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Lewis v. American Federation of State


decided: February 24, 1969.


Seitz, Aldisert, and Stahl, Circuit Judges.

Author: Aldisert

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge:

This case arose as a civil action under the provisions of § 102 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959,*fn1 initiated by Frederick E. Lewis who sought reinstatement to union membership following his expulsion from the organization. His ouster was the culmination of extensive intraunion trial proceedings, ending in an unsuccessful appeal to the highest tribunal of the union international.

Alleging that his expulsion was in violation of § 101(a)(5)*fn2 of the LMRDA, Lewis was successful in having the District Court order his reinstatement. The union has appealed.

It was incumbent upon Lewis to prove a denial of his rights under § 101, described by Congress as the "Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations". He did not dispute that he was served with "written specific charges" or "given a reasonable time to prepare his defense". His case was predicated on a contention that he was not "afforded a full and fair hearing". And it was a narrow contention at best. He did not deny that he was afforded the opportunity to present witnesses at the hearing, to cross-examine those who appeared against him, and to be heard by testimony, exhibit, and argument. He made no allegation of prejudice or bias by either the chairman of the union's Judicial Panel who heard his case or the entire panel who reviewed the proceedings. His sole basis for alleging a denial of a "full and fair hearing" was an argument that the necessary quantum of evidence to sustain the charges was not presented before the union's tribunal. The District Court agreed with him. Our function now is to review the legal framework supporting the court's decision.

In attacking the validity of the action taken by the court below, the appellant advances two separate arguments. First, it is contended that there is no statutory authority or jurisdiction for a federal court to review disciplinary action taken by a union against an officer where the charges emanated from his conduct as an officer of the union, as distinguished from conduct as a member.*fn3 In the alternative, it is argued that the court, assuming its authority to hear the case, should not have disturbed the union's action since the record before the union's judicial panel demonstrates that the full and fair hearing requirements of § 101(a)(5) were indeed satisfied.

We find no merit to the appellant's first argument. Irrespective of Lewis' status as a union officer, he was found guilty of violating provisions of the union's constitution which prescribed expulsion from membership, not merely removal from office, as the penalty. His loss of membership clearly came within the purview of §§ 101 (a)(5) and 102 of the LMRDA, a violation of which empowers the federal courts to grant appropriate relief.*fn4

Having determined that the present case was one in which the District Court was empowered to act, we turn to a consideration of appellant's second contention, which in effect is an allegation that the lower court exceeded the proper scope of review, both in the concept and application, when it determined that the union's actions were not based on "substantial evidence".*fn5

Our initial difficulty in examining the action of the court below stems from the failure of Congress to provide an explicit expression of the proper scope of reviewing power over the union's hearing procedures. The bald language of § 102 of the Act provides simply that "any person whose rights . . . have been infringed by any violation of this title may bring a civil action . . . for such relief (including injunctions) as may be appropriate." Scant guidance is provided by § 101(a)(5), which provides only that the hearing must be "full and fair".

Where, as here, there is no allegation of a denial of procedural due process, no claim of overreaching by those who conducted the hearing, no allegation of discrimination -- in substance, no allegation of a denial of a "full" hearing in the sense that the "full" story was not presented before the union -- and no legislative description of the quantum of evidence necessary to constitute a "full and fair hearing",*fn6 resort must be made to both judicial precedents and the history of the statutory proceedings to implement properly the directive of Congress.

It has been said that the requirement of a "full and fair" hearing is considerably short of an authorization for a full review of the "law" and the facts.*fn7 An examination of the proceedings surrounding the adoption of vital labor legislation gives credence to this proposition. Moreover, such an examination discloses that Congress is as deliberate in fashioning guidelines for appeals to federal court in labor matters as it is in framing the substantive law thereof; it compels the conclusion that the failure of Congress to prescribe in the LMRDA of 1959 the same scope of judicial review as contained in other labor legislation must not be considered an oversight or casual omission.

