United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
David W. Noble, Jr., Appellant
William M. Dunn, Jr., et al., Appellees
February 22, 2018
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:94-cv-00302)
Virginia W. Hoptman argued the cause for appellant. With her
on the briefs was Jerome A. Madden.
D. DeChiara argued the cause for appellees. With him on the
brief were Nicholas R. Femia, Keith R. Bolek, and Victoria L.
Bor. Brian Powers and Bruce H. Simon entered appearances.
Before: Henderson and Katsas, Circuit Judges, and Randolph,
Senior Circuit Judge.
LeCraft Henderson, Circuit Judge.
nearly twenty-five years David W. Noble, Jr. has pressed his
claims against the now-former leadership of the National
Association of Letter Carriers (NALC or Union). A decade ago
one of our colleagues urged an end to "this 14-year
litigation odyssey." Noble v. Sombrotto
(Sombrotto II), 525 F.3d 1230, 1242 (D.C. Cir. 2008)
(per curiam) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring in part and
dissenting in part). But as in the original Odyssey,
there was still a ten-year ordeal to endure-and Noble's
arguments, like Penelope's tapestry, have tended to
law requires labor unions to operate transparently and as
fiduciaries of their members. This litigation is about
Noble's claims that his Union has violated those
requirements by failing to comply with document requests and
by permitting its officers to enrich themselves beyond the
salaries permitted by the Union constitution. Even after our
2008 remand, however, Noble failed to give the district court
reason to rule for him; he meets with no greater success on
was a letter carrier and NALC member for many years before he
became an employee at the Union's Washington, D.C.
headquarters. He became troubled by the senior
leadership's use of Union resources: they collected per
diem pay during the Union's annual D.C. convention even
though they lived in the area year-round; they also collected
monthly reimbursements for undocumented expenses; and the
Union reimbursed them for Medicare and Social Security
February 1994, after unsuccessfully asserting his claims
through the Union's internal procedures, Noble filed a
complaint in district court against NALC's then-president
and nine other officers under the Labor-Management Reporting
and Disclosure Act ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 401
et seq. Noble later added the Union itself as a
defendant. Noble alleged that the officers had breached their
fiduciary duties by granting themselves tax reimbursements,
unjustified per diem payments and undocumented expense
allowances, all in violation of section 501 of the LMRDA.
Noble further alleged that the officers had wrongly refused
his requests to inspect certain Union financial records, in
violation of section 201 of the LMRDA. After more than a
decade of litigation, the district court held a bench trial
and entered judgment for the Union and its officers.
Noble v. Sombrotto (Sombrotto I), No.
94-302, 2006 WL 2708796, at *1 (D.D.C. Sept. 20, 2006).
appealed and, in May 2008, we affirmed in part and vacated in
part. See Sombrotto II, 525 F.3d at 1242. We upheld
the judgment for NALC on Noble's claims regarding the
officers' per diem payments and tax-withholding
reimbursements. At the same time, however, we held that the
district court had erred in two ways.
we concluded that the district court erroneously dismissed
Noble's section 501 fiduciary duty claim related to the
officers' undocumented expense reimbursements. The
district court's dismissal of that claim was based on the
clearly erroneous finding that there was "no
evidence" to support Noble's allegations of
impropriety. But "Noble presented ample circumstantial
evidence that officers were using the allowance for personal
use," that is, the officers were foregoing significant
tax savings by failing to document their claimed expenses.
Id. at 1236. When officers submitted receipts to
document their spending, they were entitled to reimbursement;
when they simply requested reimbursement without
documentation, they were credited up to $500 a month in
taxable income. Id. The record evidence showed that
most of the officers did not substantiate their expenses,
preferring, they claimed, to avoid the hassle of keeping
track of receipts and itemizing their reimbursement requests.
Id. We concluded that the district court had given
short shrift to Noble's argument that the officers would
have submitted receipts and received reimbursement-instead of
taxable income-had their expenses been legitimate.
Id. ("The officers had a direct financial
incentive" to substantiate expenses because "each
officer could easily have avoided a substantial additional
tax liability by keeping and submitting receipts for
legitimate union-related expenses he or she incurred each
we could not determine the factual basis for the district
court's finding that Noble's section 201 claim was
moot. According to the district court, Noble had already been
given access to all Union documents he had requested, there
were no outstanding section 201 issues to resolve and the
claim was therefore moot. Id. at 1241. Noble argued
that holding was clearly erroneous. Id. Because we
concluded the district court had failed to explain how it had