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Philadelphia�A lawyer hired by a union to represent one of its members in an arbitration hearing cannot later be sued by the worker for malpractice because the federal Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) effectively immunizes the lawyer from such a claim, the 3d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled. In Carino v. Stefan, a unanimous three-judge panel upheld a New Jersey federal judge’s decision to dismiss a malpractice suit against attorney Marc Stefan and his firm, Bustavage & Associates of Washington, after finding that the LMRA “immunizes attorneys employed by or hired by unions to perform services related to a collective bargaining agreement from suit for malpractice.” Writing for the court, U.S. Circuit Judge Marjorie O. Rendell found that although Gisela Carino’s appeal presented a question of first impression in the 3d Circuit, several other federal appellate courts have already extended the LMRA’s immunity to include lawyers. Carino’s lawyer urged the appellate court to carve out an exception in her case, arguing that Stefan allegedly deceived her into withdrawing her grievance and therefore had not performed any activity that was entitled to immunity. Rendell disagreed, saying “the fact that [Stefan] did not take the matter to arbitration is insufficient to distinguish it from the activity by union attorneys which has consistently been found to be immune.” Under Sec. 301(b) of the LMRA, Rendell noted, a money judgment against a union is “enforceable only against the organization as an entity and against its assets, and shall not be enforceable against any individual member or his assets.” Rendell found that the U.S. Supreme Court gave an “expansive reading” to Sec. 301(b) in a 1962 decision, Atkinson v. Sinclair Refining Co., 370 U.S. 238. In Atkinson, the justices held that the statute “evidences a congressional intention that the union as an entity, like a corporation, should in the absence of an agreement be the sole recovery for injury inflicted by it.” In Atkinson, the justices dismissed all claims against several union officers who had been sued in their individual capacities. Rendell found that the Supreme Court “extended the Atkinson rule” in its 1981 decision in Complete Auto Transit Inc. v. Reis, 451 U.S. 401, where it held that individual union officers cannot be sued even if their conduct was not authorized by the union and violated an existing bargaining agreement.

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