The grandfather of modern labor legislation, the Wagner Act of 1935,*fn8 originally provided that the findings of the National Labor Relations Board "as to the facts if supported by the evidence, shall be conclusive ". The Supreme Court read "evidence" to mean "substantial evidence", and defined such evidence to mean more than a mere scintilla, more than that which would create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, but relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn from it is one of fact for the jury.*fn9

In the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, Congress set forth in meticulous detail the circumstances under which, in reviewing the action of certain designated agencies, the "court shall . . . hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be: [inter alia] unsupported by substantial evidence."*fn10

In the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, Congress amended the original Wagner Act quantum-of-evidence standard to read that the "findings of the Board with respect to questions of fact if supported by substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole*fn11 shall be conclusive."*fn12

There is sound reason for the adoption of a substantial-evidence test in legislation such as the Wagner Act, the applicable areas of the Administrative Procedure Act, and the LMRDA of 1947: federal agencies governed by these acts perform what has traditionally been regarded as an essentially judicial function, and but for these statutorily-created tribunals, the task of adjudicating and enforcing the legislative mandate would fall to the traditional courts of law. Considering the potential which these agencies possess to render far-reaching decisions which significantly affect the national interest, and recognizing that these "legislative courts" are relatively new to the art of adjudication and the rule of precedent and tradition which inherently characterize the judicial function, it is eminently proper that these agencies be subject to close scrutiny by the courts.

Similar considerations are not presented in problems of internal union discipline. Such matters generally have little impact beyond the organization itself. By their very nature they have no significance as precedents in any legal sense of the word; they involve matters of organizational discipline, essentially internal in concept and effect.

It is therefore not surprising that the congressional debate which preceded the adoption of the LMRDA of 1959 discloses no significant intent to adopt standards of review equivalent to the substantial-evidence test enunciated in earlier legislation.

The Supreme Court has also reflected this philosophy of judicial restraint in labor affairs. In United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navig. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409, 80 S. Ct. 1347 (1960), the Court admonished the courts to exercise the utmost restraint and to tread gingerly before intruding upon the arbitral process. The basic philosophy underlying the court's "hands-off" policy is very simple -- labor matters are best left to those who understand the language and the workings of the shop, those who have a precise knowledge of what has come to be known as the "industrial common law". Even the "ablest judge cannot be expected to bring the same experience and competence [as an arbitrator] to bear upon the determination of a grievance, because he cannot be similarly informed."*fn13

The reasoning of the Supreme Court in the "Trilogy" applies with equal force to cases arising out of internal union discipline. "The provisions of the L.M.R.D.A. were not intended by Congress to constitute an invitation to the courts to intervene at will in the internal affairs of unions. Courts have no special expertise in the operation of unions which would justify a broad power to interfere . . . General supervision of unions by courts would not contribute to the betterment of the unions or their members or to the cause of labor-management relations." Gurton v. Arons, 339 F.2d 371, 375 (2 Cir. 1964).

In the final analysis, courts must constantly wrestle with conflicting considerations in reviewing cases of union discipline. They must avoid overzealous intervention in the internal affairs of unions with its concomitant atrophic effect on the ability of the organization to function as a disciplined unit, being careful not to subject the union's interpretation of its own industrial jurisprudence to the "removed, untutored, and possibly antipathetic judgment of a court ".*fn14 On the other hand, they must recognize that judicial timidity or indifference can leave those who seek to exercise their rights helplessly vulnerable.*fn15 They must be cognizant that all the trappings of procedural due process come to naught if the union tribunal may, in Dreyfus fashion, expel a member based on charges supported by no evidence.

Accordingly, total judicial abstention from the review of union disciplinary proceedings is unacceptable. Such an abdication would be contrary to the clear directive of Congress that rights may not be impaired without strict adherence to procedural and substantive due process, including ultimate redress to the federal courts; it would also run counter to the traditional role the judicial branch has fulfilled in protecting the exercise of all legitimate rights.

Thus, although the LMRDA is comparatively new legislation, judicial involvement in the internal affairs of labor is not. State courts have been reviewing intra-union disputes for almost seventy years,*fn16 and since statutes are not enacted in a vacuum, it is logical to assume that Congress was aware of this substantial body of state judicial precedent when it determined to adopt a federal right of review over internal union functions.*fn17 Moreover, in the absence of any significant federal precedents in this area of court-union relations,*fn18 the decisions of the state courts can provide helpful guides to the meaning of a "full and fair hearing" as that term is used in the LMRDA.*fn19

A distillation of the holdings of state courts discloses the development of the following concepts: (1) the constitution of the union is a contract between the union and its members, and it may properly provide qualifications for entry into and expulsion from union membership;*fn20 (2) disciplinary provisions which call for expulsion will be enforced so long as the constitutionally-mandated grounds for expulsion are not of themselves illegal as violating public policy -- e.g., provisions prohibiting the criticism of and opposition to union leadership;*fn21 (3) where the proceedings within the organization have been regular, fair, and free from fraud, and the party whose rights are involved has been given the opportunity to appear and be heard, the courts will not inquire into the merits of the case or review the action of the association;*fn22 (4) so long as there is some evidence to support the specific charges in the union's proceedings, the courts are not to weigh the credibility of the witnesses or to evaluate the quantum of the evidence adduced at the hearing.*fn23

In addition to the state court cases construing the meaning of a full and fair hearing before a union tribunal, there was extant at the time that the LMRDA was enacted, a large body of federal case law interpreting the meaning of a "full and fair hearing" as employed in other areas of federal concern.*fn24 These decisions compel the conclusion that the courts did not equate the requirement of "substantial evidence" with that of a "full and fair hearing ".

