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Felice v. Sever

filed: February 8, 1993.

THOMAS C. FELICE, APPELLANT
v.
THOMAS SEVER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT OF TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 30; RONALD MILLER, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS BUSINESS AGENT OF TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 30; THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, CHAUFFEURS, WAREHOUSEMEN AND HELPERS OF AMERICA LOCAL UNION NO. 30; THE COUNTY OF WESTMORELAND; AND THE INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, CHAUFFEURS, WAREHOUSEMEN AND HELPERS OF AMERICA



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (D.C. Civil No. 89-1183).

Before: Sloviter, Chief Judge, Stapleton and Lay*fn* , Circuit Judges

Author: Sloviter

Opinion OF THE COURT

SLOVITER, Chief Judge.

Thomas C. Felice, the plaintiff in the district court, appeals from two orders of the district court. One is the entry of judgment after a non-jury trial in favor of defendant union and two of its officers on Felice's breach of the duty of fair representation claim brought under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169 (1988). The other is the earlier grant of summary judgment for the two union officers in their individual capacities on Felice's state law claims. This appeal requires us to examine closely the parameters of an unfair representation claim and the scope of the statutory immunity for individual union officers. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988).

I.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The facts relevant to this appeal are not disputed here and are taken primarily from the district court's findings of fact. Before any of the events relevant to this case, plaintiff Thomas C. Felice was a member of the defendant union, Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America Local Union No. 30 (Local 30 or union), and was employed at M & G Convoy, Inc. (M & G) where he held the position of union shop steward. Local 30 is a "labor organization" within the meaning of the NLRA, see 29 U.S.C. § 152(5) (1988), and is the exclusive bargaining representative of the collective bargaining unit in which Felice was employed at M & G. M & G is an "employer" within the meaning of the NLRA. See id. § 152(2).

In October 1987, Felice ran unsuccessfully for union office. The winning slate of candidates included defendant Thomas Sever, the President of Local 30, and defendant Ronald Miller, the Business Manager. Both assumed these offices in January 1988. Thereafter, Sever instituted a campaign of retaliation against Felice, which ranged from "keeping a tight rein on Felice's participation in union meetings" to "attempting to manipulate steward elections." App. at 123. As a result of Sever's efforts, Felice lost his position as shop steward at M & G and the related "super-seniority." Consequently, Felice was laid off from his position at M & G in July 1988.

According to the union by-laws, a union member who has not been employed in a collective bargaining unit represented by the union for a period of six months is issued an honorable withdrawal card, which terminates active membership in the union and deprives the member of the right to seek union office. On January 31, 1989, Felice was issued an honorable withdrawal card by Local 30 because he had not obtained employment in another bargaining unit represented by Local 30.

The critical conduct for purposes of this appeal occurred during the six-month period from the time of Felice's layoff from M & G to the time he was issued the honorable withdrawal card. On November 14, 1988, Felice applied for a job with the Westmoreland County Park Police. The County of Westmoreland is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement entered into under the Pennsylvania Public Employe Relations Act (PERA),*fn1 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 1101.101-1101.2301 (Purdon 1991 & Supp. 1992), Local 30 was the exclusive bargaining representative for the collective bargaining unit that included the Park Police of the defendant County of Westmoreland.

The County Commissioner, Fey Vidmer, arranged to hire Felice for a position with the Park Police, contingent on the receipt of salary reimbursement from the Private Industry Council of Westmoreland/Fayette, Inc. (PIC), an entity established pursuant to the Job Training Partnership Act of 1982, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1501-1781 (1988 & Supp. II 1990). The PIC could reimburse the County for one-half of Felice's wages earned during a three-month training period. Vidmer's intention was to hire Felice only if the County received this funding. Vidmer completed all of the necessary paperwork on his part except for setting an effective date for Felice's hiring.

In order to obtain PIC funding, the County needed Local 30 to sign a Union Concurrence Form approving the hiring of Felice. The Chief of the Park Police, Michael Corsaro, sent the Union Concurrence Form to Miller in mid-November 1988. Miller showed the form to Sever, who directed that it be sent to the union's attorney for review. This procedure deviated from the past practice whereby the business manager would sign similar forms without approval by the union's president or attorney.

Beginning in late November 1988 through early December 1988, Felice inquired why his application for employment with the County of Westmoreland had not yet been approved; Miller offered a variety of excuses in response. In late December 1988, the union's attorney approved signing the Concurrence Form if the County assured the union that hiring Felice would not result in the layoff of any bargaining unit employees. In early January 1989, Miller sought that assurance from Corsaro. On February 6, 1989, after Felice had been issued an honorable withdrawal card from Local 30, Corsaro responded to Miller's earlier request by a memorandum to Sever stating that the County no longer needed the union's signature on the Concurrence Form as it believed that a recent change in state law prevented it from hiring Felice because he had not completed and was not enrolled in municipal police training.*fn2 Eventually Felice obtained other employment, but it was not in a bargaining unit represented by Local 30. During the period between Felice's layoff and the issuance of the withdrawal card, Sever continued to express retaliatory intentions toward Felice, stating on several occasions that Felice would "never work in Local 30 again." App. at 123.

Felice originally filed this suit in Pennsylvania state court naming five defendants: Sever, Miller, Local 30, the County of Westmoreland, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America, AFL-CIO (International Union). Of the eight counts in the complaint, five are relevant to this appeal.*fn3 Counts I, III, and V alleged that Sever and Miller had violated state law by defaming Felice and interfering with his employment opportunities with the County of Westmoreland. Count II alleged that Sever, Miller, and Local 30 (often referred to jointly as Local 30) had breached the duty of fair representation, primarily by refusing to sign the Union Concurrence Form. Count VIII sought punitive damages for the intentional misconduct of any of the defendants.

Defendants removed this action to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 (1988 & Supp. II 1990). Thereafter, defendants Sever, Miller, and Local 30 moved for summary judgment. The district court (Chief Judge Cohill) denied summary judgment on the unfair representation claim asserted against Local 30 and against Sever and Miller in their official capacities. It granted summary judgment for Sever and Miller on all of Felice's claims asserted against them as individuals. The court held that under section 301(b) of the Labor Management Reporting Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185(b) (1988), Sever and Miller were immune from liability on the claim for breach of the duty of fair representation. The court commented that the unfair representation claim against them in their official capacities was adequate to address their potential liability. The court also granted summary judgment for the individuals on the state law claims on the ground of immunity, stating that the relevant conduct had occurred while Felice was covered by the collective bargaining agreement with the County, and therefore these claims as well were foreclosed by section 301(b). Felice appeals only from the summary judgment on the state law claims.

The case was then transferred to Judge Lewis for a bench trial on the remaining claims. At the Conclusion of the trial, the district court entered judgment for the defendants on Felice's claim that Local 30 had breached its duty of fair representation by interfering with Felice's employment with the County of Westmoreland,*fn4 holding that Local 30 did not owe Felice a duty of fair representation in its conduct with respect to the Union Concurrence Form.

Felice is appealing the entry of judgment for defendants Sever, Miller, and Local 30 on his breach of the duty of fair representation claim, and the grant of summary judgment for individual ...


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