appeals may be taken from any decision made under Article XVIII and from any action, failure to act or decision in the exercise of the original or appellate jurisdiction provided for in this Constitution". But that article does not make successive resort to each of these agencies mandatory. Any higher one may preempt the jurisdiction of a lower one. See section 2. And it is not necessary for a member who intends to institute legal proceedings against the union or one of its officers to proceed through any intermediate appellate agency. Indeed, section 6 of article XIX directs that a member seeking to exhaust his remedies in accordance with the provisions of section 5, quoted above, forego intermediate appeals and file his appeal directly with the Executive Council of the international union, whose decision shall be final. Additional appellate procedures are required when a convention of the international union is imminent. But there is no evidence that such a convention was scheduled for any of the years during which the plaintiffs' alleged grievances arose. In the absence of such evidence, the plaintiffs could not be penalized for failing to take steps necessary to securing review by the convention. Similarly, the existence of procedures which they are not required to follow does not make procedures which they are required to follow unreasonable as applied to them.

Taken as a whole, the provisions of articles XVIII and XIX of the I.L.A. constitution fairly indicate reasonable steps which should be taken by an aggrieved member seeking to exhaust internal ...


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