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Donovan v. Metropolitan District Council of Carpenters

filed: August 1, 1986.


On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 84-5348)

Author: Seitz

SEITZ, HUNTER, and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges.

SEITZ, Circuit Judge.

The Secretary of Labor [Secretary] brought this action under Title IV of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959, 29 U.S.C. §§ 481 et seq. (the Act), alleging violations of the Act in the court of an election for the presidency of appellee Metropolitan District Council (the Council). After a two-day bench trial, the district court made findings of fact and conclusions of law and entered judgment for the Council. The Secretary appealed. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.


The Secretary brought this action in response to a complaint by the losing candidate in the election, John McCloskey. The Secretary's complaint alleged two violations of section 401 of the Act, 29 U.S.C. § 481: the Council's failure to comply with McCloskey's reasonable requests to distribute campaign literature to members at his own expense, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 481(c): and the use of Council money to promote the candidacy of the incumbent president, Edward Coryell, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 481(g). The latter violation allegedly consisted of distributing to Council members two sets of minutes containing statements unfavorable to McCloskey, and a subsequent "correction" to one set of minutes containing further statements harmful to McCloskey. The Secretary unsuccessfully sought to have the district court declare the election void and order a new election under the Secretary's supervision.

The Council is an intermediate labor organization and the governing body for fourteen carpenters' union locals in the Philadelphia area. It consists of a President, a Secretary-Treasurer, and a number of business agents and local union representatives, all elected triennially. The election at issue occurred in June 1984. Both candidates--the incumbent. Coryell, and the challenger, McCloskey--announced their candidacies in mid- to late 1983 and began active campaigning in December of that year. A third candidate, not involved in this litigation, also participated.

The Council establishes election procedures for each election based on recommendations of the presidents of the local unions. On January 26, 1984, the local presidents met with Coryell and recommended a schedule for the upcoming election, which was approved at the next Council meeting on February 16. One of these rules provided:

Any announced candidate (upon proper request) will be eligible for authorized mailing labels for mailing literature after April 15, 1984. There will be no limit on the number of mailing labels allowed for candidates.

Mailing labels, containing the names and addresses of the members of the Council's constituent local unions. were necessary if a candidate wished to reach voters by mail, since the Council's membership list is normally kept confidential. The district court found that the rule was properly adopted and applied in a nondiscriminatory manner, but that permitting candidates access to the list earlier than April 15th would not have interfered with the conduct of the District Council's business. Nevertheless, pursuant to the rule, McCloskey's request for mailing labels in February was denied.

Despite being denied access to the official membership list, McCloskey had, in the fall of 1983. managed to procure an unauthorized, but apparently official, membership list from another source.*fn1 He delivered this list to a printer to be entered into a computer for the purpose of producing mailing labels. In January 1984, several union officials, including Coryell, apprised of the situation, went to the printer's offices and seized the list. This action led to a lawsuit by McCloskey seeking to have the list returned: judgment was entered for the defendants on February 13, 1984. McCloskey's delivery of the list to the printer also resulted in internal union charges being lodged against him. The upshot of these charges was that McCloskey was suspended from union activities for three years: pursuant to union rules, however, this suspension did not affect his candidacy in the ongoing election.

McCloskey's recently-terminated lawsuit was the subject of a report by one of the District Council's business agents, Michael Dooley, at the February 16 meeting of the District Council. Reports by business agents were a regular feature of District Council meetings, which were open only to Council officers and representatives. Amount other things Dooley stated (correctly) that the printer to whom McCloskey had delivered the union's membership list ran a non-union bulk-mailing operation. The minutes of the meeting, however, reported that Dooley had stated that the printer was non-union: in fact, however, the printing operation was unionized, although the bulk-mailing operation was not. The erroneous minutes, prepared at union expense, were distributed to each of the local unions making up the district council, in accordance with regular practice.

Mccloskey demanded that the minutes be corrected, and a correction was duly prepared by the Secretary-Treasurer. The "corrected" transcript of Dooley's remarks was substantially more detailed than the original version. At the direction of Coryell, and without the Secretary-Treasurer's knowledge, the correction was distributed with an attached letter from one Lavine, the president of a printer's union (the Lavine letter). The Lavine letter stated that the printer to whom McCloskey had delivered the membership list ran a non-union bulk-mailing operation. It also stated that the union label on McCloskey's campaign literature was fraudulent, and that the literature had been photocopied rather than printed.

The last incident complained of occurred at the Council's March 1984 meeting. At that meeting George Walish, a member of the executive board of the International, presented a report, a substantial portion of which was in rebuttal to allegations made in some of McCloskey's campaign literature. The literature asserted that the District Council, under Coryell's leadership, had made a gift of $13,490 to Walish. Speaking at the March meeting. Walish claimed that the "gift" was merely money received from a testimonial dinner given in his honor (and therefore was not Council funds): Walish also claimed that he had donated most of the money to charity. Walish went on to state that McCloskey's statements were libelous, and he threatened to bring ...

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