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Rodonich v. House Wreckers Union Local 95 of Laborers' International Union

decided: April 28, 1987.

JOSEPH RODONICH, ALEX CHOTOWICKY, WASYL LAWRO, AND HARRY DIDUCK, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS, CROSS-APPELLEES,
v.
HOUSE WRECKERS UNION LOCAL 95 OF LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION, LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA, JOHN SENYSHYN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PRESIDENT, AND JOHN ROSCHETSKI, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS SECRETARY-TREASURER OF HOUSE WRECKERS UNION LOCAL 95 OF LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA, STEPHEAN MCNAIR, JOSEPH SHERMAN, ANDREW KLEBETZ, ALBERT BENDER, WILLIAM NAHAY, PHIL CHILLAK, JOSEPH PASTROSKI, SAMUEL ADAMS, HAROLD SPELLMAN, PETER JONES, JOHN SLAN, EARL DUPREE, AND JOHN CHILLAK, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES, CROSS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Cannella, J., dismissing all of plaintiffs' claims as to defendant Laborers' International Union of North America and dismissing all claims of plaintiff Diduck as to the International and Local 95. Plaintiffs alleged, inter alia, that Local 95 and the International disciplined them in violation of their rights under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act. Judgment was entered as to plaintiffs Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro against Local 95 and the individual defendants in accordance with a jury verdict. The International, Local 95 and individual defendants cross-appeal from the district court's ruling that plaintiffs' claims are not barred by the statute of limitations.

Mansfield,*fn* Meskill and Miner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Meskill

MESKILL, Circuit Judge:

Four plaintiffs in this action, Joseph Rodonich, Alex Chotowicky, Wasyl Lawro and Harry Diduck, all members of defendant House Wreckers Union Local 95 (Local 95), appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Cannella, J., entering a verdict after a jury trial against Local 95 and dismissing plaintiffs' claims against Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA). LIUNA, Local 95 and the individual defendants cross-appeal from the judgment.

In their complaint, plaintiffs alleged that defendants engaged in a scheme to suppress dissent within Local 95 and unlawfully disciplined them in violation of sections 101(a)(1), (2), (5), 609 and 610 of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 411(a)(1), (2), (5), 529, 530 (1982) (LMRDA), section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1982) (LMRA), the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (1982) (RICO), and LIUNA's constitution.

Before trial, the district court dismissed the state law contract claim as preempted by federal labor law and granted LIUNA summary judgment on plaintiffs' claim that LIUNA breached its constitution in violation of section 301(a) of the LMRA. See Rodonich v. House Wreckers Union Local 95 of Laborers' International Union of North America, 624 F. Supp. 678 (S.D.N.Y. 1985). The court refused, however, to grant summary judgment on the remaining counts. After a jury trial, a verdict was returned in favor of plaintiffs Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro against Local 95. The district court entered final judgment dismissing plaintiffs' remaining claims against LIUNA and dismissing all claims of plaintiff Diduck. Judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro against Local 95 in accordance with the verdict.

We affirm the dismissal of all claims against LIUNA except those asserted by Diduck. As to Diduck's claims, we reverse the district court's dismissal of the complaint, hold LIUNA liable to Diduck and remand the case for further proceedings on the issue of damages. Plaintiffs do not appeal the dismissal of their RICO claims against LIUNA.

BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a political struggle between two warring union factions for control of Local 95. Plaintiffs Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro comprised the "Rodonich faction," which in 1981 held three of the seven seats on Local 95's Executive Board. Rodonich occupied the position of Secretary-Treasurer, Chotowicky was Vice President and Lawro was Recording Secretary. Plaintiff Diduck did not hold office in Local 95, but actively supported the Rodonich faction. The Rodonich faction shared power on the Executive Board with members of their rival faction, known as the "Senyshyn faction," including several of the named individual defendants to this suit, most notably John Senyshyn, who was President of Local 95 in April 1980.

