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LOCAL 1814, INTL. LONGSHOREMEN'S ASSN. v. WATERFRO

April 7, 1981

LOCAL 1814, INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMEN'S ASSOCIATION, AFL-CIO, Political Action and Education Fund, on behalf of itself and certain contributors, and Local 1814, International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO, on behalf of some of its members, Plaintiffs,
v.
The WATERFRONT COMMISSION OF NEW YORK HARBOR and New York Shipping Association, Inc., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRIEANT

Plaintiffs (hereinafter sometimes collectively referred to as the "Union" or "Local 1814") commenced this action on July 23, 1980 seeking preliminary and permanent injunctive relief to prevent the defendant Waterfront Commission, from enforcing a subpoena issued to the co-defendant, New York Shipping Association, in connection with an investigation to determine whether longshoremen union members were being coerced by union leadership or unknown persons, into authorizing payroll deductions for the benefit of the Local 1814, International Longshoremen's Association, AFL-CIO, Political Action and Education Fund (hereinafter the "Fund"). Plaintiff Local 1814 is a collective bargaining organization representing longshoremen working in the Port of New York. It helped to organize the Fund, its co-plaintiff, and currently administers and solicits contributions to the Fund. The Fund in turn makes contributions and expenditures in connection with federal and state elections for the benefit of candidates friendly to the Union.

The New York Shipping Association represents the employers of waterfront labor in the negotiation and administration of collective bargaining agreements. Local 1814 arranged for the Association to deduct 1/4 of 1% of gross earnings for the Fund from the payroll check of each longshoreman who signed an authorization or check-off form. The Association withholds these contributions from the pay of union members, and remits directly to the Fund.

 The original subpoena sought disclosure of the names of the approximately 3,350 longshoremen who had signed these authorization forms. As currently amended, the subpoena seeks the production of "(a) list of all longshoremen who signed said assignment forms for the benefit of Local 1814 Political Action and Education Fund since January 1, 1979," the effective date of the authorization forms. The number of longshoremen whose names would be subject to disclosure is approximately 450.

 After a hearing on July 29, 1980, this Court by Order enjoined the enforcement of the subpoena, and any other attempt by the Waterfront Commission to obtain by indirection the information sought in the subpoena. See Stipulation for Consent Order. A trial of the merits was held on October 16, 1980. Decision was reserved, and the post-trial submissions of the parties have been received and considered.

 The Waterfront Commission furnished the Court in camera with copies of its agency reports and recorded testimony of witnesses taken in connection with this investigation; redacted versions of most documents were furnished to plaintiffs. Aside from the details of the investigation, the basic facts were stipulated by the parties (Joint Stipulation of Facts).

 An administrative subpoena will be sustained generally if the inquiry is within the authority of the requesting agency, the demand for documents is not too indefinite, and the information sought is reasonably relevant to the inquiry. United States v. Morton Salt Co., 338 U.S. 632, 652, 70 S. Ct. 357, 368, 94 L. Ed. 401 (1952).

 The Waterfront Commission was established with the consent of Congress pursuant to a Compact between the State of New York and the State of New Jersey. The Compact established a comprehensive plan to regulate the New York waterfront. Among its stated purposes was the elimination of depressing and degrading labor conditions, corrupt hiring practices and criminal activity. Connolly v. O'Malley, 17 A.D.2d 411, 234 N.Y.S.2d 889 (1st Dept. 1962). In order to achieve these objectives, the Commission has the statutory power "to make investigations, collect and compile information concerning waterfront practices," and in connection therewith to issue subpoenas to compel the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents. New York Unconsolidated Laws ยง 9810(11) and (8) (McKinney's 1974). The present inquiry into whether the Union is obtaining authorization forms by the use of coercion of its members clearly falls within the investigative authority of the Waterfront Commission.

 The plaintiffs argue that because no first-hand evidence of the actual initiation of an investigation into coercion in solicitation of the authorization forms was presented, the Commission has not demonstrated its statutory power to issue the subpoena. Although the plaintiffs are correct that no direct testimony was presented to show that an investigation was officially commenced, there was sufficient evidence to support the conclusion that the subpoena was within the Commission's statutory authority. The subpoena indicates on its face that it was issued in connection with an investigation of waterfront practices and conditions. The evidence presented established the details of the investigation being conducted into possible coercion in connection with the solicitation of authorization forms. This investigation is clearly within the statutory purpose of the Commission to eliminate corrupt labor practices on the waterfront. The subpoena was issued by an interstate governmental agency. The agency reports and interview transcripts provided to the Court establish that an investigation as described was actually being conducted and, in fact, that it was initiated as a response to apparently genuine complaints of coercion received from longshoremen.