Thus, in a case arising before the Administrative Procedure Act was passed, it was argued that a deportation order based on less than substantial evidence was inherently unfair and a denial of due process of law. The Supreme Court rejected this contention, stating:

"Deportation without a fair hearing or on charges unsupported by any evidence is a denial of due process . . . But a want of due process is not established by showing merely that the decision is erroneous . . . or that incompetent evidence was received and considered. Upon a collateral review . . . it is sufficient that there was some evidence from which the conclusion of the administrative tribunal could be deduced and that it committed no error so flagrant as to convince a court of the essential unfairness of the trial.

"The ultimate question . . . is whether the warrant of deportation was supported by any evidence. . . ."*fn25

Finally, we must examine the federal courts' understanding of the judicial inquiry under § 101(a)(5). A careful scrutiny of their holdings is required, since in many decisions the standard of review espoused by the court often differs greatly from the scope of review actually exercised by the court.

In the leading case of Vars v. Int'l B'hd of Boilermakers, 320 F.2d 576 (2 Cir. 1963), it was emphasized that: (1) the court is not free to substitute its judgment for that of the union trial court; (2) the court must not re-examine the evidence to determine whether it would have arrived at the same conclusion reached by the trial body; (3) "implicit in the requirement of a full and fair hearing is the requirement that there be some evidence to support the charges made"; (4) "although the courts may be without power to review matters of credibility or of strict weight of the evidence, a close reading of the record is justified to insure that the findings are not without any foundation in the evidence."*fn26

We believe these principles enunciate the proper and traditional scope of court review of internal union discipline proceedings as found in the better-reasoned federal and state decisions involving the question of whether there had been a full and fair hearing before the union tribunal.*fn27

We now proceed to examine the evidence in light of the above standard.

The appellant is an international labor organization composed of various affiliated local unions and district councils. Mr. Lewis was president and business agent of appellant's Local No. 403, consisting of employees of the Highway Division of the Department of Streets of the City of Philadelphia. Local 403 is a member of District Council No. 33. This district council, composed of various locals of the appellant union, represents approximately 18,000 employees of the City of Philadelphia. In 1967, the district council and the city were functioning under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement which contained the provision: "There shall be no strikes, lockouts, or stoppages or work."

In accordance with the procedures established in the international union's constitution, plaintiff Lewis was notified in writing that he was charged with violation of this provision. The specific charges filed against him were:*fn28 four charges of violating the International Constitution by willfully violating the "legally negotiated and approved collective bargaining agreement between District 33 and the City of Philadelphia" and the provisions of Council 33 constitution by "calling and directing a strike or work stoppage" on May 4, 1967 and May 18, 1967; and a fifth charge that he violated the international constitution by violating the "legally authorized decisions of Council 33" by his activities relating to the May 18th event.

The District Court, and the union's Judicial Panel, found as a fact that on May 4, 1967, Mr. Lewis " . . . by his physical presence as an obstruction in the driveway, individually [did] interfere with and delay the start of work at that location for approximately two hours." This finding was based on testimony that Lewis had gone to this particular location to protest the city's five-day suspension of a member of his local. By positioning himself in the driveway, none of the men could leave the yard to go to work; none did, in fact, go to work during the time he made his stand in the driveway. On the day before this particular incident Lewis is quoted as having said: "Nothing in that yard is going to shake. I'm going to have to close that yard down . . . I'm going to close that yard down tomorrow."

The Hearing Officer of the union concluded that not only was this a work stoppage but Lewis "was in sole command" of it, "that he refused to follow a well established grievance procedure" and "refused to abide by a written contract with the city of Philadelphia ". The Judicial Panel affirmed the decision of the Hearing Officer and reaffirmed that Lewis was in sole command and "almost single handedly executed a work stoppage on May 4. . . ."

Construing this same evidence, the District Court found that Lewis did not "order a work stoppage, although he did, by his physical presence as an obstruction in the driveway, individually interfere with and delay the start of work at that location for approximately two hours."

The next scene of the confrontation took place five days later when Lewis was called before the executive board of District 33. Here he "very reluctantly" gave assurance to the district officers that there would be no further work stoppages.*fn29 The interest of the district council was not purely an academic matter at this time; it was already the recipient of a letter from the city pointing out that there had been a "work stoppage" in violation of the collective bargaining agreement.

