An association has the power to initiate disciplinary measures like suspension or expulsion of its members. An association may expel a member for serious misconduct or dishonesty. An action that critically disrupts the organization’s goals and purposes amounts to dishonesty. If an association maintains expulsion guidelines, it must strictly adhere to those guidelines. If a disciplinary action complies with the expulsion guidelines, members cannot complain of unfair treatment. An association can develop a strong precedent for expulsion procedure.
Before expulsion, a member must be served the following:
- a notice of intention to proceed;
- a recital of the charges or accusations; and
- a fair, impartial hearing at which the member may respond to charges.
Voluntary associations have wide scope in defining the purposes for which they are organized and the means which they employ to accomplish those purposes, including the conditions of membership.[i] An association’s power to make, interpret and enforce bylaws includes the power to take disciplinary actions against its members for violation of rules. When a person becomes a member of an association, s/he submits himself/herself to the rules of that association.
Usually, courts will not interfere with the decisions of any kind of voluntary association disciplining, suspending or expelling its members where no property rights are involved. However, courts will interfere with association action only to the extent of ascertaining whether:
- the proceeding was pursuant to the rules and laws of such an association;
- the proceeding was in good faith; or
- if the law of the land was violated in any sense.[ii]
In the case of association decisions of expulsion, courts will interfere only in the following cases:
- If the decision arrived at was contrary to natural justice, denying a member an opportunity to explain his/her alleged misconduct;
- If the rules of the association have not been observed;
- If the action of the association was malicious, and not bona fide.[iii]
In administering disciplinary measures, an organization acts in a quasi-judicial manner. An association confines itself to the exercise of the powers vested in it and in good faith exercises the methods prescribed by its laws. An association’s disciplinary powers are like that of a judicial tribunal.[iv]
Due process protection is afforded to members of voluntary associations in disciplinary proceedings.[v] Due process of law means:
- absence of bad faith;
- compliance with the constitution and by-laws of the association; and
- compliance with the principles of natural justice.
The relationship of voluntary associations with its members is governed by contract law.[vi] Judicial inquiry into the affairs of private, voluntary associations is limited to “the question whether an association has treated its members in accord with its bylaws and rudimentary due process”.[vii]
The officers preferring charges should not sit in a hearing on the matter of expulsion of a member. However, the directors of a voluntary association are not deprived of jurisdiction to try a member although the charges are preferred by some of their members.
An association may provide penalties by way of fines for the neglect of duties of its members. Penalties must, however, be determined according to some method to which the member has agreed. However, a bylaw imposing an excessive fine can be set aside as unreasonable.[viii]
[i] Hillebert v. Steele, 722 P.2d 595 (Kan. 1986)
[ii] Rogers v. Tangier Temple, 112 Neb. 166, 174 (Neb. 1924)
[iii] McConville v. Milk Wagon Drivers’ Union, 106 Cal. App. 696, 697-698 (Cal. App. 1930)
[iv] Commonwealth ex rel. Bryan v. Pike Beneficial Soc., 8 Watts & Serg. 247 (Pa. 1844)
[v] Elgin v. Montgomery County Farm Bureau, 549 So. 2d 486 (Ala. 1989)
[vi] Cunningham v. Independent Soap & Chemical Workers, 207 Kan. 812, 818 (Kan. 1971)
[vii] Automotive Electric Service Corp. v. Association of Automotive Aftermarket Distributors, 747 F. Supp. 1483, 1510 (E.D.N.Y. 1990)
[viii] Multiple Listing Service, Inc. v. Century 21 Cantrell Real Estate, Inc., 390 So. 2d 982 (Miss. 1980)