Before BAZELON, Senior Circuit Judge, and MIKVA and EDWARDS, Circuit Judges.
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C.Civil Action No. 80-02642).
In October 1980, Billy N. Chadwick filed suit in the district court alleging that the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers had violated section 101(a)(2) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act , 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(2), by expelling Chadwick from the union. On May 21, 1981, the district court granted defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, finding that Chadwick had failed to use the procedures available under the IBEW Constitution to appeal the expulsion order and thus had not exhausted his internal remedies.
We reverse. The LMRDA grants authority to the courts to require exhaustion of reasonable union procedures before initiation of a legal action, but this determination is discretionary. The district court erred in finding that Chadwick's alleged failure to exhaust his internal union remedies constituted a jurisdictional bar to his legal action, and in granting the union's motion to dismiss on that ground. I. BACKGROUND
Chadwick has been a member of IBEW Local 760 since 1967, but in 1978 he obtained employment on a power plant project in the jurisdiction of IBEW Local 175. The second local required each electrician to pay "working dues," a percentage of gross wages, in addition to uniform monthly dues. Chadwick refused to pay the working dues, and also prepared and distributed an open letter to Local 175's members calling these dues an illegal "kickback" and urging his co-workers not to pay them.
Chadwick's actions led to two separate disciplinary proceedings before Local 175's Trial Board. In February 1979, he was charged with violating the bylaws requiring members to pay their dues. In April 1979, he was charged with violating a provision of the IBEW Constitution by "publishing or circulating among the membership false reports or misrepresentations" about the local. When Chadwick was found guilty of the first charge, he was fined $200 in addition to the debt of $59.35 for unpaid dues. When Chadwick was found guilty of the second charge, Local 175 ordered that he be expelled from the IBEW.
The conjunction of the two sanctions complicated Chadwick's attempts to appeal these decisions. Article XXVII, § 13 of the IBEW Constitution provided: "No appeal for revocation of an assessment shall be recognized unless the member has first paid the assessment, which he can do under protest." But no interpretation of this provision had yet been rendered by an IBEW official with authority to construe language of the union constitution, and Chadwick contended that it did not apply in his case. *fn1 He therefore appealed both decisions without paying any part of the assessment.
The first level in the union's appeal process was the IBEW Vice President, who informed Chadwick that neither appeal could be considered as long as Chadwick was in arrears. This did not resolve Chadwick's obligations under Article XXIII, however, because the vice president like the trial board could not render an official interpretation of the IBEW Constitution. Chadwick therefore continued his appeals to the IBEW
President-who did have such authority under Article IV, § 3.2.
The IBEW President also refused to consider Chadwick's appeal, however. Chadwick, viewing this as a dispositive ruling on his obligations at last, sent a Western Union money order in the amount of $259.35 to Local 175 on December 6, 1979. Six days later, he appealed to the last level of appeal, the IBEW International Executive ...