Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

LaSpina v. Seiu Pennsylvania State Council

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 30, 2019

BETHANY LASPINA, on behalf of herself and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
SEIU PENNSYLVANIA STATE COUNCIL, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          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 defendants SEIU Local 668 (“Local 668”), (Doc. 70), and Scranton Public Library (“SPL”), (Doc. 88). Defendants’ motion are filed pursuant to Fed.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of jurisdiction and lack of standing, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Local 668 and SPL contend that plaintiff lacks standing with respect to her claim in Count 1since she did not pay fair-share fees, she did not pay union dues and, that she lacks standing to pursue class action claims on behalf of former fair-share fee payers and union members who allegedly joined the union because of the fair-share fee requirement. Local 668 and SPL also contend that since plaintiff already received all available relief for her claims in Count 2, regarding post-resignation dues, and since deduction for dues cannot re-start without her written authorization, these claims should be dismissed as moot. Further, Local 668 and SPL argue that plaintiff lacks standing to pursue her claim in Count 3, in which she seeks an order requiring the union to obtain post-Janus authorizations from its members before receiving future due since plaintiff no longer has an actual controversy before the court regarding this claim. For the reasons that follow, Local 668's and SPL’s motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) will be GRANTED and, plaintiff’s federal claims against these defendants will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         Plaintiff is an employee of SPL, which is a Pennsylvania non-profit corporation and represented in collective bargaining by Local 668. Plaintiff joined Local 668 in October 2015 and was a dues-paying member of this union until she resigned her membership in August 2018. In her resignation letter, plaintiff also revoked her prior authorization for SPL to deduct from her pay dues for Local 668. In her SAC, plaintiff alleges that she became a member of Local 668 because “she was instructed [by SPL] to fill out a union-membership form at her job orientation, ” and that SPL’s human resources officer “incorrectly told [her] that … ‘union dues are mandatory by law.’” Plaintiff states that she would have chosen to be a fair-share fee payer as opposed to a union member, if SPL had made her aware of that option. After the Supreme Court decided Janus[2], Local 668 notified SPL and its other public employers and directed them to immediately stop requesting or deducting fair-share fees from employees who were not members of Local 668. (See Declaration of Claudia Lukert, Local 668’s Chief of Staff, Doc. 72, ¶’s16-17). Following Local 668’s instruction, SPL stopped deducting fair-share fees from employees who were not members of Local 668 and SPL has not deducted any such fees since that time. As such, public employees represented by Local 668 may now either join the union and pay dues or decline union membership and pay nothing. (Doc. 72, ¶17).

         After plaintiff sent her letter to Local 668 on August 21, 2018 resigning her membership in the union, Local 668 sent a letter to SPL dated October 26, 2018, advising SPL that plaintiff submitted a request to withdraw from the union and requested SPL to discontinue payroll dues deductions for her effective immediately. (Doc. 90-1). Local 668 processed plaintiff’s resignation and sent SPL the letter before it was aware of plaintiff’s instant lawsuit. (Doc. 72, ¶’s 8, 12). Local 668 then directed SPL to refund plaintiff the membership dues that were deducted from her pay after her resignation, and she was issued a refund of $55.18 which was included in her November 2018 paycheck. (Doc. 72, ¶9). Local 668 then advised plaintiff on December 3, 2018 that her resignation from the union was processed and her status changed to non-member as of August 21, 2018. Plaintiff was also advised that she would receive a refund of any dues deducted after her resignation. (Doc. 72, ¶’s 8, 10-11). On December 13, 2018, Local 668 sent plaintiff a check in the amount of $11.81 for dues deducted for the period from August 21 through August 31, 2018. After SPL received the October 2018 letter from Local 668, it did not deduct any more dues from plaintiff’s pay. (Id.).

         In this case, plaintiff essentially claims that she was unconstitutionally required to pay union dues. She raises three federal claims in her SAC pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983.[3] In Count 1, a putative class action claim, plaintiff alleges that she and other public employees were employed in “unconstitutional agency shops” before the Court decided Janus because non-union members were required to pay fair-share fees for union representation. She alleges that “the union defendants violated the constitutional rights of the plaintiff class members by tapping their paychecks against their will.” Plaintiff seeks a refund of the money she and the putative class members were “compelled to pay the union” based on the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement.

