On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. D.C. Civil No. 86-4184.
Sloviter, Becker and Garth, Circuit Judges.
This appeal arises from the district court's dismissal of an action brought by a member of a local union against his Local and its president for breach of a provision of the international union's constitution. Appellant Rollin Lewis is employed by Yellow Freight System, Inc. (Yellow Freight) and is a member of appellee Local Union No. 771 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America (Local 771), which has a collective bargaining contract with Yellow Freight. Appellee Kenneth C. Laukhuff was the president of Local 771 and Lewis was the shop steward at the time the actions at issue occurred. In the procedural posture of this case, we must accept as true the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint.
The complaint alleges that Yellow Freight unilaterally implemented an attendance/absentee policy (absentee policy) in September 1984 and that as a result of a group grievance concerning the policy, the Central Pennsylvania Joint Area Grievance Committee ruled that Yellow Freight must first negotiate with Local 771. Such negotiations were then conducted. By a letter dated April 18, 1985, signed by Laukhuff and the secretary-treasurer of the Local, Local 771 informed its members of Yellow Freight's negotiating position, stated that the Local "will not be placed in the position of forcing policies upon our members," requested the members to vote on the absentee policy on the secret ballot that was enclosed, and stated that, "[a] 51% majority is necessary to implement these policies" and "[a] majority vote opposing these policies would refer the case to Central Pennsylvania Joint Area Grievance Committee." App. at 13. The Yellow Freight road drivers voted against the absentee policy as outlined in the April 18 letter. App. at 6.
By letter dated may 20, 1985 and signed by Laukhuff, the members of Local 771 were informed that an absentee policy had been agreed to by Local 771 and Yellow Freight for a trial period of 60 days. App. at 15. Lewis alleges that at the time the absentee policy agreement was executed by Yellow Freight and Local 771, Laukhuff represented to the union representatives that the policy would be put to a vote within the 60-day trial period. App. at 7. Lewis was one of the union representatives who signed the agreement. App. at 19. By letter dated July 15, 1985, Laukhuff informed the members of Local 771 that "the company has the right to establish an absentee policy" and that "the policy cannot be voted on." App. at 24.
The complaint further alleges that on August 5, 1985 Lewis filed a grievance protesting the absentee policy as too strict and as forcing a driver to drive while fatigued or sick, and complaining about the inability of the members to vote on the policy. App. at 26-27. The grievance was dismissed by the Central Pennsylvania Joint Area Grievance Committee on September 12, 1985 on the ground that "the case is improper before the Committee." App. at 29. On September 28, 1985 a group grievance was filed by members of Local 771 asking that the absentee policy be renegotiated and be voted on as promised before its approval. That grievance was also denied as "improper before the committee" on November 6, 1985. App. at 40.
Lewis then filed a complaint against Local 771 and Laukhuff in state court on March 10, 1986, which was within six months of the denial of his grievance. The complaint asserts that the actions of defendants in denying Lewis and other union members the right to vote on the disputed absentee policy is in violation of Article XVI, Section 4(a) of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America Constitution which requires that amendments to local or area supplements of the master collective bargaining contract (such as the absentee policy) which are voluntarily negotiated must be approved by a secret ballot majority vote of the affected members. The action was removed by the defendants to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on the ground that it alleges a violation of plaintiff's rights under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act.
Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that it was filed more than six months after the July 15, 1985 letter advising the union members that the policy would not be voted on. The district court did not reach this issue but dismissed Lewis' complaint, citing West v. Conrail, 780 F.2d 361 (3d Cir. 1985). Lewis appeals from that order.
Although no party raised an issue of subject matter jurisdiction, every federal appellate court "has a special obligation to 'satisfy itself not only of its own jurisdiction, but also that of the lower courts,'" in every appeal presented to it, regardless of whether the parties contest jurisdiction. Bender v. Williamsport Area School District, 475 U.S. 534, , 106 S. Ct. 1326, 1331, 89 L. Ed. 2d 501 (1986) (quoting Mitchell v. Maurer, 293 U.S. 237, 244, 79 L. Ed. 338, 55 S. Ct. 162 (1934)). See also Trent Realty Assocs. v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n of Philadelphia, 657 F.2d 29, 31 (3d Cir. 1981). In response to this court's sua sponte inquiry, the parties assert that a district court has subject matter jurisdiction over a case where individual members of a union have sued their union for breach of a union constitution by virtue of section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). That issue has not previously been addressed by this court.
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 ...