Noble v. Sombrotto, Civil Action No. 94-302 (EGS)

CourtUnited States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
Writing for the CourtEmmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge
PartiesDAVID W. NOBLE, JR., Plaintiff, v. VINCENT R. SOMBROTTO, et al., Defendants.
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 94-302 (EGS)
Decision Date27 March 2015

DAVID W. NOBLE, JR., Plaintiff,
VINCENT R. SOMBROTTO, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 94-302 (EGS)


March 27, 2015


David Noble, a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers ("NALC"), brought this lawsuit in 1994 against Vincent Sombrotto, the NALC's then-president, as well as nine other officers of the NALC, an officer of the union's Mutual Benefit Association, and an officer of the union's Health Benefit Plan.1 Mr. Noble accused the individual defendants of violating their fiduciary duties to the NALC under Section 501 of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., by accepting: (1) an in-town allowance of $500 per month to cover costs incurred in the performance of their

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duties; (2) reimbursement for the employee portion of their Federal Insurance Contributions Act taxes; and (3) per-diem payments during the union's national conventions. Mr. Noble also alleged that the defendants violated their obligations under Section 201 of the LMRDA by refusing his requests to inspect certain documents in order to verify the contents of financial reports that the NALC filed with the Department of Labor.

On April 28, 2003, this Court denied the parties' cross motions for summary judgment. See Noble v. Sombrotto ("Noble I"), 260 F. Supp. 2d 132 (D.D.C. 2003). The Court subsequently held a trial and received proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. On September 30, 2005, the Court adopted the defendants' proposed findings, and dismissed Mr. Noble's claims. See Order, ECF No. 239. The Court denied Mr. Noble's motion to reconsider on September 20, 2006. See Noble v. Sombrotto ("Noble II"), No. 94-302, 2006 WL 2708796 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2006).

Mr. Noble appealed to the D.C. Circuit, which affirmed in part and reversed in part. See Noble v. Sombrotto ("Noble III"), 525 F.3d 1230 (D.C. Cir. 2008). The D.C. Circuit affirmed this Court's dismissal of Mr. Noble's Section 501 claims with respect to the tax reimbursements and per-diem payments. Id. at 1237-39. As for the in-town allowances, the Circuit disagreed with this Court's finding that Mr. Noble had failed to produce evidence that the allowances had been used for personal gain. See id. at

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1236. The Circuit also vacated this Court's conclusion that Mr. Noble's Section 201 claim was moot. Id. at 1241-42.

After the case was remanded, the Court held a status hearing, decided to proceed with the existing record, and directed the parties to submit proposed supplemental findings of fact and conclusions of law, containing citation to evidence in the record, and addressing the issues before the Court on remand. See Minute Order of January 7, 2010. The parties have now submitted proposed supplemental findings of fact and conclusions of law. See Pl.'s Suppl. Proposals ("Pl.'s Proposals"), ECF No. 270; Defs.' Suppl. Proposals ("Defs.' Proposals"), ECF No. 272; Individual Defs.' Additional Suppl. Proposals ("Individual Defs.' Proposals"), ECF No. 274; Pls.' Objs. to Defs.' Suppl. Proposals ("Pl.'s Objs."), ECF No. 284.

The Court subsequently "determined that the trial exhibits that were introduced during the April 2004 bench trial are not available on the docket in this case and that any hard copies were returned to the parties sometime after the trial concluded." Minute Order of December 2, 2013. For that reason, the Court directed the parties to file copies of their trial exhibits "by no later than December 16, 2013." Id. The defendants filed their exhibits on December 16, 2013, but Mr. Noble repeatedly requested an extension of this deadline. The defendants did not oppose his first three extension requests,

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but noted that they might oppose future requests. See Defs.' Response to Third Extension Mot., ECF No. 292 at 1.

On January 20, 2014, Mr. Noble made a fourth request, asserting that "I located all of my trial exhibits except six by January 9, 2014." Fourth Extension Mot., ECF No. 293 at 2. The remaining six exhibits, he said, were lost by him, and located and provided by the NALC, but without sufficient time for Mr. Noble to review them for accuracy. See id. at 2. The defendants proposed a shorter extension, Opp. to Fourth Extension Mot., ECF No. 294 at 2, but the Court granted Mr. Noble the full extension to February 3, 2014, stating that "[f]urther requests for extensions of time will be viewed with disfavor." Minute Order of January 24, 2014.