         In Count 2, plaintiff alleges that Local 668 and SPL violated her constitutional rights and state law by failing to stop deductions for dues from her pay after she resigned from the union. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that her First Amendment rights were violated when Local 668 continued to take dues from her paycheck after she resigned her membership in the union, based on the Janus decision, and after she told SPL to “halt the payroll deduction of union-related fees.” Count 2 is brought solely on plaintiff’s behalf.

         In Count 3, plaintiff alleges that the receipt of membership dues by all of the union defendants is unconstitutional until the unions obtain affirmative consents from employees authorizing them to deduct dues pursuant to Janus, and obtain new agreements to allow them to deduct dues from the pay of their members. Count 3 is brought on behalf of current and future union members and plaintiff seeks injunctive relief prohibiting union defendants from receiving any dues without post-Janus agreements and, she seeks the court to require union defendants to include specific language in the agreements.

         As relief, plaintiff seeks a refund of all of the dues she paid to Local 668. Plaintiff also seeks to require the 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 pay.

         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. In particular, plaintiff seeks injunctive relief on behalf of a putative class of current and future union members prohibiting the union defendants from receiving any membership dues without the new post-Janus agreements and requiring the union defendants to include specific language in the new agreements.

         Plaintiff also raises state law claims against all defendants for conversion, trespass to chattels, replevin, restitution, and unjust enrichment.

         In addition to Local 668 and SPL, the only remaining defendant in this case was Lackawanna County Library System.[4]

         Plaintiff is proceeding on her SAC filed January 28, 2019. (Doc. 66). On February 11, 2019, Local 668 filed its motion to dismiss plaintiff’s SAC in its entirety. (Doc. 70). On May 3, 2019, SPL filed its motion to dismiss plaintiff’s SAC in its entirety. (Doc. 88). Both defendants argue, in part, that there is no live controversy between them and plaintiff regarding any of her federal claims against them and that she lacks standing to assert her claims. The motions to dismiss of Local 668 and SPL have been briefed. (Docs. 71, 79 & 81; Docs. 90, 93 & 94).

         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 her 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

         In Count 1, plaintiff raises claims based on the pre-Janus requirement that non-union members had to pay fair-share fees to Local 668. Plaintiff seeks a refund of fair-share fees paid by non-union members prior to Janus and injunctive relief prohibiting the future collection of fair-share fees. She also seeks a refund of money paid by union members, including herself, who allegedly chose to join Local 668 because of the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement. Further, plaintiff seeks a refund of the dues she and other union members paid based on alleged misrepresentations that they were required to join the unions. Thus, plaintiff alleges that since she was forced to join the union and pay dues, she has standing to seek recovery of the dues she and other union members paid Local 668 prior to Janus.

         In her SAC, plaintiff alleges that she was opposed to making any payments to Local 668 and that she only joined the union and paid due because she worked in an agency shop and SPL misrepresented to her that union membership was mandatory. (Doc. 66 at ¶’s 12-16). She also alleges that she was compelled to pay either union membership dues or fair-share fees, and that this was why she joined the union and paid dues. Plaintiff argues that she “suffered injury in fact from the pre-Janus agency-shop arrangements because she was forced to pay the union [dues] as a condition of her employment - either by joining the union and paying dues or by declining union membership and paying ‘fair-share fees.’” (Doc. 93 at 4). She contends that her constitutional right to withhold money from the union, which she did not support, was denied, and that this inflicted an “injury in fact” upon her that can be redressed by a refund of the money that she was allegedly forced to pay Local 668 against her will.

         Further, plaintiff argues that the issue of whether she should be allowed to represent agency-fee employees and employees who joined the union but were aware of their right to decline union membership goes to whether one of her proposed classes should be certified under Rule 23 and is not a standing issue.

