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Local Union 1397 v. United Steelworkers of America

November 23, 1984

LOCAL UNION 1397, UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, RONALD WEISEN, THOMAS JUGAN, AND THOMAS KATONA, APPELLANTS
v.
UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, APPELLEES



Appeal From the United States District Court For the Western District of Pennsylvania - Pittsburgh

Author: Hunter

Before: ALDISERT, Chief Judge, HUNTER, and WEIS, Circuit Judges

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

1. The sole issue on this appeal is whether the court below erred in applying the six-month limitations period of section 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 160(b) (1982), to an action brough pursuant to section 102 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 412 (1982).*fn1 Relying on the Supreme Court's analysis in DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 103 S. Ct. 2281, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1983), we concur in the reasoning of the court below, and affirm the dismissal of appellants' action for failure to state a timely claim.

I.

2. Appellants, Local Union 1397 of the United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO ("Local 1397"), Ronald Weisen, Thomas Jugan, and Thomas Katona brought this action against appellee, the United Steelworkers of America, AFL-CIO ("USWA") following the imposition of disciplinary action against appellants by the USWA Executive Board Appeal Panel on December 14, 1982. Local 1397 is a chartered local of the USWA, and Weisen, Jugan, and Katona are, respectively, President, Recording Secretary, and Safety Committee Chairman of Local 1397.

3. Accepting, as we must, the facts stated in appellants' complaint as true for purposes of this appeal, the record reveals that substantial differences existed between the leadership of the USWA and the leadership of Local 1397, as represented by the individual appellants, on a wide range of issues concerning Local 1397's membership. These issues included the level of pollution control in U.S. Steel Corporation plants, collective bargaining strategy, construction of new plants, arbitration policies, and internal union governance. In particular, Weisen actively sought, both through the union's political process and through the local's newspaper, 1397 Rank and File, to oust USWA officials with whom he disagreed, and to alter USWA policies.

4. Appellants contend that their disagreements with the USWA leadership, as summarized above, motivated the USWA Executive Board to retaliate against appellants. This retaliation allegedly took the form of disciplinary action imposed upon them by the USWA Executive Board Appeal Panel in December, 1982. The disciplinary action arose from complaints made by two members of Local 1397 against Weisen, Katona, and Jugan. The first member, John Balint, charged that both Weisen and Katona had threatened him with physical harm for actively opposing and criticizing the performance of Weisen and Katona in their official duties. The second member, Robert Chasko, Jr., charged Jugan with failing to inform the local membership of critical comments made by USWA auditors concerning the Local's finances. Although all three officers were acquitted at the local level, the USWA Executive Board Appeal Panel on appeal reconvened a hearing on the charges, reversed the local level findings, and imposed discipline on the three officers. Specifically, Weisen and Katona were officially reprimanded, and Jugan was suspended from his office for thirty days. The Executive Board Appeal Panel also reserved for eighteen months the right to hold a hearing and to take appropriate action on any further allegations of wrongdoing against Local 1397 and its officers. Appellants contend that this latter decision constituted the imposition of discipline against Local 1397.

5. Appellants filed their complaint in the federal court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in November, 1983, approximately eleven months after the imposition of the allegedly unlawful disciplinary action. The complaint was brought pursuant to section 102 of the LMRDA, and alleged that the disciplinary action violated appellants' rights as protected under section 101 of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 411 (1982).*fn2 The USWA moved to dismiss the complaint as time-barred, arguing that the appropriate limitations period was the six-month period of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 160(b) (1982).

6. The district court granted the motion, reasoning that in the absence of a specific limitations period under the LMRDA, the most appropriate limitations period was the six-month period of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 160(b) (1982). In so holding, the district court rejected appellants' argument that the appropriate limitations period was Pennsylvania's six-period for the tort of interference with business relations. See Harrison v. AFL-CIO, 452 F. Supp. 102 (E.D. Pa. 1978) (Pennsylvania's six-year limitations appropriate period for LMRDA suit alleging wrongful expulsion from union). We now affirm.

II.

7. The LMRDA does not provide a limitations period for suits brought pursuant to section 102 of the Act. Accordingly, federal courts entertaining such suits must "borrow" the most appropriate limitations period from some other source. See, e.g., DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 103 S. Ct. 2281, 2287, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476 (1983). Although recognizing that precepts of interstitial lawmaking instruct federal courts to look generally to state law for "gap-filling" principles, see, e.g., Holmberg v. Armbrecht, 327 U.S. 392, 90 L. Ed. 743, 66 S. Ct. 582 (1946), the Court in DelCostello noted:

In some circumstances, however, state statutes of limitations can be unsatisfactory vehicles for the enforcement of federal law. In those instances, it may be inappropriate to conclude that Congress would choose to adopt state rules at ...


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