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Membership and Rights of Members

Admission to an association is a matter within the complete and exclusive purview of the association.[i] An association has the right to select its members.[ii]

Membership in an association is not a constitutional right, but simply a privilege.[iii] It is a privilege which may be accorded or withheld.  It is not a right that can be gained independently and then enforced.[iv] Hence, the courts cannot compel the admission of an individual into an association.[v] If application for membership is refused, he/she is entirely without legal remedy no matter how arbitrary or unjust the exclusion.[vi]

Further, the right to be a member of an association is not conferred by any statute.[vii] Further, it is not derivable, as in the case of an incorporate body.  It is by through the action and of assent of members of the association that one becomes associated with them in the common undertaking, and not by any outside agency or by the individual’s action.[viii]

An association possesses the inherent power to prescribe qualifications regulating its membership.[ix] Associations have the right to make their own rules regarding admission and exclusion of members and these rules become articles of agreement to which all who become members are party to.[x] Further, an association may impose terms and conditions upon the membership as they may choose and members should comply with those terms and conditions in order to be entitled to the benefits of membership.[xi]

Ordinarily, a society or association may set its own membership qualifications and restrictions.[xii] However, where an organization is quasi-public, its power should be reasonably and lawfully exercised in furtherance of the public welfare consistent with its public characteristic.[xiii]

Courts are of the view that it is unlawful discriminatory practice for any person, being the owner, lessee, proprietor, manager, superintendent, and the like of any place of public accommodation to refuse, withhold from, or deny any person directly or indirectly the accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges thereof because of his/her gender.[xiv]

In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609 (U.S. 1984), the court held that application of a state Human Rights Act (prohibiting gender discrimination in places of public accommodation) to compel an organization to accept women as regular members does not infringe on the group members’ freedom of intimate association or their freedom of expressive association guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Members in good standing in an organization have free access to all the meetings of the organization.[xv] However, for the members to be entitled to a mandamus to compel admission to an association’s meetings, they need to show that on the date of the petition they were members in good standing.[xvi]

Notice of a meeting should be given to members before the meeting.  Further, notice of a meeting in a voluntary association should include the time, place, and object of the meeting.[xvii] Notice of meetings should be given to members even if the Constitution and bylaws of the association do not expressly provide for it.[xviii]

Every member of a voluntary association has a property right in its assets.[xix] Where the objects and methods of the association have been defined by mutual agreement and embodied in a set of fundamental rules for the purpose of governing its operations, a member has the right either to have assets retained in the continuing control of the association and devoted to the defined objectives according to the established rules or to insist that if changes are made, they be made in accordance with the rules and only after such notice as the rules require.  Ordinarily a member cannot be deprived of this right without his/her consent by a majority vote of his/her associates.[xx]

Generally, membership in an association is voluntary.  An individual is free to join or resign from an association.  Membership in an association can be terminated by resignation or withdrawal by the member.  However, an individual’s resignation from an association is subject to financial obligations due to the association.  The bylaws and constitution of an association constitute a contract between the organization and its members.  A bylaw restricting voluntary admission and resignation is invalid.  A provision subjecting withdrawal to approval of an organization is also invalid.  Moreover, unreasonable and arbitrary limitations on membership and withdrawal are considered invalid.  A member of a corporation may resign by simple announcement of his intention to do so and no acceptance of the resignation is required to give it effect.[xxi]

Membership in societies and clubs does not cease ipso facto because of one’s failure to pay his/her dues within the time prescribed by the rules of the organization, so as to relieve him from further liability for such dues.[xxii] A member cannot by his/her own failure of an obligation terminate the responsibility which he/she had assumed, though the club might do so.  However, if the bylaws provide for a loss of membership ipso facto for failure to pay dues, notice to the member is not necessary unless specially stated.[xxiii]

One who has been excluded from membership in an organization may not recover damages for the exclusion, either from the organization itself or from its members as individuals.[xxiv] In any case involving the expulsion of a member from a voluntary unincorporated association, the only function the courts may perform is to determine whether the association has acted within its powers in good faith, in accordance with its laws, and the law of the land.[xxv]

Even an organization which has a public interest orientation has the right to withhold its services and the benefits of membership from anyone who refuses to comply with its reasonable rules and regulations.[xxvi]

The right of expulsion from an association may be based upon two grounds:[xxvii]

  • a violation of any of the established rules of the association as have been subscribed or assented to by the members which  provide expulsion for such violation; and
  • for conduct that clearly violates the fundamental objectives of the association and if allowed to persist would thwart those objectives or bring the association into disrepute.

The decisions of the tribunals of an association with respect to its internal affairs will, in the absence of mistake, fraud, collusion or arbitrariness, be accepted by the courts as conclusive.[xxviii] Moreover, the courts will not undertake to inquire into the regularity of the procedure adopted and pursued by such tribunals in reaching their conclusions.

[i] Greenwood v. Building Trades Council, 71 Cal. App. 159 (Cal. App. 1925)

[ii] Everglades Protective Syndicate v. Makinney, 391 So. 2d 262 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 4th Dist. 1980)

[iii] Id

[iv] Gold Knob Outdoor Advertising Co. v. Outdoor Advertising Ass’n, 225 S.W.2d 645 (Tex. Civ. App. 1949)

[v] Matthews v. Bay Head Improv. Asso., 95 N.J. 306 (N.J. 1984)

[vi] Gold Knob Outdoor Advertising Co. v. Outdoor Advertising Ass’n, 225 S.W.2d 645 (Tex. Civ. App. 1949)

[vii] McKane v. Democratic General Committee, 123 N.Y. 609 (N.Y. 1890)

[viii] Id

[ix] Robinson v. Holman, 181 Ark. 428 (Ark. 1930)

[x] La Salle County Farm Bureau v. Thompson, 245 Ill. App. 413 (Ill. App. Ct. 1927)

[xi] Id

[xii] Matthews v. Bay Head Improv. Asso., 95 N.J. 306 (N.J. 1984)

[xiii] Id

[xiv] Gifford v. Guilderland Lodge, 178 Misc. 2d 707 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1998)

[xv] Taboada v. Sociedad Espanola de Beneficencia Mutua, 191 Cal. 187, 189 (Cal. 1923)

[xvi] Id

[xvii] Bacon v. Paradise, 318 Mass. 649 (Mass. 1945)

[xviii] Id

[xix] Id

[xx] Id

[xxi] Boothsville Volunteer Fire Dep’t v. Marion County Fire Bd., Inc., 182 W. Va. 406, 408 (W. Va. 1989)

[xxii] La Salle County Farm Bureau v. Thompson, 245 Ill. App. 413 (Ill. App. Ct. 1927)

[xxiii] Schroeder v. Meridian Improv. Club, 36 Wn.2d 925 (Wash. 1950)

[xxiv] Trautwein v. Harbourt, 40 N.J. Super. 247 (App.Div. 1956)

[xxv] Smith v. Kern County Medical Asso., 19 Cal. 2d 263 (Cal. 1942)

[xxvi] United Multiple Listing Service, Inc. v. Bernstein, 134 Cal. App. 3d 486 (Cal. App. 2d Dist. 1982)

[xxvii] Smith v. Kern County Medical Asso., 19 Cal. 2d 263 (Cal. 1942)

[xxviii] Blackshire v. NAACP, 285 Ill. App. 3d 561 (Ill. App. Ct. 1st Dist. 1996)

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