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Hamidi v. Service Employees International Union Local 1000

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 24, 2019




         Plaintiffs Kourosh Kenneth Hamidi et al., and the class they represent (“the Employees”), brought this class action against defendants Service Employees International Union Local 1000 (“Local 1000”) and the California state controller, [1] alleging that Local 1000's ‘opt-out' system for collecting optional union fees violates the Employees' First Amendment rights. In light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018), requiring employees' affirmative consent prior to any collection of union fees, the court is now presented with the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, defendant's motion to decertify the class, and plaintiffs' motion to amend the class certification order.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court decided Janus and held that payment to a union may not be collected from an employee without the employee's affirmative consent. 138 S.Ct. at 2486. The decision overruled Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977), and its progeny, which established that unions may require nonmembers to pay a fee to the union that would be used to fund expenditures germane to collective bargaining.

         Plaintiffs are employees of the State of California. (Local 1000 Resp. to Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (“SUMF”) at 7, ¶ 6 (Docket No. 152-1).) Local 1000 is the exclusive representative for collective bargaining purposes of plaintiffs and other state employees. (Id. at 8, ¶ 8).

         Before Janus, employees represented by Local 1000 could either join the union as dues-paying members (id. at 11, ¶ 12) or remain nonmembers and pay Local 1000 a ‘fair share' fee. (Id. at II, ¶ 12). Nonmembers could choose to pay the “full” fair share fee, which Local 1000 used to fund expenditures both germane and not germane to collective bargaining, or a “reduced” fair share fee, which defendant used to fund only expenditures that were germane to collective bargaining. (See Decl. of Brian Calderia (“Caldeira Decl.” ¶ 3 (Docket No. 37).) Non-germane expenditures, also known as non-chargeable expenditures, included, for example, contributions to “political or ideological causes only incidentally related to the terms and conditions of employment.” (Local 1000 Resp. to SUMF at 12, ¶ 13 (Docket No. 152-1)).

         Under that pre-Janus system, in deciding whether to charge a nonmember the full or reduced fair share fee, Local 1000 had, with the state's authorization and assistance, implemented an ‘opt-out' system. (Id. at 3-4, ¶ 1). Prior to each annual fee cycle, Local 1000 sent nonmembers, a notice (“Hudson notice”) informing them that they will be charged the full fair share fee for the upcoming cycle unless they opt out by sending back a written statement stating that they wish to be charged only the reduced fair share fee. (Local 1000 Resp. to SUMF at 11-12, ¶ 13.) Employees who did not object were charged the full fair share fee. (Pls.' Mot. in Sup. Summ. J. at 3-4 (Docket No. 149-1).) The day after Janus was decided, the California State Controller's Office cancelled the deduction of agency fees from all nonconsenting public employees. (See June 18, 2019 Order at 5 (Docket No. 139).)

         On January 31, 2014, plaintiffs brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Local 1000's fee collection system violated nonmembers' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Compl. at 1-2, ¶ 1 (Docket No. 1).) This court first certified plaintiff's cause of action for class treatment to the extent it is brought as a facial challenge to the constitutionality of Local 1000's opt-out requirement and procedure. (See May 22, 2015 Order at 3 n.3, 20 (Docket No. 53).) Then, evaluating Local 1000's fee collection system under pre-Janus precedent, this court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants and denied plaintiffs' challenge to the constitutionality of Local 1000's opt-out requirement. (See Feb. 8, 2017 Order at 14, 18 (Docket No. 94).) After the Court decided Janus, this court dismissed as moot plaintiffs' claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. (See June 18, 2019 Order at 16 (Docket No. 139).) Plaintiff's “sole remaining claim” is “for retrospective monetary relief.” (Joint Status Report at 1 (Docket No. 143).)

         II. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

         Plaintiff seeks repayment of all fees -- both germane and non-germane to collective bargaining -- collected from nonmembers prior to the Court's decision in Janus. (Pls.' Mot. in Supp. Summ. J. at 46 (Docket No. 149-1).) Defendant does not contest that Local 1000's opt-out system to collect agency fees from nonmembers violates nonmembers' First Amendment rights under Janus. Defendant instead asserts a good faith defense to § 1983 liability because the law at the time of Local 1000's collection of agency fees permitted such a system. This court agrees that such a defense applies here.

         A. Section 1983 Good-Faith Defense

         In Wyatt v. Cole, the Supreme Court did not foreclose “the possibility that private defendants faced with § 1983 liability . . . could be entitled to an affirmative defense based on good faith.” Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 169 (1992); see also Richardson v. McKnight, 521 U.S. 399, 413-14 (1997) (“Wyatt explicitly stated that it did not decide whether or not the private defendants before it might assert, not immunity, but a special ‘good-faith' defense . . . we do not express a view on this last-mentioned question.”).

         The Supreme Court in Janus “itself did not specify whether the plaintiff was entitled to retrospective monetary relief for conduct the Supreme Court had authorized for the previous forty years.” Cooley v. California Statewide Law Enf't Ass'n, 385 F.Supp.3d 1077, 1081 (E.D. Cal. 2019) (citing Janus, 138 S.Ct. at 2486). The controlling law in the Ninth Circuit, however, recognizes a good faith defense in shielding private defendants from liability in § 1983 actions. In Clement v. City of Glendale, the Ninth Circuit granted summary judgment in favor of defendant -- a towing company -- as to the plaintiff's § 1983 claim because the defendant “did its best to follow the law” in that “the tow was authorized by the police department, conducted under close police supervision and appeared to be permissible under both local ordinance and state law.” 518 F.3d 1090, 1097 (9th Cir. 2008). Since Clement, “[t]he threshold question of whether the good faith defense is available to private parties in § 1983 actions has been answered affirmatively by the Ninth Circuit.” Cook v. Brown, 364 F.Supp.3d 1184, 1190 (D. Or. 2019).

         B. Application of ...

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