         Local 668 and SPL argue that Count 1 of the SAC, which is based upon the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement, [5] should be dismissed since plaintiff lacks standing to assert a claim on behalf of fair-share fee payers because she never paid fair-share fees, i.e., she did not suffer any harm regarding such fees. Defendants also argue that plaintiff lacks standing to assert a claim on behalf of union members who allegedly joined the union because of a fair-share fee requirement since she did not allege that this is why she joined the union, and “she was never even aware that such a requirement existed.” (Doc. 94 at 5).

         Initially, as the court explained in its August 29, 2019 Memorandum, 2019 WL 4081900, issues of standing are antecedent to issues of class certification. Thus, the court will consider defendants’ contentions that plaintiff lacks standing to pursue relief on behalf of other SPL employees and members of her proposed classes in regards to their instant motions to dismiss.

         In deciding whether plaintiff has standing to assert her claims in Count 1 seeking a refund of dues and fees plaintiff and putative class members were compelled to pay Local 668, she must allege that she was harmed by the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement. “[Rule] 12(b)(1) governs a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, since ‘standing is a jurisdictional matter.’” Polanco v. Omnicell, Inc., 988 F.Supp.2d 451, 459 (D.N.J. 2013) (citation omitted). “Standing ‘is a threshold jurisdictional requirement, derived from the ‘case or controversy’ language of Article III of the Constitution.’” Id. (citation omitted). “A plaintiff must establish his or her standing to bring a case in order for the court to possess jurisdiction over his or her claim. Id. (citation omitted). “

         Article III governs constitutional standing and limits [the court’s] jurisdiction to actual “cases or controversies.” Neale v. Volvo Cars of North America, LLC, 794 F.3d 353, 358-59 (3d Cir. 2015). “Article III requires a plaintiff to demonstrate ‘(1) an ‘injury in fact, ’ (2) a sufficient ‘causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of, ’ and (3) a ‘likel[ihood]’ that the injury ‘will be redressed by a favorable decision.’” Id. (citations omitted). See also Anjelino v. N.Y. Times Co., 200 F.3d 73, 88 (3d Cir. 2000) (“Standing is established at the pleading stage by setting forth specific facts that indicate that the party has been injured in fact or that injury is imminent, that the challenged action is causally connected to the actual or imminent injury, and that the injury may be redressed by the cause of action.”). “Standing requires that the party seeking to invoke federal jurisdiction ‘demonstrate standing for each claim he seeks to press.’” Neale, 794 F.3d at 359 (citation omitted). “Th[e] ‘case or controversy’ requirement encompasses, inter alia, two doctrines that are relevant to the present dispute: mootness and standing.” Diamond, 2019 WL 2929875, at *13 (citations omitted). “The parties must maintain a personal stake in the resolution of the dispute throughout the litigation”, and “[t]herefore, ‘if developments occurring during the course of adjudication eliminate a plaintiff's personal stake in the outcome of a suit, then a federal court must dismiss the case as moot.’” Molina, 2019 WL 3240170, *5 (internal citations omitted).

         Defendants argue that plaintiff lacks standing with respect to her pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement claim against them in Count 1 since “[she] has failed to allege she was injured by Local 668’s receipt of fair-share fees”, and since she has only alleged that she was a union member and “[she] paid membership dues, not fair-share fees.” Defendants also state that “[plaintiff] has not alleged she ever paid fair-share fees or was even aware of that option.” (Doc. 94 at 6) (citing SAC, Doc. 66, ¶’s 13-15). Thus, defendants contend that plaintiff cannot pursue “any claim to redress the alleged injury suffered by non-members who paid fair-share fees” since she herself was a union member and not subjected to such fees. (Doc. 90 at 10-11) (citing Blum v. Yaretsky, 457 U.S. 991, 999 (1982) (“[A] plaintiff who has been subject to injurious conduct of one kind [does not] possess by virtue of that injury the necessary stake in litigating conduct of another kind, although similar, to which he has not been subject.”).

