On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 02-cv-06633) District Judge: Hon. Michael M. Baylson
Before: Scirica, Chief Judge, Sloviter and
Nygaard, Circuit Judges
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge
This appeal presents us with the latest episode in an ongoing power struggle between the majority of the executive board of a union local on one side and its International and the president of the local on the other. The union is the Transport Workers Union ("TWU"); the local at issue is TWU Local 234 ("Local"); the Local's president is Jean Alexander.
The particular issue presented by this intra-union battle is whether the District Court erred in issuing a preliminary injunction against the TWU and Alexander after concluding that the TWU had interpreted its own Constitution in a patently unreasonable manner.
A glimpse into the history of the TWU and Local 234 provides the necessary background to appreciate the issue currently before us. In 2001, the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued a preliminary injunction to enforce a trusteeship imposed by the TWU on the Local after a Subcommittee of the TWU's International Executive Council ("IEC") concluded that the Executive Board of Local 234 was guilty of charges leveled by the TWU against members of the Local's Executive Board. Transp. Workers Union of Philadelphia, Local 234 v. Transp. Workers Union of Am., AFL-CIO, 131 F. Supp. 2d 659 (E.D. Pa. 2001). The Board was found, inter alia, to have pressured two elected officers to resign their positions, threatened 12 officers with removal for engaging in free speech, failed to submit timely per capita payments to the TWU, and engaged in in-fighting and factionalism to the detriment of the Local's operations. Id. at 662 n.6. The trusteeship ended the following year on July 19, 2002 when new officers were elected to the Board.
In the July 2002 election, the Local's membership elected 14 persons to fill all positions on the Board. Five of the persons elected — the President, the Executive Vice President, and three Board members — were from the "Alexander Slate" while the remaining nine persons elected — the three Vice Presidents, the Recording Secretary, the Secretary Treasurer and four Board members — were from the "Jeffrey Brooks Unity Team," an opposing slate. Thus, the election resulted in a Board split among two different slates, a first such situation in the history of Local 234. Previously, one of the competing electoral slates had won all seats on the Board.
Less than a week after the 2002 election, the newly elected Board convened for its first meeting with all members present and the Local's new President, Jean Alexander, presiding. The Board passed three motions appointing a professional accountant, retaining a law firm as legal counsel to the Local, and hiring five union members as full time staff. Board members voted along party lines, passing the motions by a vote of nine to five with Alexander and her slate members voting in the minority. Alexander ruled those motions out of order.
Thereafter, Alexander wrote a letter to TWU's President, Sonny Hall, challenging the constitutionality of the motions passed by the Board and requesting his interpretation, as the International President, of the scope of Alexander's powers as the President of Local 234 under the TWU Constitution. In her letter to Hall, Alexander claimed that she had "the power, to the exclusion of the Executive Board, to designate the Local's attorneys, accountants and appointed Business Agents" based on "the implied powers given to the President" by Article XVI, § 1 of the TWU Constitution. App. at 98. Alexander further relied on the "settled past practice and policy" of Local 234 by which, according to her, "the President alone designates the attorneys, accountants and appointed Business Agents who serve the Local." App. at 99. In response, President Hall rendered an interpretation of the above constitutional provisions that upheld Alexander's position.
The nine members of the Board who originally voted in favor of the motions ("Board") filed a two count complaint in the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the TWU and President Alexander ("Union").*fn1 The complaint was accompanied by a motion for a preliminary injunction. On appeal, we are solely concerned with count one of the complaint, which asserts a claim under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185 et seq., alleging that the TWU and Alexander breached the TWU Constitution by unlawfully shifting decision-making authority in Local 234 from the Board to the President. After filing the complaint, the Board, as permitted by the TWU Constitution, appealed President Hall's interpretation of the TWU Constitution to the IEC. The IEC affirmed Hall's interpretation but clarified that the Board could review and disapprove certain decisions made by the Local President according to a "reasonableness" standard. App. at 102. The parties had agreed to withhold action on the motion for a preliminary injunction pending the result of the internal union appeal. Once the IEC rendered its decision, the Board filed a renewed motion.
The District Court granted the Board's motion for a preliminary injunction, enjoining the TWU from giving force or effect to President Hall's interpretation of presidential powers; ordered the TWU and Alexander to give full force and effect to the motions passed at the Board's July 25, 2002 meeting; and enjoined Alexander from filing disciplinary charges against members of the Board because of the motions passed at the July 25, 2002 meeting. Executive Bd. of Transp. Workers Union of Philadelphia, Local 234 v. Transp. Workers Union of Am., AFL-CIO, 236 F. Supp. 2d 480 (E.D. Pa. 2002). In so doing, the District Court acknowledged the substantial deference afforded to union officials in interpreting a union's Constitution. Id. at 487. It correctly noted that a party bringing a § 301 LMRA claim bears the burden of demonstrating to the court that the union's interpretation of its own governing documents was "patently unreasonable." Id. Bearing this deference in mind, the District Court nonetheless concluded that "giving deference to [the Union's] interpretation would condone verbal violence against the plain meaning of the union's Constitution." Id. at 493-94. The Union timely appealed.
A. Jurisdiction and Standard ...