404 U.S. 528 (1972), 71-119, Trbovich v. United Mine Workers

Docket Nº:No. 71-119
Citation:404 U.S. 528, 92 S.Ct. 630, 30 L.Ed.2d 686
Party Name:Trbovich v. United Mine Workers
Case Date:January 17, 1972
Court:United States Supreme Court

Page 528

404 U.S. 528 (1972)

92 S.Ct. 630, 30 L.Ed.2d 686



United Mine Workers

No. 71-119

United States Supreme Court

Jan. 17, 1972

Argued November 18, 1971




Petitioner union member sought unsuccessfully to intervene pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 24(a) in litigation brought by the Secretary of Labor under Title IV of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act to set aside an election of union officers for violations of the Act. Petitioner, who initiated the entire enforcement proceeding with his complaint to the Secretary, sought to present evidence and argument in support of the Secretary's election challenge, and to urge additional grounds for setting the election aside.


1. There is nothing in the language of Title IV of the Act or its legislative history to bar intervention by a union member in a post-election enforcement suit, so long as that intervention is limited to claims of illegality presented by the Secretary's complaint. Pp. 530-537.

2. Intervention under Rule 24(a) is warranted for this petitioner, as he may have a valid complaint about the performance of the Secretary, who protects not only the rights of individual union members, but also the public interest in free and democratic union elections, two functions that may not always dictate the same approach to the conduct of the litigation. Pp. 537-539.

Reversed and case remanded to the District Court with directions to allow limited intervention.

MARSHALL, J., delivered the opinion of the Court in which BURGER, C.J., and BRENNAN, STEWART, WHITE, and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined. DOUGLAS, J, filed an opinion dissenting in part, post, p. 539. POWELL and REHNQUIST, JJ., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

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MARSHALL, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE MARSHALL delivered the opinion of the Court.

The Secretary of Labor instituted this action under § 402(b) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), 73 Stat. 534, 29 U.S.C. § 482(b), to set aside an election of officers of the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA), held on December 9, 1969. He alleged that the election was held in a manner that violated the LMRDA in numerous respects,1 and he sought an order requiring a new election to be held under his supervision.

Petitioner, a member of the UMWA, filed the initial complaint with the Secretary that eventually led him to file this suit. Petitioner now seeks to intervene in the litigation, pursuant to Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 24(a), in order (1) to urge two additional grounds for setting aside

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the election,2 (2) to seek certain specific safeguards with respect to any new election that may be ordered,3 and (3) to present evidence and argument in support of the Secretary's challenge to the election. The District Court denied his motion for leave to intervene, on the ground that the LMRDA expressly stripped union members of any right to challenge a union election in the courts, and gave that right exclusively to the Secretary. Hodgson v. United Mine Workers, 51 F.R.D. 270 (1970). The Court of Appeals affirmed on the basis of the District Court opinion, 77 L.R.R.M. 2496 (CADC 1971). We granted certiorari to determine whether the LMRDA imposes a bar to intervention by union members under Rule 24, in a suit initiated by the Secretary. Post, p. 880.4 We conclude that it does not, and we remand the case to the District Court with directions to permit intervention.


The LMRDA was the first major attempt of Congress to regulate the internal affairs of labor unions.5 Having conferred substantial power on labor organizations, Congress

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began to be concerned about the danger that union leaders would abuse that power, to the detriment of the rank-and-file members. Congress saw the principle of union democracy as one of the most important safeguards against such abuse, and accordingly included in the LMRDA a comprehensive scheme for the regulation of union elections.

Title IV of the statute establishes a set of substantive rules governing union elections, LMRDA § 401, 29 U.S.C. § 481, and it provides a comprehensive procedure for enforcing those rules, LMRDA § 402, 29 U.S.C. § 482. Any union member who alleges a violation may initiate the enforcement procedure. He must first exhaust any internal remedies available under the constitution and bylaws of his union. Then he may file a complaint with the Secretary [92 S.Ct. 633] of Labor, who "shall investigate" the complaint. Finally, if the Secretary finds probable cause to believe a violation has occurred, he "shall . . . bring a civil action against the labor organization" in federal district court, to set aside the election if it has already been held, and to direct and supervise a new election. With respect to elections not yet conducted, the statute provides that existing rights and remedies apart from the statute are not affected. But with respect to an election already conducted, "[t]he remedy provided by this subchapter . . . shall be exclusive." LMRDA § 403, 29 U.S.C. § 483.

