Sterling v. Local 438, Liberty Ass'n of Steam and Power Pipe Fitters and Helpers' Ass'n

Decision Date21 April 1955
Docket NumberNo. 135,135
Citation207 Md. 132,113 A.2d 389
PartiesRandall STERLING v. LOCAL 438, LIBERTY ASSOCIATION OF STEAM AND POWER PIPE FITTERS AND HELPERS' ASSOCIATION United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada and Liberty Steamfitters Protective Association, Inc.
CourtMaryland Court of Appeals

Louis R. Milio and Lester H. Crowther, Baltimore, for appellant.

Max Sokol, Baltimore, and Thomas X. Dunn, Washington, D. C. (Melvin J. Sykes, Baltimore, and Martin F. O'Donoghue, Washington, D. C., on the brief), for appellees.

Before BRUNE, C. J., and DELAPLAINE, COLLINS, HENDERSON and HAMMOND, JJ.

HAMMOND, Judge.

The challenge in this appeal is to the granting of a summary judgment in favor of two affiliated local unions and a third, an international union and the parent of the other two, in a suit against them by the appellant to recover damages for his wrongful dismissal as business agent of one of the local unions and for their subsequent continued prevention of his right to work at his trade.

The summary judgment was granted as to the first claim on the basis that an equity suit brought two years before by the appellant against two of the three defendants, in an effort to recover his lost position, was res judicata of his right to damages for the loss of the position and as to the second claim, on the basis that the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C.A. § 141 et seq., provided an exclusive remedy for the unfair labor practices of which he complained.

In 1950 the appellant filed an equity proceeding in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City against Local 438, Liberty Association of Steam and Power Pipe Fitters and Helpers' Association, the local union, and United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry of the United States and Canada, the international union and parent of the local. The bill of complaint, as finally amended, alleged that the appellant had been duly elected as business agent by the local union at an election held on December 13, 1949 and that the defendants nevertheless conspired to deprive him of his office, and did so by illegally declaring the election void and by holding another election on January 24, 1950, at which the appellant was defeated by a rival candidate. It was alleged that the appellant had appealed to the General President of the international union and its Executive Board, claiming to have been duly elected. The president, and then the board after a hearing, denied the appeal and confirmed the election of the other candidata. The bill alleged that as a result of these acts, which were unlawful, fraudulent and contrary to the controlling constitution and by-laws of both unions, the appellant was deprived of his salary of $125.00 a week as business agent, the use of the union automobile and other advantages of office. The prayers for relief were that an injunction be issued declaring that the appellant was the duly elected business agent, ordering his admission and installation in that office and commanding the defendants not to interfere in any manner with the plaintiff in the exercise of his duties as business agent or in the enjoyment of the benefits and remuneration associated therewith, and for other and further relief.

To the bill as finally amended, the defendants demurred and answered in a single pleading. A principal ground of the demurrer was that the bill showed that the term of office for one year, to which the appellant claimed he had been elected on December 13, 1949, had expired by the time the demurrer was filed, so that the matter was moot. The answer set out at great length, and in detail, the justification, as the defendants saw it, for their conduct and the merits of the case. The issues raised by the demurrer and answer were tried together in January, 1951. The trial lasted almost a week. Much testimony was introduced, including four volumes which had been taken on the appellant's appeal to the Executive Board of the international union. At the conclusion of the case, the chancellor gave a comprehensive oral opinion, in which he found, as a matter of fact, that the election of December 13, 1949 had been illegal and invalid and that the unions were within their rights in so holding. He then said: 'I find specifically, and as a matter of fact, as applied both to the defendant United Association, and to the Local, and the individual defendants that the action of President Durkin and the General Executive Board was not arbitrary * * *. I find, as a matter of fact, specifically with respect to the United Association and the Local, and the individual defendants, that there is no sufficient evidence of fraud which would justify this Court overruling the decision arrived at by General President Durkin, and subsequently after a hearing 'de novo' by the General Executive Board.' The chancellor then took up the specific relief prayed and found that the prayer for injunction must be denied because, even if the election of December 13, 1949 be assumed to be valid, the matter would be moot. A similar ruling was made as to the prayer asking that the holding of the second election be enjoined, since it had already taken place. The third prayer, which the court said should not be granted, was that the defendants be enjoined and restrained from penalizing members of the local union because of any activities engaged in by them on behalf of the candidacy of the appellant. As to this the chancellor said: '* * * I find no facts sufficient to justify any of the relief asked for by the Plaintiff * * * .' The court then pointed out to the appellant, who had aided in the conduct of his own case, that he had a right of appeal to the Court of Appeals from the decree which was to be signed dismissing the bill, and that this must be taken within thirty days and the record transmitted within sixty days thereafter. The appellant then asked the chancellor: 'In other words, you are allowing me no relief whatsoever? In other words, you are declaring the election of December 13th, 1949, illegal, is that right?' The chancellor answered: 'I am declaring the election of December the 13th, 1949 illegal in the same way that General President Durkin and the General Executive Board found it illegal.' When asked if the election of January 24, 1950 had been held to be a fair election, the chancellor's answer was that since the election had been held, the matter was moot and he would not have to pass on that question. No appeal was taken from the decree of the court which dismissed the bill of complaint without qualification.

On April 21, 1953, over two years later, the suit at law, which is now before us, was filed against the defendants in the previous case, and also against a third defendant, Liberty Steamfitters Protective Association, Inc., a Maryland corporation which had not been a party of record in the first case. The first count of the amended declaration makes the same allegations as the bill of complaint in the equity case. It is set forth that at the election of December 13, 1949, the appellant was elected business agent at a salary of one hundred twenty-five dollars per week, plus an expense account and the use of an automobile, and that the defendants conspired to prevent the appellant from being installed in the office of business agent, and that at another meeting, a rival was elected to the office of business agent. It is said that all of this was contrary to the by-laws and constitution of the local and international unions and the actions of the President and Executive Board in declaring the election invalid and holding another election, were illegal and wrongful.

The second count of the amended declaration alleges that after his ouster, the appellant had returned to his trade as a steam fitter and from about May, 1950 on, the defendants had prevented him from working at his trade '* * * by wrongfully, illegally and fraudulently refusing to give Plaintiff union clearance, that is, by refusing to issue to the Plaintiff the slip or employment order which is necessary to be presented on the job before a member of said Local 438 will be permitted to work * * *.' It is alleged that the purpose of the defendants in refusing union clearance was to deprive him of his membership in the local by making him financially unable to pay his dues, and thus to prevent him from participating in union activities. It is charged that as a direct and proximate result of the local's activities, the appellant suffered not only loss of wages but also 'severe heart attacks, causing him great disability and suffering, and requiring him to incur a large amount of expense for hospital and medical treatment.'

The appellees demurred to each count of the declaration as particularized. The demurrers were overruled and the appellees filed pleas of limitations, general issue pleas and pleas of res judicata to each count of the declaration. When the case was at issue and ready for trial in the Superior Court of Baltimore City, appellees filed suggestions and affidavits of removal and the case was removed to the Circuit Court for Baltimore County. Thereafter, the appellees filed a motion for a summary judgment, with affidavits, which alleged that the first count of the declaration was res judicata, and that the second count charged an unfair labor practice, which was exclusively within the jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board and which, consequently, the trial court was without power to entertain. To support the defense of res judicata, the appellees filed as exhibits to their motion, certified copies of the equity proceedings in the Circuit Court of Baltimore City. The motion itself set out in parallel columns in haec verba the essential allegations of the first count of the amended declaration, the comparable...

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