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Akers v. Maryland State Education Association

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 18, 2019

RUTH AKERS, et al. Plaintiffs,


          Richard D. Bennett United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Ruth Akers (“Ms. Akers”) and Sharon Moesel (“Ms. Moesel”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) bring this putative class action against the following Defendants: Maryland State Education Association (“MSEA”), a labor union; Teachers' Association of Baltimore County and Teachers' Association of Anne Arundel County, local union chapters affiliated with MSEA, sued as representatives of the class of all chapters and affiliates of MSEA; National Education Association (“NEA”), a labor union affiliated with MSEA; Verletta White, interim superintendent of the Board of Education of Baltimore County, and George Arlotto, superintendent of Anne Arundel County, sued in their official capacities as representatives of the class of all superintendents of Maryland school districts; Larry Hogan, as Governor of Maryland, in his official capacity; Brian Frosh, Attorney General of Maryland, in his official capacity; and Elizabeth Molina Morgan, Robert I. Chanin, John A. Hayden III, Donald W. Harmon, and Ronald S. Boozer, members of the Maryland Public School Labor Relations Board, in their official capacities. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 59.) Plaintiffs are public school teachers who were not members of the teachers' union but were required to pay representation fees to the union as a condition of employment. (Id.) Plaintiffs allege violations of their constitutionally-protected rights and various state-law torts, and they seek injunctive and declaratory relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201. (Id.)

         Currently pending before this Court are State-Defendants'[1] Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (ECF No. 74) and Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint of Defendants Maryland State Education Association, Teachers' Association of Baltimore County, Teachers' Association of Anne Arundel County, and National Education Association [(collectively, “the Union Defendants”)] (ECF No. 75). Shortly after the filing of this action, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Janus v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cty, and Mun. Emps., Council 31, - U.S. -, 138 S.Ct. 2448 (2018), holding that “[s]tates and public-sector unions may no longer extract agency fees from nonconsenting employees.” 138 S.Ct. at 2459. Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive and declaratory relief are now moot. Furthermore, consistent with many other courts, this Court holds that collection of fees in good-faith reliance on then-valid law bars the Plaintiffs' refund claims. Accordingly, for the reasons that follow, both Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 74, 75) are GRANTED.


         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, this Court “accept[s] as true all well-pleaded facts in a complaint and construe[s] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing SD3, LLC v. Black & Decker (U.S.) Inc., 801 F.3d 412, 422 (4th Cir. 2015)). This dispute involves the payment of compulsory union dues. Ms. Akers is a public-school teacher who works for the Baltimore County Public Schools, and Ms. Moesel teaches at Annapolis High School in the Anne Arundel County Public Schools. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 14, 18; ECF No. 59.) Ms. Akers does not approve of the MSEA or its affiliates and refused to become a member, but she was required to pay “representation fees” (also referred to as “agency fees”)[2] to the MSEA as a condition of her employment. (Id. at ¶ 15-16, 26.) Ms. Moesel was an active member of MSEA and the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County until she was expelled in May 2017, [3] but the union continued taking representation fees from her pay without her consent. (Id. at ¶¶ 19-20.) The MSEA was authorized under Md. Code. Education §§ 6-407(c)-(f) to extract these fees from non-union members as a condition of their employment. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Plaintiffs assert that by taking these fees from public-school employees, Defendants committed the torts of conversion, trover, detinue, and trespass to chattels. (Id. at ¶ 25.)

         Plaintiffs also allege that under the recently-enacted[4] Maryland House Bill 811 (“HB 811”), public-school employers are required to provide the MSEA and its affiliates with the name, home address, home telephone numbers, and personal cell-phone numbers of each newly-hired school employee, regardless of whether the employee consents to the disclosure. (Id. at ¶¶ 28-32.) Additionally, Ms. Moesel alleges that public-school teachers should not be forced to accept the union as their exclusive bargaining representative and that forcing a non-union teacher to accept union-negotiated terms of employment violates anti-trust laws as well as their First Amendment right of freedom of association. (Id. at ¶¶ 43-48.)

