435 U.S. 977 (1978)

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U.S. Supreme Court


435 U.S. 977

Edward SADLOWSKI and Ray Marshall, Secretary of Labor
No. 77-643

Supreme Court of the United States

April 17, 1978

On petition for writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.

Mr. Justice WHITE, with whom Mr. Justice STEWART and Mr. Justice REHNQUIST join, dissenting.

The Court's action today lets stand the ruling by a panel of the Third Circuit Court of Appeals that attorneys' fees are awardable to intervenors in union election challenges processed under Title IV of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. 481 et seq. (1970). The issues presented in this case are of serious importance to the proper enforcement of the LMRDA, and also to the prosecution generally of private claims that benefit a broad class of persons.

The decision below rested on two necessary foundations: that the scheme of Title IV of the LMRDA did not foreclose the awarding of attorneys' fees to intervenors, and that the "common benefit" exception to the American rule against awarding attorneys' fees could fairly be applied to a case of intervention under Title IV such as occurred here.

In Trbovich v. United Mine Workers, 404 U.S. 528, 30 L. Ed.2d 686 (1972), this Court held that intervention by an individual union member whose initial complaint commenced the challenge to the election was not inimical to the LMRDA. Title IV anticipates that objections to the conduct of union elections be initiated by union members filing a complaint with the Secretary of Labor after exhausting union remedies. Thereupon, however, it is the exclusive province of the Secretary to commence a civil action in federal district court. 29 U.S.C. 482(b). Trbovich held that the union member who initiated the challenge might still intervene in the federal suit, "so long as that intervention is limited to the claims of illegality presented

Page 435 U.S. 977 , 978

by the Secretary's complaint." Trbovich, supra, 404 U.S., at 537. This conclusion represented a very careful balance between Title IV's commitment of enforcement authority to the Secretary's sole discre ion, and a recognition that the union member who originally raised the complaint might wish to see his claims pressed in some manner different from the Secretary.

The opinion below threatens to upset that delicate compromise. Intervention by union members in support of the Secretary's grounds of complaint was upheld in Trbovich only because it would make the union liable "to relatively little additional burden," and would "not subject the union to burdensome multiple litigation, nor will it compel the union to respond to a new and potentially groundless suit." Trbovich, supra, 404 U.S., at 536. Once attorneys' fees are assessable against a union on behalf of intervenors, however, the union has indeed become liable to an "additional burden" that could be quite costly. And the adjudication of whether an intervenor has contributed significantly to the common benefit of all union members could well involve the "burdensome multiple litigation" that the restrictions on intervention imposed by Trbovich were intended to avoid.

Although not controlling, the Secretary of Labor's views should also be considered in any matter concerning the proper enforcement of the Act he is to administer. It is significant, therefore, that the Secretary has in this case broken his silence on the attorneys' fees question for the first time. It is the position of the Secretary that the awarding of attorneys' fees to intervenors "significantly impedes the enforcement of Title IV." *

The other holding below, that intervention in such a case as [435 U.S. 977 , 979]

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