Noble v. Sombrotto, No. 06-7170.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
Citation525 F.3d 1230
PartiesDavid W. NOBLE, Jr., Appellant v. Vincent R. SOMBROTTO, President, National Association of Letter Carriers, et al., Appellees.
Docket NumberNo. 06-7170.
Decision Date16 May 2008
525 F.3d 1230
David W. NOBLE, Jr., Appellant
v.
Vincent R. SOMBROTTO, President, National Association of Letter Carriers, et al., Appellees.
No. 06-7170.
United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued October 26, 2007.
Decided May 16, 2008.

[525 F.3d 1232]

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 94cv00302).

Bernadette C. Sargeant argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellant.

Bruce H. Simon argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief were Brian A. Powers, Nicholas R. Femia, Peter Herman, and Victoria L. Bor. Keith R. Bolek entered an appearance.

Before: SENTELLE, Chief Judge, KAVANAUGH, Circuit Judge, and WILLIAMS, Senior Circuit Judge.

Opinion for the Court filed PER CURIAM.

Separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part filed by Circuit Judge KAVANAUGH.

Separate opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part filed by Senior Circuit Judge WILLIAMS.

PER CURIAM:


David W. Noble, Jr., is a member and former employee of the National Association of Letter Carriers ("NALC" or the "union"). In 1994 he brought suit against Vincent R. Sombrotto, then president of the union, as well as eleven other union officers, accusing them of violating their fiduciary duties under § 501(a) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. He later joined the union itself as an additional defendant.

Noble alleged that the officers had directed union funds to their personal benefit in three ways: (1) an unmonitored "in-town" expense allowance; (2) union reimbursement of the employee portion of the officers' Federal Insurance Contributions Act ("FICA") taxes; and (3) unnecessary "per diem" payments made during the union's biennial National Conventions. By way of relief, he sought an accounting from the officers and the recovery by the union of all unlawful expenditures. He also sought the release of certain financial documents under § 201(c) of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. § 431(c).

After a bench trial, the district court dismissed all of Noble's claims. Noble v. Sombrotto, No. 94-302, slip op., 2006 WL 2708796 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2006). The court held that the various payments to the officers had been properly authorized under the union's constitution and internal procedures, and therefore could not have violated § 501(a). Id. at 15-19. It also dismissed Noble's § 201(c) claim as moot. Id. at 20-21.

We reverse the district court's judgment as to the expense allowance program and vacate its dismissal of Noble's § 501(a) claim on this issue. We affirm the district court's dismissal of Noble's § 501(a) claims on the FICA reimbursements and the per diem payments. Finally, because we cannot identify the factual basis for the district court's mootness finding, we vacate its dismissal of his § 201(c) claim.

I. Background

In 1959, Congress passed the Landrum-Griffin Act, also known as the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA") to protect against misuse of

525 F.3d 1233

union funds by corrupt union officials. See, e.g., Tile, Marble, etc. v. Ceramic Tile Finishers Union Local 25, 972 F.2d 738 (7th Cir.1992). LMRDA's § 501(a) makes union officers fiduciaries of union funds and commands that they keep and use those funds solely for the benefit of the organization and its members. It also forbids unions from adopting provisions or resolutions purporting to absolve union officials for breaches of these duties. LMRDA's § 501(b) gives union members a private right of action to sue officers in breach of their fiduciary duties in federal or state court to recover damages on behalf of the labor organization. LMRDA's § 201(c) requires unions to make available to their members all information the organizations are required to file with the Secretary of Labor. That section also provides a private cause of action by which members may compel the union to allow them to inspect records necessary for the members to verify the accuracy of a union's report.

The National Association of Letter Carriers ("NALC" or the "union") is a labor union that represents approximately 300,000 active and retired letter carriers of the U.S. Postal Service. NALC is governed by a constitution which may be amended by majority vote of its biennial National Convention. NALC's constitution provides for the union to be administered by an Executive Council, whose power is secondary only to that of the National Convention, and gives the council authority to "act between Conventions on all matters related to the welfare of the Union not specifically prohibited by the membership." NALC Const. art. 9, § 11(e) (1992) (The relevant sections of the constitution have been renumbered over time; for the sake of convenience we use the 1992 numbering throughout unless noted otherwise.). The Executive Council is made up of 28 union officers, including 10 "Resident Officers" (including the President), 15 "National Business Agents," and 3 "Trustees." The Executive Council has explicit authority to act between Conventions to "authorize and/or ratify the payment of salaries, wages, expenses, allowances, and other disbursements which it deems necessary and appropriate to the purpose and functioning of this Union, other than provided for." Id. § 11(e)(3).

Following the 1992 National Convention, appellant David W. Noble, Jr., then a union employee as well as a longtime union member, became aware of various union expenditures authorized by the Executive Council that redounded to its members' personal benefit. Conducting his own investigation, Noble determined that union officials had longstanding practices of taking $500 monthly expense allowances without providing any supporting documentation justifying such payments; that NALC officers were accepting per diem during meetings of the National Convention even if they incurred no personal expenses; and that the council had decided to reimburse their members for their share of Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from their NALC paychecks. Noble also found records from past conventions revealing that union officials who had been challenged by union members on some of these practices had given misleading responses, leaving union members under the incorrect impression that the accusations were inaccurate.

