Second Circuit Upholds Dismissal of LMRDA Suit for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

On February 3, 2014, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the District Court’s decision dismissing the plaintiff’s LMRDA retaliation claim against the union for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The plaintiff, a film crew worker, alleged that the union failed to select him for membership and for hiring hall job referrals in retaliation for complaints he made about the union. In a 3-0 decision, the Court of Appeals held that the LMRDA only governs a relationship between a union and its members, and that the plaintiff was neither a formal union member nor a “member in substance.” As a result, he was not entitled to raise a retaliation claim against the union under the LMRDA because he was never a member of the union.

In reaching this conclusion, the Second Circuit joined the Third, Seventh and Ninth circuits in holding that a worker may be considered a union member (“member in substance”) even without formal recognition by the union. Relying on Hughes v. Local Number 11 of International Association of Bridges, Structural and Ornamental Ironworkers, 287 F.2d 810 (3d Cir. 1961), the Second Circuit held the LMRDA’s scope extends to “those who are everything that members are, to those who are in substance members, despite the fact that the officials of the particular labor organization have not performed the ministerial acts precedent to formal admission and recognition.” Id. at 815. However, the Court of Appeals refused to recognize plaintiff as a “member in substance” because he did not fulfill the union’s formal requirements for membership, specifically, the requirement that the union accept his application. The Second Circuit ruled that when a union retains discretion as to membership decisions, this power remains intact even if seldom used because the union is not required to accept all eligible applicants.

Eugene S. Friedman, William Anspach and Cristina E. Gallo of Friedman & Anspach represented I.B.T. Local 817 in this matter. The full text of the Second Circuit's decision is available here.