The critical statutory provision for present purposes is § 403, 29 U.S.C. § 483, making suit by the Secretary the "exclusive" post-election remedy for a violation of Title IV. This Court has held that § 403 prohibits union members from initiating a private suit to set aside an election. Calhoon v. Harvey, 379 U.S. 134, 140 (1964). But in this case, petitioner seeks only to participate in a pending suit that is plainly authorized by the statute; it cannot be said that his claim is

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defeated by the bare language of the Act. The Secretary, relying on legislative history, argues that § 403 should be construed to bar intervention as well as initiation of a suit by the members. In his view, the legislative history shows that Congress deliberately chose to exclude union members entirely from any direct participation in judicial enforcement proceedings under Title IV. The Secretary's argument rests largely on the fact that two alternative proposals figured significantly in the legislative history of Title IV, and each of these rejected bills would have authorized individual union members to bring suit. In the words of the District Court:

We think the fact that Congress considered two alternatives -- suit by union members and suit by the Secretary -- and then chose the latter alternative and labeled it "exclusive" deprives this Court of jurisdiction to permit the former alternative via the route of intervention.

51 F.R.D. at 272.

That argument misconceives the legislative history and misconstrues the statute. A review of the legislative history shows that Congress made suit by the Secretary the exclusive post-election remedy for two principal reasons: (1) to protect unions from frivolous litigation and unnecessary judicial interference with their elections, and (2) to centralize in a single proceeding such litigation as might be warranted with respect to a single election. Title IV as enacted serves these purposes by referring all complaints to the Secretary so that he can screen out frivolous ones, and by consolidating all meritorious complaints in a single proceeding, the Secretary's suit in federal district court. The alternative proposals were rejected simply because they failed to accomplish these objectives. There is no evidence whatever that Congress was opposed to participation by union members

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in the litigation, so long as that participation did not interfere with the screening and centralizing functions of the Secretary.

The enforcement provisions of Title IV originated in a bill introduced by Senator John Kennedy in 1958. That bill, S. 3751, provided for suit by the Secretary as the exclusive remedy for violation of the rules relating to union elections. Senator Kennedy described the bill as a "modest proposal," one which would protect union members "without undue interference in the internal affairs of what I believe are essentially private institution -- that is, American trade unions." 104 Cong.Rec. 7954. The Senate passed an expanded version of the bill, S. 3974, which retained the original enforcement scheme, and reflected a continuing legislative interest in minimizing judicial interference with union elections. See S.Rep. No. 1684, 85th Cong., 2d Sess., 12-15 (1958). That bill was defeated in the House of Representatives, 104 Cong.Rec. 18288, [92 S.Ct. 634] but essentially the same enforcement scheme was retained the following year in S. 1555, the Kennedy-Ervin bill, which was ultimately passed by both Houses and enacted into law.

In the Senate, the principal advocate of a provision authorizing individual union members to bring suit was Senator Barry Goldwater. He introduced a bill, S. 748, endorsed by the Administration, that would have authorized both the Secretary and the members to file suit to enforce the rules relating to union elections.6 During

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the Senate Hearings, a number of witnesses compared the enforcement provisions of the two bills. The primary objection to the provision for member suits in the Goldwater bill was that it might lead to multiple litigation in multiple forums, and thereby impose on the union the severe burden of mounting multiple defenses. A related objection was that the Goldwater bill failed to interpose a screening mechanism between the dissatisfied union member and the courtroom, and thereby imposed on the union the burden of responding to frivolous complaints.

Perhaps the most vehement opposition to the Goldwater bill came from the AFL-CIO. Its spokesman, Andrew Biemiller, testified that

[t]he bill would result in placing union officers in a straitjacket, since...

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