Lewis v. American Fed. of State, County & Mun. Emp., 17297.

Decision Date24 February 1969
Docket NumberNo. 17297.,17297.
Citation407 F.2d 1185
PartiesFrederick E. LEWIS v. AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO, Appellant.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Ronald Rosenberg, Van Arkel & Kaiser, Washington, D. C. (Wilderman, Markowitz & Kirschner, Richard Kirschner, Philadelphia, Pa., on the brief), for appellant.

David C. Harrison, Kramer & Harrison, Philadelphia, Pa. (Mitchell A. Kramer, Philadelphia, Pa., on the brief), for appellee.

Before SEITZ, ALDISERT and STAHL, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

ALDISERT, Circuit Judge.

This case arose as a civil action under the provisions of § 102 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA) of 1959,1 initiated by Frederick E. Lewis who sought reinstatement to union membership following his expulsion from the organization. His ouster was the culmination of extensive intraunion trial proceedings, ending in an unsuccessful appeal to the highest tribunal of the union international.

Alleging that his expulsion was in violation of § 101(a) (5)2 of the LMRDA, Lewis was successful in having the District Court order his reinstatement. The union has appealed.

It was incumbent upon Lewis to prove a denial of his rights under § 101, described by Congress as the "Bill of Rights of Members of Labor Organizations". He did not dispute that he was served with "written specific charges" or "given a reasonable time to prepare his defense". His case was predicated on a contention that he was not "afforded a full and fair hearing". And it was a narrow contention at best. He did not deny that he was afforded the opportunity to present witnesses at the hearing, to cross-examine those who appeared against him, and to be heard by testimony, exhibit, and argument. He made no allegation of prejudice or bias by either the chairman of the union's Judicial Panel who heard his case or the entire panel who reviewed the proceedings. His sole basis for alleging a denial of a "full and fair hearing" was an argument that the necessary quantum of evidence to sustain the charges was not presented before the union's tribunal. The District Court agreed with him. Our function now is to review the legal framework supporting the court's decision.

In attacking the validity of the action taken by the court below, the appellant advances two separate arguments. First, it is contended that there is no statutory authority or jurisdiction for a federal court to review disciplinary action taken by a union against an officer where the charges emanated from his conduct as an officer of the union, as distinguished from conduct as a member.3 In the alternative, it is argued that the court, assuming its authority to hear the case, should not have disturbed the union's action since the record before the union's judicial panel demonstrates that the full and fair hearing requirements of § 101(a) (5) were indeed satisfied.

We find no merit to the appellant's first argument. Irrespective of Lewis' status as a union officer, he was found guilty of violating provisions of the union's constitution which prescribed expulsion from membership, not merely removal from office, as the penalty. His loss of membership clearly came within the purview of §§ 101(a) (5) and 102 of the LMRDA, a violation of which empowers the federal courts to grant appropriate relief.4

Having determined that the present case was one in which the District Court was empowered to act, we turn to a consideration of appellant's second contention, which in effect is an allegation that the lower court exceeded the proper scope of review, both in concept and application, when it determined that the union's actions were not based on "substantial evidence".5

Our initial difficulty in examining the action of the court below stems from the failure of Congress to provide an explicit expression of the proper scope of reviewing power over the union's hearing procedures. The bald language of § 102 of the Act provides simply that "any person whose rights * * * have been infringed by any violation of this title may bring a civil action * * * for such relief (including injunctions) as may be appropriate." Scant guidance is provided by § 101(a) (5), which provides only that the hearing must be "full and fair".

Where, as here, there is no allegation of a denial of procedural due process, no claim of overreaching by those who conducted the hearing, no allegation of discrimination — in substance, no allegation of a denial of a "full" hearing in the sense that the "full" story was not presented before the union — and no legislative description of the quantum of evidence necessary to constitute a "full and fair hearing",6 resort must be made to both judicial precedents and the history of the statutory proceedings to implement properly the directive of Congress.