         Ms. Akers initially filed the purported class-action Complaint (ECF No. 1) on June 18, 2018. A Motion for Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 13) was filed on June 29, 2018, seeking to prevent the enforcement of certain provisions in HB 811 from taking effect on July 1, 2018. Plaintiffs later agreed to withdraw the motion on the basis that HB 811 had already taken effect. (See ECF No. 105.) Plaintiffs filed the operative Amended Complaint on September 7, 2018, [5] adding Ms. Moesel as a Plaintiff and adding Verletta White and George Arlotto as Defendants. (ECF No. 59.) Both Verletta White and George Arlotto filed Motions to Dismiss (ECF Nos. 80, 83), to which Plaintiffs did not respond and later agreed could be granted. (ECF No. 105.) The Amended Complaint contains the following requests: (1) a declaration under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, that the requirement for non-union members to pay representation fees is unconstitutional; (2) all representation fees that have been collected must be refunded under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) a declaration that the compelled disclosure of personal information under HB 811 is unconstitutional; (4) a declaration that the union's exclusive representation in the bargaining process is unconstitutional and a claim against MSEA and its local affiliates that exclusive representation violates federal antitrust law; and (5) State-law tort claims of conversion, trover, detinue, and trespass to chattels, invoking supplemental jurisdiction.

         The State-Defendants and the Union Defendants filed motions to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. (ECF Nos. 74, 75.) For the following reasons, Defendants' motions shall be GRANTED. Specifically, Plaintiffs' constitutional challenges to the representation fee provision shall be DISMISSED AS MOOT, and the request for a refund of fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 shall be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE as barred by Defendants' good-faith defense. Further, the remaining claims shall be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE: the challenge to exclusive representation is foreclosed by United States Supreme Court precedent; Plaintiffs have failed to sufficiently plead that their constitutional right of association and freedom of speech have been implicated by the disclosure of their contact information to the union under HB 811; Ms. Moesel fails to allege a plausible antitrust claim; and with the dismissal of the federal claims, this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state-law claims.


         I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a court's authority to hear the matter brought by a complaint. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d 792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). Under Article III of the United States Constitution, the judicial power of the United States extends only to “cases” and “controversies.” Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 568 U.S. 85, 90 (2013). “A case becomes moot-and therefore no longer a ‘Case' or ‘Controversy' for purposes of Article III-‘when the issues presented are no longer “live” or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.'” Id. at 91 (quoting Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 481 (1982)). “No matter how vehemently the parties continue to dispute the lawfulness of the conduct that precipitated the lawsuit, the case is moot if the dispute ‘is no longer embedded in any actual controversy about the plaintiff's particular legal rights.'” Id. (quoting Alvarez v. Smith, 558 U.S. 87, 92 (2009)).

         Accordingly, a court's subject matter jurisdiction depends on the existence of an actual case or controversy. S.C. Coast Conservation League v. U.S. Army Corps. of Eng'rs, 789 F.3d 475, 482 (4th Cir. 2015). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. Demetres v. East West Const., Inc., 776 F.3d 271, 272 (4th Cir. 2015); Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999).

         A challenge to jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may proceed either as a facial challenge, asserting that the allegations in the complaint are insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction, or a factual challenge, asserting “that the jurisdictional allegations of the complaint [are] not true.” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). In a facial challenge, a court will grant a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “where a claim fails to allege facts upon which the court may base jurisdiction.” Davis, 367 F.Supp.2d at 799. Where the challenge is factual, however, “the district court is entitled to decide disputed issues of fact with respect to subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192. The court, therefore, “may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia, 370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Cunningham v. Gen. Dynamics Info. Tech., Inc., 888 F.3d 640, 650 (4th Cir. 2018).

         II. Failure to State a Claim

         Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 12(b)(6) procedure authorizes the dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is “to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006); see also Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009). Under the plausibility standard, a complaint must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter's Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). A complaint need not include “detailed factual allegations.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint must, however, set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotations omitted). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice” to plead a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; see A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); Hall v. DirectTV, LLC, 846 F.3d 757, 765 (4th Cir. 2017). ...

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