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Sweet v. California Association of Psychiatric Technicians

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 27, 2019

ALFRED SWEET, Plaintiff,



         This case arises out of Plaintiff Alfred Sweet's attempt to end his union membership. Alfred Sweet (“Plaintiff” or “Sweet”) alleges the California Association of Psychiatric Technicians (“CAPT”) violated his First Amendment rights to free speech and free association by refusing to immediately accept his resignation from union membership and by continuing to deduct union dues from his paycheck (Count I). Sweet further alleges the California laws which provide designated unions like CAPT with exclusive representation of collective bargaining units, including union nonmembers, are unconstitutional abridgements of his First Amendment rights (Count II).

         CAPT moves to dismiss Count II of the Complaint. Mot., ECF No. 17-1. Sweet opposes the motion. Opp'n, ECF No. 24.

         For the reasons set forth below, this Court GRANTS defendant CAPT's motion.[1]


         Plaintiff Alfred Sweet is a psychiatric technician employed by the Atascadero State Hospital (“Atascadero”). Compl. ¶ 16. Atascadero is a public hospital run by the California Department of State Hospitals. Id. ¶ 17. CAPT is the exclusive representative available to Sweet for collective bargaining with California. Id. ¶¶ 28-30, 41, 56-58. Sweet became a member of CAPT in January 2011, upon the start of his employment with Atascadero. Id. ¶ 18. During his tenure with Atascadero, Sweet has developed and raised concerns about CAPT's management practices and representation of its members. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. On several occasions, Sweet requested to leave the Union, but the Union denied his requests. Id. ¶¶ 21-22. Most recently, after the Supreme Court's decision in Janus, Sweet submitted a letter to CAPT requesting to resign his membership and that CAPT stop deducting dues from his paycheck. Id. ¶ 23. CAPT responded that Sweet could not resign his membership except within the thirty-day window prior to the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement, in this case June 1 to July 1, 2019. Id. ¶¶ 24-25.

         Sweet filed the Complaint on February 27, 2019, arguing (1) CAPT violated his rights to free speech and free association by refusing to allow Sweet to immediately withdraw from the union and by continuing to deduct union dues (Count I); and (2) California's exclusive representation provisions for collective bargaining - namely California Government Code Sections 3515.5 and 3520.5 - violate the First Amendment by forcing him to continue to associate with CAPT without his affirmative consent (Count II). Compl., ECF No. 1. Sweet seeks declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief. Id.

         CAPT has since accepted Sweet's resignation, effective June 1, 2019, and has ceased deducting dues as of Sweet's paycheck for the June 1-15, 2019 pay period. Joint Response to Court, ECF No. 31. Nevertheless, Sweet remains a publicly-employed psychiatric technician and thus CAPT continues to represent him in employment negotiations with California.

         II. OPINION

         CAPT argues Sweet's free association challenge in Count II is barred by Minnesota State Bd. for Cmty. Colleges v. Knight, 465 U.S. 271 (1984) (“Knight”), and Mentele v. Inslee, 916 F.3d 783 (9th Cir. 2019) (“Mentele”). Mot. at 8-11. Sweet contends that Knight and Mentele can be distinguished, and that the logic of the Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cty., & Mun. Employees, Council 31, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018) (“Janus”), supports his contention that California's statutory scheme compels him to petition the government with a viewpoint that is inconsistent with his own goals and priorities. Opp'n. This Court agrees with CAPT.

         A. Statutory Landscape

         California law permits state employees “to select one employee organization as the exclusive representative of the employees in an appropriate unit, and to permit the exclusive representative to receive financial support from those employees who receive the benefits of this representation.” Cal. Gov't Code § 3512. The employees petition the state for recognition of the selected union for exclusive representative status. Cal. Gov't Code § 3520.5. Once the exclusive representative is certified by the state, “the recognized employee organization is the only organization that may represent that unit in employment relations with the state.” Cal. Gov't Code § 3515.5. That representation extends to matters including wages, hours, and other conditions of employment. Cal. Gov't Code § 3516. The exclusive representative must “fairly represent each and every employee in the . . . unit.” Cal. Gov't Code § 3544.9.

         B. Knight

         In Knight, the Supreme Court considered a Minnesota law that “provide[d] for the division of public employees into appropriate bargaining units and establishe[d] a procedure, based on majority support within a unit, for the designation of an exclusive bargaining agent for that unit.” 465 U.S. at 273-75. The law “require[d] public employers to ‘meet and negotiate' with exclusive representatives concerning the ‘terms and conditions of employment, '” which included hours of employment, compensation, and personnel policies. Id. Accordingly, employers could “neither ‘meet and negotiate' nor ‘meet and confer' with any members of that bargaining unit except through their exclusive representative.” Id. A group of twenty Minnesota community college faculty instructors, who were not members of the union deemed the exclusive bargaining representative for college faculty, challenged the law. Id. at 275-79. The Supreme Court upheld the law, concluding that the nonmembers' “speech and associational rights . . . have not been infringed by Minnesota's restriction of participation in ‘meet and confer' sessions to the faculty's exclusive representative. [Minnesota] has in no way restrained [the nonmembers'] freedom ...

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