International Organization of Masters Mates Pilots v. Brown

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Court Documents

United States Supreme Court

498 U.S. 466

International Organization of Masters Mates Pilots  v.  Brown

No. 89-1330  Argued: Nov. 27, 1990. --- Decided: Feb 20, 1991


Respondent, an unsuccessful candidate in prior elections of petitioner Union, advised the Union that he would be a candidate in the upcoming 1988 election and requested that he be provided with mailing labels so that he could arrange for a timely mailing of election literature to members prior to the Union's nominating convention. The request was denied because a Union rule prohibited such preconvention mailings. Respondent filed suit under § 401(c) of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA), which places every union "under a duty, enforceable at the suit of any bona fide candidate . . ., to comply with all reasonable requests of any candidate to distribute by mail or otherwise at the candidate's expense campaign literature. . . ." The District Court entered a preliminary injunction in respondent's favor, ruling, inter alia, that § 401(c)'s clear language required it to focus on the reasonableness of respondent's request rather than on the reasonableness of the Union rule under which the request was denied, that the request was clearly reasonable, and, alternatively, that the Union rule was invalid. The Court of Appeals affirmed.

Held: Section 401(c) does not require a court to evaluate the reasonableness of a union rule before it decides whether a candidate's request was reasonable. Pp. 473-478.

(a) It is undisputed, first, that the case is not moot even though respondent's campaign literature has been distributed and he lost the 1988 election because he has run for office before and may well do so again, and the likelihood that the Union rule would again present an obstacle to his preconvention mailing makes this controversy sufficiently capable of repetition to preserve this Court's jurisdiction; second, that respondent was a "bona fide candidate" within § 401(c)'s meaning when he made his preconvention request; and, third, that there is no basis for contending that the request was not "reasonable" under § 401(c) apart from the fact that it violated the Union rule. Pp. 473-475.

(b) The text, structure, and purpose of Title IV of the LMRDA all demonstrate that § 401(c) simply prescribes a straightforward test: Is the candidate's distribution request reasonable? The section's language plainly requires unions to comply with "all reasonable requests" (emphasis added), and just as plainly does not require union members to comply with "all reasonable rules" when making such requests. Moreover, Congress gave the candidate's § 401(c) right a special status not conferred upon other Title IV rights granted union members, which are expressly made subject to "reasonable" conditions imposed by unions and are judicially enforceable only in actions brought by the Secretary of Labor. A broad interpretation of the candidate's right also is consistent with the statute's basic purpose of ensuring free and democratic union elections by offsetting the inherent advantage incumbent union leadership has over potential rank and file challengers. Furthermore, the Union's arguments supporting its position that a request is per se unreasonable simply because it conflicts with a union rule are unpersuasive. The Union does not advance any other reason for suggesting that respondent's request was unreasonable; thus, the request must be granted. Pp. 475-478.

889 F.2d 58 (C.A.4 1989), affirmed.

STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

W. Michel Pierson, Baltimore, Md., for petitioners.

Paul Alan Levy, Washington, D.C., for respondent.

James A. Feldman for the U.S. as amicus curiae supporting respondent, by special leave of Court.

Justice STEVENS delivered the opinion of the Court.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).