Noble filed internal charges against the NALC officers on August 16, 1993, by hand-delivering his accusations to union president Vincent Sombrotto. Sombrotto immediately suspended Noble from his job without pay, after which Noble returned from his long-term leave from the U.S. Postal Service to work as a letter carrier. In accordance with the NALC constitution, Sombrotto called for a five-member investigating committee to investigate Noble's

525 F.3d 1234

charges and report to a special meeting of the NALC convention. The investigating committee, constituted of NALC members who were not members of the Executive Council, rejected Noble's attempts to participate in the investigation by attending investigatory meetings and calling witnesses, and denied his request to receive a copy of its report in advance of the special convention. After conducting its investigation, which confirmed that Noble's complaints were based in fact, the investigating committee presented its findings to the special convention on October 13, 1993.

At the meeting, the investigating committee reported that the $500 monthly "in-town" expense allowance was a longstanding practice dating to the 1950s. Similarly, it reported that officers' receipt of per diem during convention weeks was both longstanding and justified by a ban on reimbursement for other expenses incurred during that period. The committee also found that NALC was reimbursing officers and staff for their share of Social Security taxes because those members were simultaneously required to pay into the Civil Service Retirement System ("CSRS"). Delegates to the special convention roundly rejected each of Noble's charges of wrongdoing by an average margin of 25 to 1.

On February 17, 1994, Noble filed suit against Sombrotto and eleven other NALC officers alleging that they had breached their fiduciary duties to the union in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 501(a) by (1) authorizing a monthly "in-town" expense allowance without requiring that expenses be documented; (2) authorizing union reimbursement for the officers' employee portion of their FICA taxes; and (3) collecting per diem payments far in excess of their actual expenses during NALC's biennial National Conventions. Noble sought recovery of all unlawful expenditures from the officers named in his complaint on behalf of the union. Further, Noble brought a claim under LMRDA § 201(c), alleging that he had been denied financial documentation necessary to verify NALC's annual financial reports.

During the subsequent regular National Convention in 1994, NALC membership rejected proposed amendments that would have (1) limited per diem payments to full-time officers during convention weeks, (2) limited the Executive Council's power to authorize salaries and benefits for elected officers, and (3) would have governed future instances when all members of the Executive Council were charged simultaneously. During the 1996 convention, proposed amendments to limit the Executive Council's authority to set wages and benefits and limit their receipt of per diem payments during conventions met the same fate. The 1996 National Convention, however, passed a resolution that approved and confirmed the constitutionality of the $500 "in-town" expense allowance for NALC officers, payment of officers' half of FICA taxes, and payment of per diem to officers during National Convention meetings at the same rate as that paid to other delegates. This resolution received 88% of the nearly 4,500 votes cast.

The district court held a bench trial on Noble's claims on April 13 and 14, 2004. On September 30, 2005, the court issued a...

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22 practice notes
  • Shelton v. Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Civil Action No. 07-933 (CKK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 26, 2008
    ...presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future.'" Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1241 (D.C.Cir.2008) (quoting Pharmachemie B.V. v. Barr Labs., Inc., 276 F.3d 627, 631 (D.C.Cir.2002)). Here, the April 5, 2007 HOD found that Pl......
  • Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of La. v. U.S., Civil Action No. 02-2413 (RBW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 22, 2008
    ...presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future," Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1241 (D.C.Cir.2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted); i.e., "when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally ......
  • Doe v. Am. Fed'n of Gov't Emps., Civil Action No. 20-1558 (JDB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 11, 2021
    ...commands that they keep and use those funds solely for the benefit of the organization and its members.’ ") (quoting Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1233 (D.C. Cir. 2008) ). Yet, confusingly, even though the header in the second amended complaint describes Count 7 as a claim for relief a......
  • Building and Const. Trades Dept., Afl-Cio v. Solis, Civil Action No. 06-677 (RBW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 4, 2009
    ...presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future," Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1241 (D.C.Cir.2008) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); i.e., "when the issues presented are no longer `live' or the parties lack a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
22 cases
  • Shelton v. Maya Angelou Public Charter School, Civil Action No. 07-933 (CKK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 26, 2008
    ...presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future.'" Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1241 (D.C.Cir.2008) (quoting Pharmachemie B.V. v. Barr Labs., Inc., 276 F.3d 627, 631 (D.C.Cir.2002)). Here, the April 5, 2007 HOD found that Pl......
  • Tunica-Biloxi Tribe of La. v. U.S., Civil Action No. 02-2413 (RBW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • September 22, 2008
    ...presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future," Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1241 (D.C.Cir.2008) (internal quotation and citation omitted); i.e., "when the issues presented are no longer live or the parties lack a legally ......
  • Doe v. Am. Fed'n of Gov't Emps., Civil Action No. 20-1558 (JDB)
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • August 11, 2021
    ...commands that they keep and use those funds solely for the benefit of the organization and its members.’ ") (quoting Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1233 (D.C. Cir. 2008) ). Yet, confusingly, even though the header in the second amended complaint describes Count 7 as a claim for relief a......
  • Building and Const. Trades Dept., Afl-Cio v. Solis, Civil Action No. 06-677 (RBW).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. United States District Court (Columbia)
    • March 4, 2009
    ...presently affect the parties' rights nor have a more-than-speculative chance of affecting them in the future," Noble v. Sombrotto, 525 F.3d 1230, 1241 (D.C.Cir.2008) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); i.e., "when the issues presented are no longer `live' or the parties lack a ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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