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HILL v. CHAO

September 30, 2002

WILLIAM HILL, DONALD KRAUCUK, DEBORAH STRALKUS, AND AMY LEWIS, PLAINTIFF,
V.
ELAINE CHAO, SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kimba M. Wood, District Judge.

ORDER

Plaintiffs William Hill, Donald Kraucuk, Deborah Stralkus, and Amy Lewis ("plaintiffs") are members of Local 97, ("Local 97"), International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("IBT"), a labor organization as defined by 29 U.S.C. § 402(i). Defendant Elaine Chao ("defendant") is the Secretary of the Department of Labor, sued in her official capacity.

Plaintiffs allege misconduct in the proceedings of a union election. This suit is brought to compel defendant to investigate the allegations and, if violations are found, to petition the Court to order a new election under the supervision of the Department of Labor. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that plaintiffs failed to exhaust their union remedies and grants defendant's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss.

I. Background*fn1

On December 6, 2000, Local 97 held an election for union officers. Plaintiffs were candidates for the following offices: Hill ran for president, Lewis for vice-president, Kraucuk for secretary-treasurer, and Stalks for recording secretary. All four plaintiffs were defeated in their bids for election, losing by an average margin of 112 votes out of 2,042 votes cast. (Compl.Ex. A.) On December 8, 2002, plaintiffs filed a challenge to the election results with Teamster Joint Council No. 73 ("Joint Council"). (Compl.Ex. B.) Sixty-nine days later, on February 15, 2001, the Joint Council mailed a decision in response to plaintiffs' challenge, upholding the election results. (Compl.Ex. D.)

Plaintiffs did not appeal the Joint Council's decision to the International Executive Board ("IEB") at that time. Instead, on March 15, 2001, plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Department of Labor ("DOL") under Section 482 of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"). 29 U.S.C. § 482. The complaint alleged "massive violations" of the LMRDA by incumbent slate of candidates and requested an investigation of the proceedings as well as a new, DOL-supervised, election. (Compl.Ex. E.) On March 21, 2001, an agent of the DOL, Frank Gonzalez, informed plaintiffs that their protest was time-barred because no appeal had been taken to the IEB within 15 days of the Joint Council's decision. Plaintiffs wrote a letter to the DOL the next day, contesting agent Gonzalez' conclusion on several grounds. (Compl.Ex. F.) Plaintiffs claim that they never received a response to this letter. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

Plaintiffs next appealed the Joint Council's decision to the IEB. On April 3, 2001, plaintiffs received a letter from the IEB acknowledging receipt of their appeal and inviting them to submit any additional evidence within 30 days. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs renewed their appeal to the DOL when more than 100 days had passed without additional communication from the IEB. (Compl. ¶ 15.) On July 18, 2001, the DOL responded by letter, declining to undertake an investigation of the election and reiterating its position that plaintiffs' action was time-barred. (Compl.Ex. I.) Defendant has moved to dismiss this action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), claiming that plaintiffs have failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

II. Legal Standards

A. Rule 12(b)(6)

In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Court merely "determine[s] whether the compliant itself is legally sufficient," Goldman v. Belden, 754 F.2d 1059, 1067 (2d Cir. 1985), accepting as true its factual allegations, see Anatian v. Coutts Bank (Switzerland) Ltd., 193 F.3d 85, 88 (2d Cir. 1999). All inferences are drawn in favor of the non-moving party. See Moore v. PaineWebber, Inc., 189 F.3d 165 (2d Cir. 1999). The complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff "can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir. 2000) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 855 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)).

In making this assessment, the Court "must limit itself to the facts stated in the complaint, documents attached to the complaint as exhibits and documents incorporated by reference in the complaint." Hayden v. County of Nassau, 180 F.3d 42, 54 (2d Cir. 1999). However, when a motion to dismiss is predicated on plaintiffs' failure to exhaust internal union remedies, "a court may only grant dismissal if it is able to say beyond a doubt that plaintiffs' allegations . . . are insufficient to excuse their failure to exhaust the remedies available." Bennett v. Saunders, 1999 WL 529539, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. 1999) internal quotations omitted (quoting Retana v. Apartment, Motel, Hotel, & Elevator Operators Union, 453 F.2d 1018, 1025 (9th Cir. 1972)).

B. Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act

Section 482 of the LMRDA dictates when the Department of Labor may become involved in a labor organization dispute. Section 482(a) relates specifically to the enforcement of complaints filed with the Department, and states: "A member of a labor organization —

(1) who has exhausted the remedies available under the constitution and by-laws of such organization ...

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