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PARTENZA v. BROWN

July 31, 1998

LOU PARTENZA, BILLIE HAGNER, PETE SCARLATOS, LOU SMITH, JOE BEYERS, and DAN KANE, individually, in their Capacities as Trustees of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 16 Pension Fund, and in their Capacities as Members of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 16, IBT Executive Board, and TEAMSTERS JOINT COUNCIL NO. 16, Plaintiffs, against JASPER BROWN, JOEL LEFEVRE, CLARA LEVINE, and CHRIS SILVERA, Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHIN

OPINION

 CHIN, D.J.

 Plaintiffs are members of the Executive Board of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 16 (the "Joint Council") who were recently appointed as Trustees of the Teamsters Joint Council No. 16 Pension Fund (the "Fund"). The incumbent Trustees, however, have refused to relinquish their positions, claiming that they have not been legally removed according to the terms of the Trust Agreement.

 Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction preventing the sitting Trustees from further holding themselves out as Trustees of the Fund and exercising authority over its assets. see Fed. R. Civ. P. 65. They mount a direct challenge to the governing structure by which Trustees may be dismissed, arguing that the Trust Agreement, under which Trustees serve for indefinite terms and are removable only for "just cause," violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1104, 1132, by unduly insulating Trustees from removal by the participants and beneficiaries of the Fund. Defendants, in contrast, insist that these provisions preserve continuity in the leadership of the Fund and are consistent with the dictates of ERISA. If anything, defendants argue, the provision requiring Trustees to be current officials of their respective Locals serves as an accountability-enhancing device.

 The request for preliminary relief is granted, for plaintiffs have demonstrated both irreparable harm and a likelihood of success. Plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to prevail on their claim that the governing Trust Agreement excessively insulates Trustees from effective oversight by the plan's beneficiaries and participants. The following constitute my findings of fact and conclusions of law.

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 A. The Organization of the Council and Fund

 1. The Joint Council is a labor organization that assists and directs local unions ("Locals") affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen, and Helpers of America ("IBT"), AFL-CIO.

 2. Forty Teamster Locals, with more than 100,000 Teamster members, participate in the Joint Council.

 3. Each affiliated Local elects seven delegates to the Joint Council, and each officer of an affiliated Local automatically serves as a delegate to the Joint Council. These delegates in turn elect the seven-member Executive Board. Elections to the Executive Board take place every four years.

 4. Elections are held to determine the officers of affiliated Locals every three years if the Local represents private employees, and every five years if the Local represents public employees. Five of the affiliated Locals represent public employees, while the balance of the Locals have memberships consisting solely of private employees.

 5. The Fund was established in 1959 by an Agreement and Declaration of Trust executed by the then members of the Executive Board pursuant to their authority under § 14(b) of the Joint Council Bylaws. *fn1"

 6. The Fund provides retirement benefits to the officers and employees of the affiliated Locals, but not to the rank-and-file members of the various affiliated Locals. The employees need not be union members to be eligible to participate in the Fund.

 7. The provisions governing the appointment and removal of the Fund's trustees have, with the exception of a few cosmetic alterations, remained unchanged since their initial adoption. They are as follows:

 
The Pension Fund shall be administered by seven (7) Trustees who shall be appointed by the Executive Board of the Council among the officers constituting the Executive Board of Affiliated Local Unions. The said persons shall continue to serve as Trustees so long as they continue as such officers of Affiliated Local Unions, subject, however, to removal for just cause by the Executive Board of the Council in accordance with the procedure set forth in Article XVIII of the International Constitution. In the event of a termination of office, resignation, removal, death, disability or incapacity for any reason on the part of a Trustee, a successor Trustee shall be designated by the Executive Board of the Council.

 (Trust Agreement P 1).

 8. According to the Trust Agreement, the Executive Board possesses the exclusive power to appoint and remove Trustees of the Fund.

 9. The Trust Agreement requires that the "designation or removal of a Trustee shall be evidenced by an instrument of writing signed by the President of Secretary-Treasure of the Council and filed with the Board of Trustees." (Id. § 2).

 10. By its terms, Trustees need not be Executive Board members.

 11. Trustees do not sit for specified terms, but rather serve for indefinite periods of time.

 12. Once appointed, the checks by which others exercise some degree of control over the Trustees are only: (a) removal for "just cause" by the Executive Board pursuant to the procedures set forth in Article XIX (formerly Article XVIII) of the IBT Constitution; and (b) loss of elected office in their respective Local.

 13. The term "just cause" is not defined in the Trust Agreement.

 14. Article XIX of the IBT Constitution sets forth a detailed process by which officers and members of Locals may be tried for certain conduct deemed violative of the IBT Constitution, Local Union Bylaws, or relevant state and federal law, and under which an individual may appeal an adverse result.

 15. Triable offenses "consist of, but [are] not [] limited to," the following: violation of the IBT Constitution, Local Union Bylaws, or rules of order; violation of the oath of office or oath of loyalty to the Local Union and the International Union; breach of fiduciary obligation; fostering of secession; conduct disruptive of the performance of any union's legal or contractual obligations; disruption of union meetings or assault of an officer or member; crossing an authorized primary picket line; retaliation against a member for filing disciplinary charges or otherwise exercising his right under the Constitution or applicable law; knowing association with any member of associate of an organized crime family or criminal group; commission of racketeering activity; obstruction of an investigation conducted by the Ethical Practices Committee; accepting money in violation of applicable law; and attempt to influence the operation of an employee benefit plan in violation of applicable law. (see IBT Const., art. XIX, § 7(b)).

 16. An individual charged under Article XIX is usually tried by the Local's executive board. Where a charge is filed by someone who is not a member of the Local to which the accused belongs, however, the accused is tried by the current Executive Board of the Joint Council. If a majority of the Joint Council itself or "another subordinate body" is charged, the trial shall take place before the General Executive Board of the IBT. (id. art. XIX, § 4(a)).

 17. An unfavorable decision, including a decision not to charge an individual, may be appealed to the Joint Council Executive Board. (See id. art. XIX, §§ 1(d), 2(a), (e), 3(b)). The Executive Board's decision may be appealed to the IBT General Executive Board. Finally, an individual may appeal to "the next [IBT] Convention or to the Ethical Practices Committee, at the option of the appealing party." (Id. art. XIX, § 2(a)). During the pendency of an appeal, the decision from which an appeal is taken "shall remain in full force and effect." (Id. art. XIX, § 2(b)).

 18. IBT Conventions are held once every five years. (See id. art. III, § 1).

 19. There are no provisions governing the timing of trials, except with respect to trials conducted by the IBT General Executive Board, in which case a decision shall issue within 90 days after the ...


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