 In the absence of contrary evidence, the Court finds that the subpoena was issued in connection with a legitimate investigation within the statutory authority of the Commission.

 The request for the names of the longshoremen who signed the authorization forms after January 1, 1979 is sufficiently clear and explicit. There are 450 longshoremen who signed forms authorizing deductions for the benefit of the Fund. These names should be readily accessible to the Association. The authorization forms were provided to the Association so that contributions could be deducted automatically from the payroll checks of the longshoremen. The Association administers the payrolls for its member employers of Local 1814 members.

 The list of names requested in the subpoena is also reasonably relevant to the investigation. What the Waterfront Commission seeks to obtain is a list of possible victims of coercion. The list of the names of the longshoremen who signed the authorization forms after the effective date, requested in the amended subpoena, could be inferred to be the least enthusiastic of the contributing union members and the most likely group to have been coerced. Discovering the names of these persons with an aim to subsequent interviews is relevant to an inquiry into whether coercion existed and who the actors were, and whether the coercion, if any, was wide-spread or confined to a few solicitors. The Court finds therefore that the names requested are reasonably relevant to the purposes of the investigation.

 Plaintiffs have raised the possibility of an additional requirement that the Waterfront Commission must meet to satisfy the statutory requirements. They contend that New York law is applicable and that the New York courts have required a preliminary showing of some factual basis for the investigation before a subpoena may be enforced. The rationale of two New York cases cited by plaintiffs is that some basis must be demonstrated in support of broad, sweeping subpoenas, in order to prevent investigative authority from becoming "(potential) instruments of abuse and harassment." Myerson v. Lentini Brothers Moving & Storage Co., 33 N.Y.2d 250, 257, 351 N.Y.S.2d 687, 306 N.E.2d 804 (1973); accord, Nicholson v. State Commission on Judicial Conduct, 67 A.D.2d 649, 412 N.Y.S.2d 602 (1st Dept. 1979).

 This Court doubts that an administrative subpoena issued by the Waterfront Commission, which was created pursuant to an interstate compact, must be evaluated in accordance with state rather than federal law. Cf., Bell v. Waterfront Commission of N. Y. Harbor, 20 N.Y.2d 54, 61, 281 N.Y.S.2d 753, 228 N.E.2d 758 (1967) (constitutionality of the statute to be determined according to federal law). However, assuming New York law to be applicable, the cases relied upon by plaintiffs are not in point. These cases required a factual showing to guard against abuse when an exceptionally broad subpoena was issued. In this case, the subpoena which seeks to obtain the names of possible victims of coercion or extortion is not so broad that absent specific evidence, one could conclude that the Commission was conducting a fishing expedition to harass the Local or its members. Also, and in any event, the Commission has made a sufficient factual showing. Complaints received by the Waterfront Commission from six longshoremen recounted similar experiences. Their testimony was corroborated by accounts of what the general understanding was among the longshoremen as to the necessity of authorizing payroll deductions for the benefit of the Fund in order to obtain full benefits of the duty of fair representation owed them by the Union. Although the limited evidence obtained thus far by the Commission surely is not conclusive, and probably does not constitute probable cause to believe coercion has occurred, it does provide a sufficient basis for a continuing investigation, and suggests that the subpoena is issued in good faith.

 Although I find there is a sufficient statutory basis to enforce the subpoena, our inquiry does not end there. Local 1814 has asserted that disclosure of the names requested in the subpoena would have a chilling effect on its members' rights of privacy and free association guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. If plaintiffs demonstrate that disclosure as sought would infringe the First Amendment rights of its members to a significant extent, the Commission must then demonstrate a compelling state interest sufficient to outweigh the infringement of these rights. See, Matter of Wood, 430 F. Supp. 41, 45 (S.D.N.Y.1977); Pollard v. Roberts, 283 F. Supp. 248, 257-58 (E.D.Ark.), aff'd, 393 U.S. 14, 89 S. Ct. 47, 21 L. Ed. 2d 14 (1968). Plaintiffs must demonstrate that enforcement of the subpoena would have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of the members. Among the rights protected by the First Amendment is the right of persons to join together for effective advocacy to promote their common ideas. NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449, 78 S. Ct. 1163, 2 L. Ed. 2d 1488 (1958). The First Amendment also protects the right of contributors to join together and pool their resources to promote their political beliefs. Buckley ...


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