Mr. Noble nonetheless sought a fifth extension of the deadline for filing his exhibits, even though he had found "all of my trial exhibits except six by January 9, 2014" and obtained the remaining six by January 21, 2014. See Fifth Extension Mot., ECF No. 295 at 1-2. He claimed that on January 28, 2014, he discovered that one of the exhibits provided by the NALC was incomplete, and that he did not receive a complete copy of that exhibit until January 31, 2014. Id. at 2. Mr. Noble did not explain how this prevented him from filing copies of the other exhibits, which he had located by January 9, 2014. The Court granted Mr. Noble's motion in part, directing him to file by no

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later than February 5, 2014 copies of all of the trial exhibits except for Exhibit 1—the one he received on January 31, 2014. See Minute Order of February 4, 2014. The Court gave Mr. Noble until February 17, 2014 to file Exhibit 1. See id. On February 5, 2014, Mr. Noble filed only a small number of his trial exhibits. See Exhibits, ECF No. 296 (Plaintiff's Exhibit Nos. 2-8, 13-14, 31, 38, 75, 76, 79, 89, and 91). He filed Exhibit 1 on February 17, 2014. See Exhibit One, ECF No. 297.

Notwithstanding Mr. Noble's failure to comply with Court-imposed deadlines, the Court granted Mr. Noble another chance in July 2014, directing him to file a complete set of his trial exhibits by August 18, 2014. See Minute Order of July 14, 2014. Mr. Noble again failed to comply. On August 18, 2014, he filed a motion "to vacate the July 14, 2014 Minute Order," which requested an additional one-month extension and asked that the Court stay the case pending an election for the office of NALC President. See Noble Declaration, ECF No. 298-1 at 1-2. The Court denied both requests. See Minute Order of October 9, 2014.

The Court therefore relies on the existing record, including documents in the summary-judgment record that correspond to some of Mr. Noble's trial exhibits. Upon consideration of that record, as well as the parties' proposed supplemental findings and the applicable law, the Court finds that (1) the Mutual Benefit Association and the Health Benefit Plan are sufficiently

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separate from the NALC that defendants Dunn and Vincenzi are outside the scope of Section 501; (2) the remaining individual defendants reasonably interpreted the NALC Constitution to permit the in-town allowances and they used the money for union business; and (3) the existing record is insufficient to resolve Mr. Noble's Section 201 claim. Accordingly, the Court enters judgment in favor of the defendants on Mr. Noble's Section 501 claims, and will direct the filing of additional pleadings regarding his Section 201 claim.

I. Findings of Fact

The NALC is governed by a Constitution, which creates two bodies for the governance of the union. See Noble III, 525 F.3d at 1233. The national convention of union members meets biennially, is empowered to amend the Constitution, and is the union's supreme body. Id. The Executive Council, which is made up of twenty-eight officers, ten of whom are resident officers who work in Washington, D.C., is charged with running the union's day-to-day operations. Id.

A. History of the In-Town Allowances.

The Constitution charges the Executive Council to "'act between Conventions on all matters related to the welfare of the Union not specifically prohibited by the membership,'" and to "'authorize and/or ratify the payment of salaries, wages, expenses, allowances, and other disbursements which it deems

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necessary and appropriate to the purpose and functioning of this Union, other than provided for.'" Id. (quoting NALC Const. art. 9, § 11(e) (1992)). Pursuant to these powers, the Executive Council has, since the 1950s, authorized the payment of a $500 per month in-town allowance to its resident officers. Id. at 1234. The Executive Council reauthorized the same payments in resolutions passed in 1975, 1977, and 1980. Id. at 1235.

The in-town allowances are intended "to cover the expenses NALC officers residing in Washington, D.C. incurred in the performance of their official duties." Id. These expenses include costs for "transportation, entertainment, and other expenses for the benefit of the Association in the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Area," which were estimated to "approximate, on the average" $500 per month. 1980 Resolution, Defs.' Ex. 2, ECF No. 288-3 at 5; see also Noble II, 2006 WL 2708796, at *2. The NALC President was authorized to receive an in-town allowance in excess of $500 per month for "all official expenditures made by him, both in town and out of town." Noble III, 525 F.3d at 1235. The $500 per month limit on in-town expenditures has remained constant since the 1950s. Id. at 1234.

An officer was required to request the in-town allowance each month the officer wished to receive it, and any officer seeking reimbursement for over $500 was required to provide a receipt and the express authorization of the NALC President to incur the

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extra expense. See Noble II, 2006 WL 2708796, at *2; 1980 Resolution, Defs.' Ex. 2, ECF No. 288-3 at 6. Officers were not required to submit receipts to receive an in-town allowance of up to $500 per month; rather, the Resolution stated, "[a]pplication for allowances pursuant to this Resolution constitute[s] a representation by the applying officer or employee that the sum requested was expended on behalf of the Association in the course of performance...

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