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Laspina v. Seiu Pennsylvania State Council

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2019

BETHANY LASPINA, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,


          MALACHY E. MANNION United States District Judge

         Pending before the court are the motions to dismiss, the second amended complaint (“SAC”), (Doc. 66), of plaintiff Bethany LaSpina filed by defendant unions SEIU[1] Local 32BJ (“Local 32BJ”), (Doc. 46), the Pennsylvania Joint Board of Workers United (“JBWU”), (Doc. 52), and SEIU Healthcare PA, (Doc. 59). They claim she fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) since she was not a member of these unions and, fails to have Article III standing to pursue class action claims on behalf of members and former members of these unions pursuant to 12(b)(1). For the reasons that follow, the motions to dismiss will be GRANTED and plaintiff's federal claims against union defendants will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In this purported class action lawsuit, filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, the plaintiff claims that she was unconstitutionally required to pay union dues.[2]Plaintiff alleges that she is employed by the Lackawanna County Library System and that she works at the Scranton Public Library. Plaintiff alleges that she was forced to join defendant union SEIU Local 668 (“Local 668”) and to pay dues to this union as a condition of her employment. She alleges that she was unaware that she was not required to be a member of Local 668, and that if she was aware of this, she would have refused to join the union and instead pay “fair share fees.”[3] Plaintiff alleges that her employer told her that she was legally required to pay union dues to Local 668. Plaintiff further alleges that since she was not advised of her right not to join Local 668, this union did not obtain her free and informed consent to be a member of it.

         Plaintiff also alleges that her First Amendment rights were violated when Local 668 continued to take dues from her after she resigned her membership in the union.

         In Counts 1, 2 and 3 of her SAC, plaintiff raises constitutional claims against defendants under 42 U.S.C. §1983. Further, plaintiff seeks relief under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 22 U.S.C. §2201, requesting a permanent injunction enjoining defendants from accepting dues or fees unless the employees have given their consent to join the unions.[4] Plaintiff also raises state law claims for conversion, trespass to chattels, replevin, restitution, and unjust enrichment. Also named as defendants are SEIU Pennsylvania State Council, Local 668, Lackawanna County Public Library System, and Scranton Public Library.[5]

         Additionally, plaintiff purports to bring claims on behalf of public employee members and former members of the defendant union affiliates of SEIU Pennsylvania State Council alleging that they were unconstitutionally required to pay union dues and fair share fees. She seeks to raise First Amendment claims and state law claims on behalf of public employees who were allegedly forced to pay dues and fair share fees to the defendant unions.

         Plaintiff further purports to bring claims on behalf of all employees in bargaining units represented by affiliates of SEIU Pennsylvania State Council who were subjected to union-related payroll deductions to which they did not knowingly consent.

         As relief, plaintiff seeks a refund of all of the dues she paid to Local 668. Plaintiff also seeks to require the other defendant unions to refund all dues and fees they received from her. Additionally, plaintiff seeks punitive damages for herself and for members of all defendant unions who resigned from the unions or requested that the unions stop taking dues or fees after the Janus decision and who continued to have dues or fees withdrawn from their pays.

         Plaintiff is proceeding on her SAC filed January 28, 2019. (Doc. 66). On January 14, 2019, Local 32BJ filed its motion to dismiss.[6] (Doc. 46). Also on January 14, 2019, JBWU filed its motion to dismiss, (Doc. 52). On January 16, 2019 Healthcare PA filed its motion to dismiss, (Doc. 59).

         The motions to dismiss of Local 32BJ, JBWU and Healthcare PA (collectively “defendant unions”) have been briefed. The court now jointly considers the three motions to dismiss. In fact, plaintiff filed one brief in opposition to the three motions, (Doc. 74), and the defendant unions filed a joint reply brief in support of their motions. (Doc. 77).

         The court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1331 and 28 U.S.C. §1343(a) because plaintiff avers violations of his rights under the U.S. Constitution. The court can exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. §1337. Venue is appropriate in this court since the alleged constitutional violations occurred in this district. See 28 U.S.C. §1391.

         II. DISCUSSION[7]

         Defendant unions argue that plaintiff's allegations against them fail to state a cognizable claim since she only alleges that she was a member of Local 668 and not that she was a member of defendant unions at any time. Defendant unions also point out that all of the plaintiff's stated allegations regarding her constitutional claims concern Local 668 and do not pertain to them. Defendant unions further state that plaintiff fails to allege that they took any dues/fees from her or caused her any harm. Thus, defendant unions state that since plaintiff fails to allege any facts showing that she was injured or caused any harm by them, she lacks standing to sue them under Article III and she fails to state a cognizable claim against them.

         To state a claim under §1983, a plaintiff must meet two threshold requirements. She must allege: 1) that the alleged misconduct was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and 2) that as a result, she was deprived of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 (1988); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986). See also Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996) (To state an actionable claim under §1983, plaintiff must prove that someone deprived her of a constitutional right while acting under the color of state law). Liability in a civil rights action under §1983 cannot be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior. Sutton v. Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249 (3d Cir. 2003). Rather, liability under section 1983 is personal in nature and can only follow personal involvement in the alleged wrongful conduct shown through specific allegations of personal direction or actual knowledge and acquiescence. See Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286 (3d Cir. 1997) (overturned on other grounds) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988)). Acquiescence exists where “a supervisor with authority over a subordinate knows that the subordinate is violating someone's rights but fails to act to stop the subordinate from doing so.” Festa v. Jordan, 803 F.Supp.2d 319, 325 (M.D. Pa. 2011) (citation omitted). Further, “[a]llegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence, however, must be made with appropriate particularity.” Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207.

         No doubt that plaintiff has failed to allege that defendant unions were personally involved in the violation of her constitutional rights. Nor can plaintiff attempt to hold defendant unions vicariously liable for the alleged unconstitutional conduct of Local 668. Plaintiff's SAC contains no facts to support a claim against defendant unions and it does not allege that they were personally involved in the violation of her constitutional rights. Rather, plaintiff's allegations relate to her employer and the union to which she belonged, Local 668, not defendant unions. As stated, plaintiff alleges that the actions of Local 668 violated her rights since it improperly took dues from her and failed to obtain her consent to take dues out of her pay. Thus, plaintiff's allegations fail to show that defendant unions committed any unlawful actions against her and that these unions caused her any injury.

         Plaintiff concedes that if she was only suing defendant unions as an individual she would not have standing to sue Healthcare PA, Local 32BJ, or the JBWU since she never belonged to or paid fees to these unions. However, plaintiff states that she can sue the stated unions since she is suing as a class representative and “she seeks to represent all public employees who were compelled to subsidize the affiliates of the SEIU Pennsylvania State Council.” In her pleading, she has alleged that the State Council “coordinates and unifies the collective political, administrative, and communication structures of all SEIU locals”, and that the local unions are “affiliated” with the State Council. The SAC also alleges that Healthcare PA, Local 32BJ, and the JBWU “enforced unconstitutional agency shops before the Supreme Court's ruling in Janus and violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiff class members by tapping their paychecks against their will.” Thus, plaintiff contends that even though she was not a member of the three defendant unions and cannot sue them in her individual capacity, she has standing to sue them to claim they forced fees in violation of the Constitution as a ...

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