In April 1981, Local 95's Business Manager and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Novack, resigned from office. The bitter schism that precipitated Novack's resignation left Local 95's Executive Board evenly balanced between the two factions. As a consequence of this resignation, political disruption within the union intensified. Acts of violence were reported. Rodonich claimed that he was assaulted by defendant Samuel Adams and several other men. In a letter dated May 25, 1981, and addressed to Senyshyn with copies to LIUNA officials, Harry Diduck reported that he was threatened by Adams. Diduck's letter also accused Senyshyn of being responsible for a certain contractor's paying below union scale wages and of delaying charges against Novack stemming from an earlier stabbing of a Local 95 member.

Shortly thereafter, Adams filed charges of slander against Diduck based on Diduck's letter to LIUNA. Adams also filed charges against Rodonich for calling him a "nigger." Other charges against Rodonich alleged that he had failed to pay the salary of the Business Manager, the validity of whose recent election to the Executive Board Rodonich disputed. Rodonich and Chotowicky were both charged with "dishonesty" and "fraud" because Chotowicky, who believed that he was rightfully the acting President while Senyshyn temporarily occupied the position of Business Manager, had performed the President's job of co-signing (with the Secretary-Treasurer, Rodonich) union checks. Lawro was charged with "negligence," "incompetence" and "dishonesty" for failing to take the minutes of a union meeting.

Local 95's charges against plaintiffs were brought before a panel of union members selected by Senyshyn. After trials held on August 24, 1981, plaintiffs were found guilty. As a result, Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro were removed from Local 95's Executive Board. Diduck was fined $500 and warned that his membership in Local 95 would be revoked if he committed further offenses. Diduck's fine was stayed pending appeal and has never been collected.

Pursuant to Article 12 of the Uniform Local Union Constitution, plaintiffs appealed to LIUNA. Plaintiffs wrote numerous letters to LIUNA officials detailing the history of the factional dispute that led to their being disciplined and alleging that they had "been disciplined for the exercise of [their] rights, as union members." See Letter from J. Rodonich to A. E. Coia, General Secretary-Treasurer, LIUNA (Oct. 12, 1981), J. App. at 241. On January 13, 1982, LIUNA's Eastern Hearings Panel heard plaintiffs' appeals -- first Diduck's appeal and then those of Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro. All four plaintiffs were represented by counsel at these hearings. Diduck's counsel stressed that Diduck had been fined for statements he made in a letter to LIUNA and argued that such a fine violated the union constitution as well as Diduck's right of free speech. Counsel for Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro stressed that the charges arose out of a factional dispute and involved a pattern of violence.

The decision of LIUNA's Hearings Panel reported that "the charges are amply supported by the evidence." This decision was approved and adopted by LIUNA's General Executive Board on February 23, 1982. Plaintiffs filed their complaint in the Southern District of New York on August 23, 1983.

The trial in the district court was conducted in three separate phases and the jury returned three separate verdicts: (1) determining liability on LMRDA and LMRA claims, (2) determining liability on RICO claims, and (3) determining damages. After the first phase, the jury found liability on the part of Local 95, John Senyshyn, Joseph Sherman and Albert Bender on the LMRDA and LMRA claims in favor of Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro. It found no liability on the part of LIUNA to anyone.

After the second phase, the jury found that two of the individual defendants, Joseph Sherman and Stephean McNair, had participated in Local 95's affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity in violation of RICO.

After a third phase, the jury awarded Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro compensatory damages in the amount of salary each had lost as a result of their unjust removals from office and awarded Rodonich and Lawro punitive damages against certain of the defendants on their LMRDA claims. The jury also awarded three dollars each to Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro on their RICO claims against Sherman and McNair.

On March 14, 1986, the court entered judgment in accordance with these verdicts and dismissed the contract claim and LMRA claim against LIUNA pursuant to its pretrial order. Shortly thereafter, Diduck brought a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, which was denied on May 21, 1986. These appeals and cross-appeals followed.

Discussion

Plaintiffs Rodonich, Chotowicky and Lawro argue that Judge Cannella improperly instructed the jury regarding LIUNA's liability for the wrongful acts of Local 95 and the evidence needed to support an award of damages for emotional distress. Plaintiffs also argue that LIUNA is liable as a matter of law on all claims. Plaintiff Diduck argues that the district court erred in denying his motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Cross-appellants argue ...


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