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Local 334 v. United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industryof United States and Canada

decided: August 4, 1980.

LOCAL 334, UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, A UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION; UNITED ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 49, UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPEFITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, UNITED ASSOCIATION, LOCALS 523, 124, AND 84, UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, INTERVENORS
v.
UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRYOF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, AFL-CIO UNITED ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 14 AND UNITED ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 274 LOCAL 334, UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBINGAND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, APPELLANT



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C Civil No. 77-1769)

Before Adams, Van Dusen and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen

Opinion OF THE COURT

On this appeal Local 334 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (Local 334) challenges a consolidation order issued by its parent international union, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada (the international). Local 334 alleges that the order violated the international's constitution. Having raised, sua sponte, the question of subject matter jurisdiction, we requested that the parties submit supplemental briefs on this matter and address the issue at oral argument. After reviewing the various contentions, we conclude that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction. Accordingly, we will vacate the judgment of the district court and remand to the district court with instructions to remand the case to the state court.*fn1

I.

Local 334, composed of both plumbers and pipefitters, represented employees in Morris County, New Jersey. It was affiliated with the international, a labor organization with approximately 550 affiliated local unions and 335,000 members. Prior to 1977 in New Jersey there were 27 locals affiliated with the international. In 1976 and 1977 the international urged the locals to consolidate voluntarily. When the locals could not agree on a voluntary consolidation plan, the international, in January 1977, proposed a plan consolidating the nine locals in northern New Jersey into two locals, one representing all the plumbers and one representing all the pipefitters.*fn2 The affected locals did not agree to the international's proposed plan and took the position that the status quo should be maintained. On August 4, 1977, the international issued an order of consolidation. In accordance with the previously proposed plan, the plumber members of Local 334 became members of Plumbers Local 14; the pipefitter members of Local 334 became members of Pipefitters Local 274.*fn3

Local 334 sent a letter to the general executive board of the international requesting a stay of the order pending appeal. When no response to this request was received, Local 334 filed suit on August 22, 1977, against the international in the Superior Court of New Jersey, seeking to enjoin the enforcement of the order of consolidation. The defendant international removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey on August 26. On September 16, Local 334 filed a motion to remand the action to state court. This motion was denied. The district court proceeded to a consideration of the merits. Local 334 and the international each filed motions for summary judgment. On August 20, 1979, the court entered an order dismissing the suit for failure to exhaust internal union remedies and, in the alternative, granting summary judgment in favor of the international and against Local 334. Local 334 filed a timely appeal.

II.

In every appeal presented to it, this court is required to test the presence of subject matter jurisdiction. Medlin v. Boeing Vertol Company, 620 F.2d 957 at 960 (3d Cir. 1980); Pharmadyne Laboratories, Inc. v. Kennedy, 596 F.2d 568, 570 n. 3 (3d Cir. 1979); In re Trimble Company, 479 F.2d 103, 110 (3d Cir. 1973). "To permit a federal trial court to enter a judgment in a case removed without right from a state court where the federal court could not have original jurisdiction of the suit even in the posture it had at the time of judgment, would by the act of the parties work a wrongful extension of federal jurisdiction and give district courts power the Congress has denied them." American Fire & Casualty Company v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 18, 71 S. Ct. 534, 542, 95 L. Ed. 702 (1951). Accordingly, it is our duty to examine this challenge by a local affiliate to the international union's interpretation of the international constitution to determine whether this suit is cognizable in federal court.

The defendant international asserts that there is federal jurisdiction over this suit and over any other action between two labor organizations in which a violation of the union constitution is alleged.*fn4 It relies on § 301(a) of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1976). This statute provides:

"Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce . . . or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties." (Emphasis supplied.)

Asserting that "the very purpose (of § 301(a)) is to provide a federal forum for labor contracts,"*fn5 the defendant urges an expansive view of the jurisdictional grant embodied in § 301(a). It argues that "the union constitution creates a contractual relationship between the plaintiff local (and other locals) and the national union."*fn6 It contends that the union constitution itself is a contract between labor organizations. Therefore, according to this reasoning, a suit by a local or other subordinate labor group challenging the international's interpretation of the union constitution presents a federal question under 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), supra.

Local 334 disagrees with this view. It emphasizes that the federal courts have traditionally been very reluctant to intervene in the internal affairs of unions. Lewis v. American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, 407 F.2d 1185, 1192 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 866, 90 S. Ct. 145, 24 L. Ed. 2d 120 (1969); Drywall Tapers and Pointers v. Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association, 601 F.2d 675, 679 (2d Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 1073, 100 S. Ct. 1018, 62 L. Ed. 2d 755 (1980); Stelling v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, 587 F.2d 1379, 1388-89 (9th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 944, 99 S. Ct. 2890, 61 L. Ed. 2d 315 (1979); United Brotherhood of Carpenters & Joiners v. Sidell, 552 F.2d 1250, 1255 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 862, 98 S. Ct. 190, 54 L. Ed. 2d 135 (1977); Smith v. United Mine Workers, 493 F.2d 1241, 1242-44 (10th Cir. 1974); Vestal v. Hoffa, 451 F.2d 706, 709 (6th Cir. 1971), cert. denied, 406 U.S. 934, 92 S. Ct. 1768, 32 L. Ed. 2d 135 (1972); English v. Cunningham, 108 U.S.App.D.C. 365, 282 F.2d 848, 850 (D.C. Cir. 1960). Cf. Howard v. United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of Plumbing & Pipefitting Industry, 560 F.2d 17, 21 (1st Cir. 1977); Smith v. Local No. 25, Sheet Metal Workers International Association, 500 F.2d 741 (5th Cir. 1974). It notes that the Supreme Court, although holding that the reference to "contracts" in § 301(a) encompasses more than collective bargaining agreements,*fn7 has never ruled that a labor union's constitution is a contract within the meaning of § 301(a). Further it contends that there is no support in the legislative history for the defendant's assertion that federal district courts have subject matter jurisdiction in all suits in which there is a dispute concerning a union constitution.

The controversy thus is a limited one. The parties take opposing views of the scope of the jurisdictional grant embodied in § 301(a). In order to resolve this dispute, we must attempt to determine the intent of Congress in providing jurisdiction over "suits for violation of contracts between an employer and labor organization . . . or between any such labor organizations," 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The legislative history of this statute reveals that Congress explicitly intended that collective bargaining agreements be the prime subject of the "contracts between an employer and a labor organization" clause.*fn8 In Retail Clerks v. Lion Dry Goods, 369 U.S. 17, 82 S. Ct. 541, 7 L. Ed. 2d 503 (1962), the Supreme Court held that this clause ...


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