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Semancik v. United Mine Workers of America

August 16, 1972


Author: Rosenn

Before ADAMS, ROSENN and HUNTER, Circuit Judges.

ROSENN, J.: Although these cases present several interesting questions pertaining to union procedures, in disciplinary actions directed at union members, the novel point at issue, is whether a district court may permanently enjoin a union from prosecuting members under a section of its constitution because of its infringement upon the right of free speech.

In each of the three cases here on appeal, plaintiffs, members of the United Mine Workers of America, were opponents of the incumbent officers of District :5. They sought to enjoin disciplinary action which was being brought against them by the District Executive Board. They alleged that the District's actions infringed upon their right of free speech, guaranteed to them under Section 101(a)(2) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (also known as the Landrum-Griffin Act and known hereinafter as "LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. ยง 411(a)(2).

In both the first and second cases, the district court found that the disciplinary actions were intimidating members from speaking out freely and granted preliminary injunctions. When the District brought the third action, the court concluded that the provision under which all the proceedings had been brought, Article X, Section 10 of the District's Constitution, was overlybroad and vague; and that it infringed on the rights of free speech and fair hearing guaranteed to union members under Sections 101(a)(2) and (5) of the LMRDA.*fn1 It permanently enjoined any prosecutions under the provision. District :5 has appealed.We agree with the district court and affirm its order.

These cases grow out of the December 1970 election for District :5's officers. The election was heatedly contested, with an insurgent group called Miners for Democracy challenging all of the incumbent officers, including District President Michael Budzanoski. The charges flew back and forth and on November 13, 1970, Mike Semancik and Tony Pappas, two elderly, retired miners, added further fuel to the electoral fires by signing an affidavit accusing Budzanoski's father of being a leader of a group of strike breakers in 1927. The affidavit was apparently circulated by Miners for Democracy as campaign material during the remaining weeks of the election.

After the election was over and the defeated insurgents had filed a challenge with the Department of Labor seeking to overturn the results, Joseph Budzanoski, Michael's brother, sent a complaint to the District Executive Board alleging that Senancik and Pappas had violated Article X, Section 10 by signing the affidavit, which he charged was untrue. Their actions were characterized as violating the section, which provides in part, that:

Any member or members resorting to dishonest or questionable practices to secure the election or defeat of any candidate for district office shall be tried by the district executive board and fined, suspended or expelled as the magnitude of the transgression may warrant.

On January 19, 1971, the District Executive Board notified the two men that there would be a hearing on February 8 next at 11:00 A.M. on the charge.*fn2 On February 5 Semancik and Pappas filed an action in the district court requesting a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the District's actions, based on an alleged infringement of their right of free speech.

The court granted the temporary restraining order on February 8. However, before it could be served, the Executive Board began and concluded the hearing on Semancik and Pappas, notwithstanding the presence and participation of its counsel at the earlier court hearing that day.

Subsequently, at the hearing on the preliminary injunction on February 16 there was considerable testimony that the prosecution under Article X, Section 10, harassed the plaintiffs in the exercise of their rights. Further, several witnesses testified that they believed that the actions were intimidating the supporters of Miners for Democracy, particularly retirees who feared that any disciplinary action against them would result in the loss of their pensions. For this reason, the district court concluded that there would be irreparable harm to the plaintiffs and others similarly situated if the union took action against them. It ordered a preliminary injunction restraining any disciplinary measures.

The District Executive Board notified Leon Yablonski and Michael Encrapera on February 10 that notwithstanding the district court's disapproval of the actions against Semancik and Pappas, Joseph Budzanoski had filed a similar charge against them under Article X, Section 10 because they had supposedly secured the Pappas and Semancik affidavit.*fn3 On February 25, Yablonski and Encrapera filed a complaint seeking a preliminary injunction against their proceedings. After a hearing at which they testified to the substantial "chilling effect" of their prosecutions, the court consolidated the cases and granted a second preliminary injunction.

Even though there had now been two preliminary injunctions barring disciplinary actions against insurgents under Article X, Section 10, Michael Budzanoski, John Seddon, the incumbent Secretary-Treasurer, and four of their supporters, filed charges against their chief opponents in the recent election.*fn4 Louis Antal, who had run against Budzanoski, Joseph Daniels, who had opposed Seddon and was a teller in the election, Nick DeVince, who had run for International Executive Board member, and Steve Segedi, who had run for District Executive Board member, were charged with the "dishonest and questionable practice" of openly accusing the incumbent union officers of tampering with boxes holding absentee ballots. In essence, the complaint was brought by one group of candidates against their opponents for seeking the help of the Department of Labor. There was no explanation why the charges, which arose out of incidents that occurred around November 30, 1970, had not been initiated earlier. Further, although Budzanoski and Seddon excused themselves from sitting on the Executive Board when it would hear the case, some of the remaining Board members were closely allied with Budzanoski and Seddon and had been opposed by Miners for Democracy in the election.

A third hearing was held at this point, and the final case was consolidated with the other two. The district court found that the successive attempts by the District Executive Board to use the broad powers of Article X, Section 10 against their opponents while the election was being challenged before the Secretary of Labor was a "studied evasion or disregard of prior orders enjoining such practices." The court further concluded that the provision violated Section 101(a)(5) of the LMRDA, guaranteeing a full and fair hearing on the basis of written, specific charges. In its opinion, it was impossible for members to be treated impartially because their case would be heard by the very incumbent board whose re-election they had contested. Even if the particular charging parties disqualified themselves, the district court believed that a panel of the other board members, who were their allies, was not an unbiased tribunal. Further, it found that charges framed in terms of "dishonest or questionable practices" were not sufficiently specific to meet the requirement of the statute.

The district court held that the broad terms of Article X, Section 10, were also vague, denying members a readily ascertainable standard of conduct. As such, it put the members at their peril whenever they exercised their free speech rights, and raised the probability that clearly protected activity would be punished under the provision. It then concluded that any prosecution under the provision would offend the rights guaranteed under Section 101(a)(2).

Having found that any internal appeals to correct the situation would be futile because they would have been addressed to the officers who had filed the complaints, it granted the permanent injunction at issue on this appeal.

The District first objects that the court should have ordered the plaintiffs to first seek relief within the union for four months, as it could have required them to do under Section 101(a)(4) of the LMRDA.*fn5 However, the limitations of Section 101(a) (4) are permissive and since the landmark case of Detroy v. American Guild of Variety Artists, 286 F.2d 75 (2d Cir. 1961), cert. denied, 366 U.S. 929, 6 L. Ed. 2d 388, 81 S. Ct. 1650 (1961), it has been well established that whether or not a plaintiff will be required to utilize his internal union appeals is a matter within the discretion of the trial judge. NLRB v. Industrial Union of Marine & Shipbuilding Workers, 391 U.S. 418, 426, 20 L. Ed. 2d 706, 88 S. Ct. 1717 (1967), (dicta); Giordani v. Upholsterers International Union, 403 F.2d 85, 88 (2d Cir. 1968). While the intent of Section 101(a)(4) is to foster union self-government, Harris v. International Longshoremen's Union, Local 1291, 321 F.2d 801, 805 (3d Cir. 1963), the provision is not meant to bar all actions prior to the four month period delimited by the law. Rather, the provision is intended to set an outer limit beyond which the federal judiciary may not withhold relief. Detroy v. AGVA, supra, at 78. In appropriate circumstances, it is now well established that a district ...

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