         The court finds that since plaintiff was a dues-paying member of Local 668 during all relevant times, and not a fair-share fee payer, she lacks standing to seek a refund of fees paid by non-union members or fair-share fee payers. See Neale, 794 F.3d at 359 (plaintiff must demonstrate that she has standing for each claim she asserts) (citation omitted). See also Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Environmental Services (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 185 (2000) (“[P]laintiff must demonstrate standing separately for each form of relief sought.”). There is simply no causal connection between the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement which non-union members were compelled to pay Local 668 and the union membership dues that plaintiff paid to Local 668, and any injury plaintiff allegedly suffered by her payment of dues was clearly not caused by the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement. As such, plaintiff lacks standing to seek retrospective relief based on this fee requirement.

         Insofar as plaintiff argues that part of her membership dues should be refunded because if she had not joined Local 668 she would have been made to pay fair-share fees, the court has no standing to redress this speculative claim since plaintiff suffered no injury due to the fair-share fee requirement as she was a dues paying union member and she did not pay fair-share fees. “[T]o satisfy Article III’s standing requirements, a plaintiff must show (1) it has suffered an ‘injury in fact’ that is (a) concrete and particularized and (b) actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) the injury is fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and 3) it is likely, as opposed to merely speculative, that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision.” Friends of the Earth, 528 U.S. at 180-81 (citing Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–561 (1992)). See Finkelman v. NFL, 810 F.3d 187, 193 (3d Cir. 2016) (With respect to the first element, injury in fact, it must be “particularized, ” i.e, “an injury must ‘affect the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.’”) (citation omitted).

         Further, there is no merit to plaintiff’s contention that since she alleged she was compelled to pay dues to Local 668 because SPL told her that she had to join the union, she has standing to challenge all compulsory payments to Local 668. As the Third Circuit explained in Finkelman, 810 F.3d at 198, “[t]he causation element of standing requires a plaintiff to allege facts sufficient to show that his or her injury is ‘fairly traceable’ to the alleged wrongdoing of the defendant”, and “at a minimum”, the alleged wrongdoing of the defendant must be a “‘but for’ cause of the plaintiff’s injury.” (internal citations omitted). As defendants explain, (Doc. 94 at 8), “[b]y [plaintiff’s] own admission, the wrongful conduct alleged in Count 1 - Local 668’s receipt of fair-share fees- did not cause her to pay membership dues [to the union].”

         Additionally, as SPL states, plaintiff has no standing to assert a claim in Count 1 on behalf of union members who allegedly joined the union because of the fair-share fee requirement since she has not alleged that she was such a union member and she was not injured by this requirement. Rather, plaintiff alleges that SPL misrepresented to her that she had to join the union and she alleges that if she had “been informed of her right to ... pay ‘fair share fees, ’” she would not have joined the union or remained a union member. (Doc. 66, ¶’s14, 16). Thus, as defendants state, “[b]y her account, [plaintiff] was never even aware fair-share fees existed.” Also, as this court held in its August 29, 2019 Memorandum, “standing cannot be predicated on an injury which the plaintiff has not suffered, nor can it ‘be acquired through the back door of a class action.’” (Doc. 98, at 14) (quoting In re Franklin Mut. Funds Fee Litigation, 388 F.Supp.2d at 461).

         Additionally, as SPL points out, its alleged past misrepresentations to plaintiff about her rights to join or not join the union are not sufficient to create a live controversy. SPL relies upon McNair v. Synapse Group Inc., 672 F.3d 213 (3d Cir. 2012). In McNair, id. at 223-25, the Third Circuit held since plaintiffs were not customers of defendant and not currently subject to its alleged deceptive practices, and since plaintiffs were now aware of defendant’s alleged deceptive techniques, the court lacked jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief to plaintiffs as “there is no reasonable likelihood that they will be injured by those techniques in the future.”[6]

         There is no controversy that needs adjudication with respect to plaintiff’s claim in Count 1 regarding the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement. Thus, Local 668's and SPL’s Rule 12(b)(1) motions to dismiss plaintiff’s claims in Count 1 seeking retrospective relief based on the pre-Janus fair-share fee requirement will be granted for lack of jurisdiction. ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.