379 U.S. 134 (1964), 17, Calhoon v. Harvey

Docket Nº:No. 17
Citation:379 U.S. 134, 85 S.Ct. 292, 13 L.Ed.2d 190
Party Name:Calhoon v. Harvey
Case Date:December 07, 1964
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 134

379 U.S. 134 (1964)

85 S.Ct. 292, 13 L.Ed.2d 190




No. 17

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 7, 1964

Argued October 20, 1964




Under petitioner union's bylaws, members could nominate only themselves to office, eligibility for which, under the national constitution, was limited by specified provisions. Charging that these provisions, which they did not meet, deprived them of "equal rights" to nominate candidates under Title I, § 101(a)(1), of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), respondent union members sued under § 102 in the District Court to enjoin use of the union's challenged electoral system. That court dismissed the complaint for want of jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the combined effect of the eligibility requirements under Title IV, § 401(e), and the restriction to self-nomination determined whether § 101(a)(1) had been violated.


1. A federal district court has no jurisdiction over a suit by union members under § 102 of the LMRDA charging that the union's eligibility qualifications deprived them of the right to nominate candidates guaranteed by § 101(a)(1), that provision being directed solely against discrimination in the union's electoral process itself. Pp. 138-139.

2. Eligibility requirements are governed by Title IV, § 401(e). The exclusive remedy, with exceptions not here relevant, for protecting rights thereunder is a post-election suit by the Secretary of Labor following complaint of a member who has exhausted his union remedies, as required by the Act, and an investigation by the Secretary showing probable cause of a violation. Pp. 139-141.

324 F.2d 46 reversed

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BLACK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE BLACK delivered the opinion of the Court.

This case raises important questions concerning the powers of the Secretary of Labor and federal courts to protect rights of employees guaranteed by the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959.1

The respondents, three members of District No. 1, National Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, filed a complaint in Federal District Court against the union, its president and its secretary-treasurer, alleging that certain provisions of the union's bylaws and national constitution violated the Act in that they infringed

the right of members of defendant District No. 1, NMEBA, to nominate [85 S.Ct. 294] candidates in elections of defendant, which right is guaranteed to each member of defendant, and to each plaintiff, by Section 101(a)(1) of the LMRDA. . . .2

It was alleged that § 102 of Title I of the Act gave the District Court jurisdiction to adjudicate the controversy.3 The union bylaws complained

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of deprived a member of the right to nominate anyone for office but himself. The national constitution, in turn, provided that no member could be eligible for nomination or election to a full-time elective office unless he had been a member of the national union for five years and had served 180 days or more of sea time in each of two of the preceding three years on vessels covered by collective bargaining agreements with the national or its subsidiary bodies. On the basis of these allegations, respondents asked that the union be enjoined from preparing for or conducting any election until it revised its system of elections so as to afford each of its members a fair opportunity to nominate any persons "meeting fair and reasonable eligibility requirements for any or all offices to be filled by such election."4

The union moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that (1) the court lacked jurisdiction over the subject matter, and (2) the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The District Court dismissed for want of "jurisdiction,"5 holding that the alleged conduct of the union, even if true, failed to show a denial of the equal rights of all members of the union to vote for or nominate candidates guaranteed by § 101(a)(1) of Title I of the Act, so as to give the District Court jurisdiction of the controversy under § 102. The allegations, said the court, showed, at most, imposition of qualifications of eligibility for nomination and election so restrictive that they might violate § 401(e) of Title IV by denying members a reasonable opportunity to nominate and vote for candidates.6 The District

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Court further held that it could not exercise jurisdiction to protect § 401(e) rights, because § 402(a)7 of Title IV provides a remedy, declared by § 403 to be "exclusive," authorizing members to vindicate such rights by challenging elections after they have been held,8 and then only by (1) first exhausting all remedies available with the union, (2) filing a complaint with the Secretary of Labor, who (3) may, after investigating the violation alleged in the complaint, bring suit in a United States district court to attack the validity of the election. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that "the complaint alleged a violation of § 101(a)(1), and that federal [85 S.Ct. 295] jurisdiction existed under § 102." 324 F.2d 486, 487.9 Because of the importance of the questions presented and conflicting views in the courts of appeals and the district courts,10 we granted certiorari. 375 U.S. 991

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Jurisdiction of the District Court under § 102 of Title I depends entirely upon whether this complaint showed a violation of rights guaranteed by § 101(a)(1), for we disagree with the Court of Appeals' holding that jurisdiction under § 102 can be upheld by reliance in whole or in part on allegations which, in substance, charge a breach of Title IV rights. An analysis and understanding of the meaning of § 101(a)(1) and of the charges of the complaint are therefore essential to a determination of this issue. Respondents charge that the bylaws and constitutional provisions referred to above infringed their right guaranteed by § 101(a)(1) to nominate candidates. The result of their allegations here, however, is an attempt to sweep into the ambit of their right to sue in federal court if they are denied an equal opportunity to nominate candidates under § 101(a)(1), a right to sue if they are not allowed to nominate anyone they choose regardless of his eligibility and qualifications under union restrictions. But Title IV, not Title I, sets standards for eligibility and qualifications of candidates and officials, and provides its own separate and different administrative and judicial procedure for challenging those standards. And the equal rights language of § 101(a)(1) would have to be stretched far beyond its normal meaning to hold that it guarantees members not just a right to "nominate candidates," but a right to nominate anyone, without regard to valid union rules. All that § 101(a)(1) guarantees is that

Every member of a labor organization shall have equal rights and privileges . . . to nominate candidates, to vote in elections or referendums of the labor organization . . . and to participate in the deliberations

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and voting . . . subject to reasonable rules and regulations in such organization's constitution and bylaws.

Plainly, this is no more than a command that members and classes of members shall not be discriminated against in their right to nominate and vote. And Congress carefully prescribed that even this right against discrimination is "subject to reasonable rules and regulations" by the union. The complaining union members here have not been discriminated against in any way, and have been denied no privilege or right to vote or nominate which the union has granted to others. They have, indeed, taken full advantage of the uniform rule limiting nominations by nominating themselves for office.11 It is true that they were [85 S.Ct. 296] denied their request to be candidates, but that denial was not a discrimination against their right to nominate, since the same qualifications were required equally of all members. Whether the eligibility requirements set by the union's constitution and bylaws were reasonable and valid is a question separate and distinct from whether the right to nominate on an equal basis given by § 101(a)(1) was violated. The District Court therefore was without jurisdiction to grant the relief requested here, unless, as the Court of Appeals held, the "combined effect of the eligibility requirements and the restriction to self-nomination" is to be considered in determining whether § 101(a)(1) has been violated.12


We hold that possible violations of Title IV of the Act regarding eligibility are not relevant in determining whether or not a district court has jurisdiction under

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§ 102 of Title I of the Act. Title IV sets up a statutory scheme governing the election of union officers, fixing the terms during which they hold office, requiring that elections be by secret ballot, regulating the handling of campaign literature, requiring a reasonable opportunity for the nomination of candidates, authorizing unions to fix "reasonable qualifications uniformly imposed" for candidates, and attempting to guarantee fair union elections in which all the members are allowed to participate. Section 402 of Title IV, as has been pointed out, sets up an exclusive method for protecting Title IV rights, by permitting an individual member to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor challenging the validity of any election because of violations of Title IV. Upon complaint, the Secretary investigates, and, if he finds probable cause to believe that Title IV has been violated, he may file suit in the appropriate district court. It is apparent that Congress decided to utilize the special knowledge and discretion of the Secretary of Labor in order best to serve the public interest. Cf. San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S....

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