Ninth Circuit rules public-sector unions not liable for fees paid prior to Janus

On Dec. 26, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that public-sector unions cannot be required to refund fees paid prior to Janus v. AFSCME. In Janus, the U.S. Supreme Court held that compulsory collection of union fees violates workers’ free-speech and associational rights.

Who are the parties to the suit?
The plaintiffs are Dale Danielson, Benjamin Rast, and Tamara Roberson, all Washington state employees. The defendants are Gov. Jay Inslee (D), David Schumacher, Director of Washington State Office of Financial Management, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees Council 28.

What is at issue?
The plaintiffs first filed their class-action lawsuit on March 15, 2018, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. In their original filing, the plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of compulsory fee collection and sought refunds of “all agency fees that were unlawfully collected from Plaintiffs and their fellow class members.” On June 27, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Janus v. AFSCME. In light of Janus, AFSCME Council 28 requested that the district court dismiss the suit as moot. The district court granted this request. The plaintiffs appealed that decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

How did the court rule?
On Dec. 26, a three-judge panel of the appeals court unanimously affirmed the district court’s decision. Judge Jacqueline Nguyen wrote the court’s opinion, which was joined by Judges Ronald Gould and Gregory Presnell. Nguyen wrote, “Throughout the country, public sector employees brought claims for monetary relief against the unions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Many unions asserted a good faith defense in response. Joining a growing consensus, the district court here ruled in favor of the union. We affirm and hold that private parties may invoke an affirmative defense of good faith to retrospective monetary liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, where they acted in direct reliance on then-binding Supreme Court precedent and presumptively-valid state law.”

Nguyen was appointed to the court by President Barack Obama (D). Gould and Presnell were appointed by President Bill Clinton (D).

Case information: The case name and number are Danielson v. Inslee (3:18-cv-05206- RJB).

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Additional reading:
Public-sector union policy in the United States
Janus v. AFSCME