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).

What we’ve been reading

The big picture

Number of relevant bills by state

We are currently tracking 49 pieces of legislation dealing with public-sector employee union policy. On the map below, a darker shade of green indicates a greater number of relevant bills. Click here for a complete list of all the bills we’re tracking.

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Number of relevant bills by current legislative status

Union Station status chart January 10, 2020.png

Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)

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Recent legislative actions

Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue. Bills are listed in alphabetical order, first by state then by bill number.

  • Maine LD1960: This bill would make communications between municipal/state workers and their unions confidential in proceedings before the Maine Labor Relations Board.
    • Introduced and referred to Judiciary Committee Jan. 8.
  • Missouri HB1906: This bill would require public employees to provide annual written or electronic authorization for payroll deductions of union dues.
    • Introduced Jan. 8.
  • New Hampshire HB1290: This bill would require the state public employee labor relations board to permit employees to vote by mail in certification elections.
    • Introduced and referred to House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee Jan. 8.
  • New Hampshire HB1322: This bill would prohibit university system funds from being used to oppose the formation of unions.
    • Introduced and referred to House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee Jan. 8.
  • New Hampshire HB1399: This bill would allow a bargaining unit to request certification of its union/representative.
    • Introduced and referred to House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee Jan. 8.
  • New Hampshire HB1554: This bill would provide for changes to public employee voting in certification elections.
    • Introduced and referred to House Labor, Industrial, and Rehabilitative Services Committee Jan. 8.
  • New Hampshire SB448: This bill would require the state public employee labor relations board to certify a union as a bargaining unit’s exclusive representative if that union receives a “majority written authorization.”
    • Introduced and referred to Senate Commerce Committee Jan. 8.
  • Virginia HB327: This bill would allow state and local government employers to recognize any union as the bargaining agent of any public employees.
    • Introduced Jan. 1.
  • Virginia HB582: This bill would repeal the existing prohibition against collective bargaining by public employees.
    • Introduced Jan. 1



About the author

Jerrick Adams

Jerrick Adams is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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