It has been said that the requirement of a "full and fair" hearing is considerably short of an authorization for a full review of the "law" and the facts.7 An examination of the proceedings surrounding the adoption of vital labor legislation gives credence to this proposition. Moreover, such an examination discloses that Congress is as deliberate in fashioning guidelines for appeals to federal court in labor matters as it is in framing the substantive law thereof; it compels the conclusion that the failure of Congress to prescribe in the LMRDA of 1959 the same scope of judicial review as contained in other labor legislation must not be considered an oversight or casual omission.

The grandfather of modern labor legislation, the Wagner Act of 1935,8 originally provided that the findings of the National Labor Relations Board "as to the facts if supported by the evidence, shall be conclusive". The Supreme Court read "evidence" to mean "substantial evidence", and defined such evidence to mean more than a mere scintilla, more than that which would create a suspicion of the existence of the fact to be established, but relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion; enough to justify, if the trial were to a jury, a refusal to direct a verdict when the conclusion sought to be drawn from it is one of fact for the jury.9

In the Administrative Procedure Act of 1946, Congress set forth in meticulous detail the circumstances under which, in reviewing the action of certain designated agencies, the "court shall * * * hold unlawful and set aside agency action, findings, and conclusions found to be: inter alia unsupported by substantial evidence."10

In the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, Congress amended the original Wagner Act quantum-of-evidence standard to read that the "findings of the Board with respect to questions of fact if supported by substantial evidence on the record considered as a whole11 shall be conclusive."12

There is sound reason for the adoption of a substantial-evidence test in legislation such as the Wagner Act, the applicable areas of the Administrative Procedure Act, and the LMRDA of 1947: federal agencies governed by these acts perform what has traditionally been regarded as an essentially judicial function, and but for these statutorily-created tribunals, the task of adjudicating and enforcing the legislative mandate would fall to the traditional courts of law. Considering the potential which these agencies possess to render far-reaching decisions which significantly affect the national interest, and recognizing that these "legislative courts" are relatively new to the art of adjudication and the rule of precedent and tradition which inherently characterize the judicial function, it is eminently proper that these agencies be subject to close scrutiny by the courts.

Similar considerations are not presented in problems of internal union discipline. Such matters generally have little impact beyond the organization itself. By their very nature they have no significance as precedents in any legal sense of the word; they involve matters of organizational discipline, essentially internal in concept and effect.

It is therefore not surprising that the congressional debate which preceded the adoption of the LMRDA of 1959 discloses no significant intent to adopt standards of review equivalent to the substantial-evidence test enunciated in earlier legislation.

The Supreme Court has also reflected this philosophy of judicial restraint in labor affairs. In United Steelworkers of America v. Warrior & Gulf Navig. Co., 363 U.S. 574, 80 S.Ct. 1347, 4 L.Ed.2d 1409 (1960), the Court admonished the courts to exercise the utmost restraint and to tread gingerly before intruding upon the arbitral process. The basic philosophy underlying the court's "hands-off" policy is very simple — labor matters are best left to those who understand the language and the workings of the shop, those who have a precise knowledge of what has come to be known as the "industrial common law". Even the "ablest judge cannot be expected to bring the same experience and competence as an arbitrator to bear upon the determination of a grievance, because he cannot be similarly informed."13

The reasoning of the Supreme Court in the "Trilogy" applies with equal force to cases arising out of internal union discipline. "The provisions of the L.M.R. D.A. were not intended by Congress to constitute an invitation to the courts to intervene at will in the internal affairs of unions. Courts have no special expertise in the operation of unions which would justify a broad power to interfere * * * General supervision of unions by courts would not contribute to the betterment of the unions or their members or to the cause of labor-management relations." Gurton v. Arons, 339 F.2d 371, 375 (2 Cir. 1964).

In the final analysis, courts must constantly wrestle with conflicting considerations in reviewing cases of union discipline. They must avoid...

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