Panel Gives Scant Attention to Contention That Under 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Decision, Payments to Union
Were Unconstitutionally Exacted, Moneys Must Be Retuned; Dismissal of Putative Class Action Affirmed
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday gave short-shrift to the plea from a group of public school teachers to reinstate their dismissed putative class action alleging entitlement to a return of dues they had paid while members of a union, prior to a decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that entitled them to leave the union without being saddled with the obligation of paying “agency fees.”
On June 27, 2018, the nation’s high court held in Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, that compelled payment of “agency fees”—based on the value received by non-union members from representation of their interests by the union—violates the public sector employees’ right to free speech. The decision overturned the court’s contrary 1977 holding in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.
The plaintiffs—Michael Martin and others—resigned from the California Teachers Association, as well as the National Education Association of the United States and the Riverside City Teachers Association, after the decision in Janus was handed down. In their complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 (deprivation of civil rights), some contend either that they didn’t resign earlier because they would still have been obligated to pay agency fees, others saying that they were led to believe that union membership was a job requirement.
District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton of the Central District of California on May 8, 2019, dismissed all but one claim brought by Martin and his co-plaintiffs, killing off the action in its entirety on June 6, 2019, pursuant to a stipulation. (Also on May 8, she dismissed three similar cases in their entirety and one other case except as to a single claim.)
Staton said in her May ruling that the “Union Defendants,” as she termed them, need not make a refund of dues in light of their good faith in receiving the moneys. She wrote:
“The question here…is whether Union Defendants are precluded from asserting a good faith defense in this context, where Plaintiffs made payments for agency fees later determined to be unconstitutional. For the most part, the cases Plaintiffs cite have nothing to say about a good faith defense to a § 1983 claim. More significantly, the cases cited involve the return of discrete and identifiable property, not a refund of fees paid….
The judge went on to say:
“It cannot be overlooked that the pre-Janus regime consisted of an obligation by the Plaintiffs to pay fees to the Union Defendants, and a concomitant obligation by the Union Defendants to use those fees to bargain on Plaintiffs’ behalf. While the Supreme Court has determined that such an arrangement violated Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights, it is not the case that the agency fees remain in a vault, to be returned like a seized automobile. As the Union Defendants cannot retract their performance on this implied contract, it would be inequitable to force them to repay Plaintiffs’ agency fees.”
Staton also rejected contentions as to the invalidity of two California statutes.
Ninth Circuit’s Opinion
The Ninth Circuit yesterday affirmed in a brief memorandum opinion. It was signed by Judge Andrew Hurwitz and Senior Judges Richard R. Clifton and Barry G. Silverman.
“Dismissal of plaintiffs’ First Amendment claim for retrospective monetary relief was proper because the deduction of union membership dues arose from the private membership agreements between the union defendants and plaintiffs,” the judges said. They cited the Ninth Circuit’s 2020 opinion in Belgau v. Inslee for the proposition that “private dues agreements do not trigger state action and independent constitutional scrutiny.”
The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of California Government Code §3558 which provides that a public school district must provide a union that represents its employees with “the name, job title, department, work location, work, home, and personal cellular telephone numbers, personal email addresses on file with the employer, and home address of any newly hired employee….”
This infringes on employees’ First Amendment rights, the plaintiffs maintained, and is subject to “exacting scrutiny.”
Compelling State Interest
Staton pointed out that “every compelled-disclosure case in which the Supreme Court applied exacting scrutiny involved disclosure of information that linked individuals to a cause, an association, or political activity, or identified the individuals’ political beliefs,” observing that §3558 is “content neutral.” In any event, she held, the statute withstands strict scrutiny because “California has a compelling interest in ensuring that unions can communicate directly with employees,” citing a 2013 California Supreme Court ruling to that effect in County of Los Angeles v. L.A. County Employee Relations Committee.
Citing that same case, the Ninth Circuit proclaimed that “plaintiffs did not demonstrate that the statute is unconstitutional on its face.”
The plaintiffs also contested the validity of California Education Code §45060(a) which provides, in part:
“Employee requests to cancel or change authorizations for payroll deductions for employee organizations shall be directed to the employee organization rather than to the governing board. The employee organization shall be responsible for processing these requests.”
Martin complained that moneys were diverted to the union from his paycheck notwithstanding his email to the employer demanding that the deductions seek. He contended, citing Janus:
“Every public employer and every public-employee union must honor and implement the wishes of an employee who has withdrawn his ‘affirmative consent’ to union fees or assessments—regardless of how a public employee chooses to communicate his instructions.”
Staton responded to the contention by saying:
“Submitting a writing to the Union Defendants to halt payroll deductions is not a burdensome requirement. Because the deductions go to the Union Defendants, it makes sense that the halting of such deductions must be communicated to the Union Defendants rather than the school districts.”
The Ninth Circuit merely said:
“Martin failed to allege facts sufficient to state a plausible claim.”
The case is Martin v. California Teachers Association, 19-55761.
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