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STRAUSS v. INTERNATIONAL BHD. OF TEAMSTERS

December 30, 1959

Leon STRAUSS
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, CHAUFFEURS, WAREHOUSEMEN AND HELPERS OF AMERICA, an unincorporated association by John Backhus and Bernard Marcus, Trustees ad litem and Bernard Marcus in his own right



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CLARY

This suit arises under the recent Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, Public Law 86-257, 29 U.S.C.A. § 401 et seq. (hereinafter referred to as the 'Act'). Section 504 of that Act is designed to prohibit certain persons (whom Congress determined were undesirable for the labor movement) from holding any office in a labor union. The question of whether Leon Strauss, the plaintiff in the present case, is such a person, produced the present controversy.

The plaintiff has been employed consistently since 1954 as a Business Agent for Local 596 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America. Prior to this employment, he had served a term of imprisonment for a conviction of armed robbery in 1941. He was released from the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia on November 2, 1949. At that time he was placed on parole. This period of parole ended on February 11, 1956, when he had completed his full sentence.

 On or about November 20, 1959, Strauss received word that he was relieved of his position as Business Agent of Local 596. The discharge was accomplished because of a telegram sent by the defendant International Union to Bernard Marcus, the Trustee of Local 596. Pursuant to this telegram, Strauss received written notice of his discharge from the Trustee of the Local. The basis for the discharge was stated by the Local to be § 504 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, the pertinent part of which states:

 '(a) No person * * * who has been convicted of, or served any part of a prison term resulting from his conviction of, robbery * * * shall serve --

 '(1) As * * * business agent * * * of any labor organization, * * * for five years after such conviction or after the end of such imprisonment * * *.'

 The defendant union construed the word 'imprisonment' as used in this Act to include any period of parole. Since it has been less than five years since Strauss' parole ended (although clearly more than five years since his release from the Eastern State Penitentiary), they conclude that he fell within the prohibition of § 504 and must therefore be discharged. *fn1"

 The plaintiff disagrees with this construction of the Act. He argues that 'imprisonment' as used here refers to the time of actual confinement inside a prison, and that since Strauss was released from the Eastern State Penitentiary in November of 1949 he is clearly outside the reach of § 504, and was therefore improperly discharged. The Act itself contains no definition of the word 'imprisonment'.

 The complaint states the aforementioned facts along with a claim that (1) the discharge in addition violates § 101(a)(5) of the Act, and (2) the discharge is unauthorized and illegal for the further reason that plaintiff was discharged by H. J. Gibbons, described as 'Executive Assistant to the General President', and such an officer has no authority to act for the International in discharging anyone.

 The plaintiff seeks sweeping equitable relief, including reinstatement to his position as Business Agent. He also asks for a declaratory judgment as to the meaning of the word 'imprisonment' as used in § 504.

 Oral argument was heard on a rule to show cause why an injunction should not issue pending determination of the action for permanent injunctive relief. All of the essential facts having now been agreed upon by the parties, the resolution of a question of national concern in the labor field would appear imminent. Unfortunately such is not the case.

 This Court upon its own motion and after a careful examination of the question involved feels constrained to dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter. We do so reluctantly and despite the fact that the defendant has raised no objection to our jurisdiction. It is indisputable that this Court must independently examine the question of jurisdiction whenever a serious doubt arises as to its existence. When in our independent judgment we conclude that no such jurisdiction exists, the case must be dismissed.

 In the present case the plaintiff rests jurisdiction upon three sections of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ( §§ 101, 102 and 504), and also upon § 2201 of Title 28 U.S.C.A. (popularly referred to as the Declaratory Judgment Act). We will discuss each of these contentions below.

 Section 102 of the Act authorizes suit for civil enforcement of any right secured by the provisions of Title I (sections 101 through 105). For plaintiff to properly rest jurisdiction upon 102 or any of the other sections in Title I, it must appear that the right, title or interest which he alleges has been violated by the defendant is created by or finds protection under one of these sections. We are convinced that such is not the case in this action.

 The right which plaintiff now seeks to protect as against the defendant is the right to be free from discharge as business agent of a labor union, when that discharge is based solely upon the union's honest misinterpretation of a new Federal law. The plaintiff was not elected to this position nor does it appear that the position necessarily required his being a member of the local ...


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