A week after the meeting with District 33, Lewis presided over a meeting of the board of delegates of his local where it was agreed that "in sympathy with the [suspended member] they would suggest to their people to take a sick day, Thursday, May 18, 1967."*fn30 The following day, in the presence of some twenty members, Lewis was heard to advise a shop steward that "everybody is off tomorrow". On the next day, at least 248 members of Local 403, out of a total work force of 894, reported sick. In addition to these absent employees, who were marked "AWOL" by the city, there were another 120 employees of this group absent for legitimate reasons. Thus on this day the Highway Division of the Philadelphia Street Department operated at forty-one (41%) per cent capacity.

On this same day Lewis was heard to say to one city supervisor: "I've got traffic closed, the asphalt division closed . . . and if you don't watch out I'm going to shut down the whole city"; to another administrator, that if the 248 AWOL employees were not paid for their day's absence, he "would declare war . . . . that there would be violence, bricks and bats and sticks and stones would fly." Predictably, the city reacted. It reacted with a strong letter to District 33, reciting these incidents, reviewing its previous letter regarding Lewis, emphasizing that the "actions involving work stoppages caused by Mr. Lewis is a clear violation of the contract between the City and District 33", demanding an end to "irresponsible deportment and statements made by Mr. Lewis to management officials" and also demanding that appropriate action be taken by the union against him.

The union took action. Charges against Lewis were filed by officials of the council and eight affiliated locals with the Judicial Panel as provided in the Union's international constitution. A hearing was held by the Chairman of the Judicial Panel of the international union; Lewis was ordered expelled from the union; he appealed to the full Judicial Panel, and the panel upheld the decision of the Hearing Officer. It "deplored" his conduct in the May 4 incident and emphasized that he "participated in and actively supported the work stoppage of May 18, 1967, after making a commitment to the Executive Board of Council 33 that there would be no further work stoppages and such actions constituted a serious threat to the welfare of the Council, affiliated Local Unions and their members."*fn31

By what words may we describe the activity of May 18? The City of Philadelphia called it a work stoppage. So did the officers of District 33 and eight affiliated local unions who preferred the charges; the union's hearing officer and Judicial Panel reached the same conclusion. Mr. Lewis, himself, indicated the same in an affidavit filed in another action.*fn32

But the District Court disagreed; it specifically found that the "absenteeism of May 18, 1967, did not constitute a work-stoppage or strike." This was a critical finding because the gravamen of the charges against Lewis was that he called or directed two stoppages even though such were forbidden under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between the union and the city. The importance placed by the union on the integrity of the agreement is demonstrated by the provisions of its international constitution which state that a penalty for "willful violation of a legally negotiated and approved collective bargaining agreement" is expulsion from membership.

We find that there was sufficient evidence before the union's Judicial Panel for it to have concluded that work stoppages did occur on May 4 and May 18, and that Lewis played no insignificant role in "calling and directing" them. To reach a contrary conclusion required the court below to exercise an authority of review greatly in excess of its limited and circumscribed power. Indeed, the court's conclusion that there were no work stoppages ran counter to the great quantity of evidence which preponderated against such a finding, and, in the very least, such a conclusion compelled the court to substitute its own judgment for that of the union's tribunal. No reviewing court has such prerogative.

For the reasons set forth previously in great detail we have determined that the scope of review granted to a federal court under the LMRDA is a contracted and extremly limited one. Once the court determines that the findings of the union's tribunal were "not without any foundation in the evidence," that the proof adduced related to appropriate charges, and that procedural due process was observed, the action of the union tribunal must be upheld. The court has no authority to enter into an evidence-weighing process and it may not substitute its judgment for that of the union tribunal.

We deem such a limitation to be vital if we are to prevent the federal courts from becoming a super-international trial board appeals tribunal antithetical to the concept of union self-determination as reflected in the spirit of our national labor policy.

We have gone to some extent to delineate precisely the proper scope of court review in such cases, even though we feel that the evidence which was presented before the appellant's union tribunal would have prevailed under a more expanded scope of judicial review, as for example, one that is to determine whether there was "substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole".*fn33 We have done this because, as previously noted, in reviewing the cases we have often detected fundamental differences between a court's articulation of the scope of review and its application of the announced standard. Although necessarily we must be bound by the intention of Congress in such cases, we have also concluded that sound judgment and policy give support to the Congressional directive.

Accordingly, the judgment of the District Court will be reversed and judgment entered in favor of the defendant.

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