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

decided: January 19, 1982.

LOCAL 334, UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, AN 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 PIPEFITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, INTERVENORS
v.
UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY OF 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 PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY OF THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA, APPELLANT



ON REMAND FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES (No. 80-710)

Before Adams, Van Dusen and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Van Dusen

Opinion OF THE COURT

This is an appeal from the August 20, 1979, order of the district court, dismissing plaintiff Local 334's suit challenging its consolidation with neighboring local unions for failure to exhaust its internal union remedies and, in the alternative, granting summary judgment to the defendant United Association on the issue of whether the challenged consolidation violated the union constitution. In a prior opinion, we held that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, vacated the judgment, and directed that the case be remanded to the state court.*fn1 Local 334, etc. v. United Ass'n of Journeymen, etc., 628 F.2d 812 (3d Cir. 1980). The Supreme Court reversed, 452 U.S. 615, 101 S. Ct. 2546, 69 L. Ed. 2d 280 (1981), and the case is now here on remand for consideration of the above-mentioned issues. Because we agree that there was no genuine issue of material fact in dispute and that the defendant United Association's interpretation of its own constitution was not patently unreasonable and thus entitled to deference, we will affirm.

I.

The facts underlying this appeal are set forth in our earlier opinion and need not be repeated here. See 628 F.2d at 813-14. It is enough to say that the plaintiff Local 334, a "combination" local union consisting of both plumbers and pipefitters, contends that the defendant United Association, its "parent" international union, was without authority under the union constitution to order the consolidation of Local 334's members with those of other locals into two new "straight-line" locals-one consisting solely of plumbers and the other solely of pipefitters. It argues that the United Association's failure to comply with the constitution amounts to a breach of contract. The United Association maintains that its action is fully authorized by the union constitution and proper in all respects.

II.

There are two fundamental principles of law applicable here and they are not in dispute. The first is that summary judgment is appropriate only where "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and (where) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The other is that

"(courts) are reluctant to substitute their judgment for that of union officials in the interpretation of the union's constitution, and will interfere only where the official's interpretation is not fair or reasonable."

Stelling v. Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, etc., 587 F.2d 1379, 1388 (9th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 944, 99 S. Ct. 2890, 61 L. Ed. 2d 315 (1979), quoting 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). Accord, Lewis v. American Fed. of State, County & Mun. Emp., 407 F.2d 1185, 1192 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 866, 90 S. Ct. 145, 24 L. Ed. 2d 120 (1969); English v. Cunningham, 108 U.S. App. D.C. 365, 282 F.2d 848, 850 (D.C.Cir.1960).

Although cast in several different forms, Local 334 makes two principal arguments:*fn2 (1) the United Association's interpretation of the constitution is unreasonable, and (2) the very issue of reasonableness is a fact question making summary judgment inappropriate. Taking the latter contention first, we note that there is no dispute as to what the literal provisions of the constitution are.*fn3 The dispute is over the proper interpretation of these provisions and the various historical facts purportedly underlying the differing interpretations. If the issue before the court were the ultimately correct interpretation of the constitution, then we might agree with Local 334 that summary judgment was inappropriate. But that is not the case. The sole issue before the district court was whether the United Association's interpretation was "patently unreasonable." Stelling v. Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, Etc., supra, 587 F.2d at 1389.*fn4 Thus, while all of the disputed issues of fact proffered by Local 334 in its initial brief may have been "material" to a determination of whether the United Association's interpretation was ultimately correct, their resolution was not necessary to a determination of whether that interpretation was patently unreasonable. Clearly, then, the case was in a posture where summary judgment was appropriate-the only remaining material issue was the purely legal question of patent unreasonableness. This conclusion is in complete accord with that of the court in Stelling, which explicitly affirmed the district court's entry of summary judgment on just this issue. See 587 F.2d at 1389.

Turning to this question, we cannot say that the district court erred in holding that the United Association's interpretation was not patently unreasonable.

Local 334 claims that ยง 3 of the Association constitution permits the United Association to charter three types of local unions and, by implication, prohibits the chartering of all others. Section 3 provides in pertinent part:

"The United Association shall charter three types of Local Unions: Building and Construction Trades Local Unions, Metal Trades Local ...


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