Appellate courts issue rulings in three public-sector union lawsuits
Two three-judge appellate panels, one from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and one from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, issued rulings in three lawsuits involving public-sector union fees or dues in the past week.
Fourth Circuit: Mattos v. AFSCME Council 3
In this case, Maryland public employees who were not members of AFSCME Council 3 filed a class-action complaint against the union in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in September 2019. The plaintiffs alleged the union “violated [their] constitutional rights by compelling them to pay agency fees as a condition of their employment and by collecting agency fees from them without consent” and sought a refund of those fees.
On April 27, 2020, U.S. District Judge George L. Russell III ruled in favor of the union, writing, “Plaintiffs’ § 1983 claim for damages is barred by the good-faith defense, and Plaintiffs lack standing to seek declaratory judgment.”
On Sept. 16, 2022, U.S. Circuit Judge Robert King, U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Agee, and Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Barbara Keenan upheld the district court’s ruling. The judges wrote in the unpublished per curiam opinion:
“On appeal, Appellants argue that the district court erred in allowing AFSCME to assert a good-faith defense to its 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, and that this court should decline to recognize a good-faith defense. However, after Appellants’ brief was filed, we decided the issue of whether a union can assert a good-faith defense in a Janus claim under § 1983 in Akers v. Maryland State Educ. Ass’n [in 2021.] … We concluded, in accordance with six other courts of appeals, that the good-faith defense is available to private parties sued under § 1983, and that the union was entitled to assert the good-faith defense in the Janus context. … Because Akers directly applies to the legal question at issue here, we hold that the district court did not err in determining that AFSCME was entitled to assert a good-faith defense and granting AFSCME’s motion to dismiss.”
(In Akers v. Maryland State Education Association, King, U.S. Circuit Judge Henry Floyd, and U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanie Thacker ruled in favor of the union defendants, with King writing, “In sum, consistent with the weight of authority from our sister circuits, we affirm the district court and rule that the union defendants are entitled to utilize the good-faith defense with respect to the plaintiffs’ Janus claim. As a result, the defendants are not required to refund the representation fees that the plaintiffs paid to the union defendants prior to the Janus decision.”)
President Bill Clinton (D) appointed King to the court, President George W. Bush (R) appointed Agee, and President Barack Obama (D) appointed Keenan.
The case name and number are Mattos v. AFSCME Council 3 (20-1531).
Ninth Circuit: Ochoa v. Public Consulting Group, Inc. and Wright v. SEIU Local 503
In Ochoa v. Public Consulting Group, Inc., plaintiff Cindy Ochoa sued SEIU Local 775 and others, including Public Consulting Group, Inc., in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington in September 2018. Ochoa, an in-home healthcare provider, alleged union dues had been withheld from her pay and paid “to a union to which she does not belong and does not want to belong, in part based on a signature forged by a union representative.” In part, Ochoa asked the court for declaratory judgments that the defendants had violated her First Amendment rights by “withdrawing union dues without her consent” and by “failing to employ and abide by procedural due process safeguards protecting her rights.” She filed an amended complaint in May 2019 seeking “declaratory judgment that Defendants violated her First Amendment rights by failing to employ procedural safeguards protect the same.”
On Oct. 4, 2019, U.S. District Judge Thomas O. Rice wrote that Ochoa “failed to demonstrate she has Article III standing [to pursue prospective relief].” Rice said Ochoa did not show that there was “a substantial likelihood of a similar, future deprivation.”
On Sept. 19, 2022, Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Paez, U.S. Circuit Judge Jacqueline Nguyen, and U.S. District Judge for the District of Minnesota John Tunheim upheld Rice’s decision. Writing for the court, Paez said, “Ochoa does not have standing to bring any claims for prospective relief. And although the district court erred in holding that [defendants Public Partnerships LLC and Public Consulting Group, Inc.] are not state actors, Ochoa has not alleged facts sufficient to support a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim or a claim for violation of state law.”
In a similar case, Wright v. SEIU Local 503, retired Oregon Health Authority employee Jodee Wright filed a complaint in March 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon alleging SEIU 503 deducted union dues based on a forged signature and had violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
On Sept. 28, 2020, U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane wrote that Wright’s “claim for prospective relief is moot” and her “federal claims for relief fail on the merits.” McShane said, “[T]he Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction in this case. Oregon courts should hear Wright’s claims brought under Oregon law.”
On Sept. 19, 2022, the same three-judge panel that ruled in Ochoa upheld McShane’s decision. Paez wrote:
“Wright argues that [Janus v. AFSCME] created a constitutional ‘duty’ for the State to ensure that the employees listed in SEIU’s certification had duly authorized dues deducted from their salaries. … As we recognized in [Belgau v. Inslee], Janus ‘in no way created a new First Amendment waiver requirement for union members before dues are deducted pursuant to a voluntary agreement.’ … Janus imposes no affirmative duty on government entities to ensure that membership agreements and dues deductions are genuine. …
“At bottom, in light of Belgau and the state action analysis, SEIU does not qualify as a state actor. Therefore, Wright’s claim for retrospective relief against SEIU fails for lack of state action.”
Paez wrote, “We affirm the district court’s dismissal of Wright’s claims for prospective relief against all Defendants for lack of jurisdiction and her claims for retrospective relief against SEIU for failure to allege state action under § 1983.”
Clinton nominated Paez to the Ninth Circuit, and Obama nominated Nguyen. Clinton nominated Tunheim to the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
What we’re reading
- Federal News Network, “An unprecedented case arises on the status of a union of Park Service employees,” Sept. 21, 2022
- The City, “City Workers’ Union Taken Over by National Parent After Audit Finds Improprieties,” Sept. 21, 2022
- Portland Business Journal, “OHSU, AFSCME reach tentative contract agreement, averting strike,” Sept. 21, 2022
- InsideNoVa, “Prince William County finalizing collective bargaining ordinance,” Sept. 21, 2022
- Daily Herald, “‘Workers’ Rights Amendment’: What’s in it and how Democrats and Republicans are sizing it up,” Sept. 20, 2022
The big picture
Number of relevant bills by state
We are currently tracking 149 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.
Number of relevant bills by current legislative status
Number of relevant bills by partisan status of sponsor(s)
Recent legislative actions
Below is a complete list of relevant legislative actions taken since our last issue.
- California AB1714: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances.
- Democratic sponsorship.
- Governor vetoed Sept. 18.
- California AB2556: This bill would change the time frame for a local public agency employer to implement a final offer after a factfinders’ recommendation has been submitted in the case of a dispute between the employer and employee organization.
- Democratic sponsorship.
- Governor signed Sept. 18, secretary of state assigned a chapter number (Chapter 412, Statutes of 2022).
- California SB1406: This bill would allow unions representing excluded state employees to request arbitration with the Department of Human Resources in certain circumstances.
- Democratic sponsorship.
- Governor vetoed Sept. 18. Consideration of governor’s veto pending in the Senate.
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