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Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor v. American Federation of Government Employees

February 9, 2011

HILDA L. SOLIS, SECRETARY OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor, brings this action on behalf of complainant Vincent Castellano against defendant American Federation of Government Employees ("AFGE") alleging a violation of Title IV of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (29 U.S.C. §§ 481-84) ("LMRDA"). Plaintiff claims that the AFGE violated the LMRDA by preventing the complainant from running for office as AFGE National Vice President, District 2, in May 2008. The Secretary requests that the Court declare the 2008 election void and order the AFGE to conduct a new election under her supervision. The AFGE has moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of jurisdiction and 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or in the alternative for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Secretary has moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and deny defendant's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action in her capacity as Secretary of Labor under section 402(b) of Title IV of the LMRDA, 29 U.S.C. §482(b). Defendant is, and at all times relevant to this action has been, a labor organization within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. §§402(i), 402(j), and 481(a). Compl. ¶ 6; Ans. ¶ 6; Def's Mot. to Dismiss or in the Alt. for Summ. J. ("Def's Mot.") at 8. The Secretary asserts that the AFGE violated Title IV of the LMRDA when it declared the complainant, Vincent Castellano, ineligible to run for national office in the May 2008 election. Compl.¶ 16. According to the AFGE National Constitution, "all employees of the United States Government and any of its instrumentalities of whatever nature, including military personnel of the armed forces, and of the District of Columbia, and all other persons providing their personal services indirectly to the United States Government are eligible for membership in this Federation." AFGE National Constitution ("AFGE Const."), Article III, Sec. 1(b).

Vincent Castellano worked as a civilian for the United States Air Force from 1974 to 1994. Pl's Opp'n to Def's Mot. to Dismiss ("Pl's Opp'n") at 2. In January 1975, he joined a local union affiliated with AFGE, Local 1778, and became a member of both AFGE and Local 1778. Pl's Opp'n at 2. In 1993, Mr. Castellano took a leave of absence from his civilian role in the Air Force to serve as an AFGE National Representative, but continued to pay full active membership dues. Pl's Opp'n at 2; Def's Mot. at 8. He permanently left, but did not retire from, his civilian Air Force job in 1994 and again continued to pay full active membership dues until 1996. Def's Mot. at 8; Pl's Opp'n at 2. In 1995, Mr. Castellano retired from the Air Force after twenty years of service. Pl's Opp'n at 3.

Mr. Castellano then requested in 1996 that the union change his status from that of full active member to a retiree member and he subsequently began paying the reduced dues rate charged to retirees. Def's Mot. at 8; Pl's Opp'n at 3. Mr. Castellano was not eligible for retiree status at this or any other time because he had not retired from a federal civilian job. Id. He alleges that Local 1778 president, Michael Horahan, approached him in 1996 and recommended that he change his status to retiree and pay the reduced dues. Pl's Mot. for Summ. J. ("Pl's Mot.") at 6. Thus, Mr. Castellano paid incorrect dues from 1996 to 2004. Def's Mot. at 8; Pl's Opp'n. at 3. Subsequently, in 2004 he requested that Local 1778 change his status from retiree to active and he began paying full dues at that time. Id.

In March of 2005, Mr. Castellano paid $637.92 to AFGE Local 1778 as a retroactive payment for the period "June 02 thru 03." See Def's Mot. at 9; Pl's Mot. at 7. In turn, AFGE accepted and deposited $261.00 from AFGE Local 1778 in "per capita taxes" on behalf of Mr. Castellano. Id. Then on March 24, 2005, Mr. Castellano announced his candidacy for the office of National Vice President, District 2. Def's Mot. at 9. He was advised by AFGE Deputy Counsel Charles A. Hobbie on March 29, 2005 that he was not eligible for national candidacy because he had paid retiree dues and retiree per capita tax when he was not eligible for such status. See Def's Mot. at 7; Pl's Mot. at 7. Mr. Castellano immediately informed Mr. Hobbie that he was withdrawing his candidacy and Mr. Hobbie responded with a letter stating that Mr. Castellano's "failure to maintain correct dues status as an AFGE member render[ed] [him] permanently ineligible to run for national office." Def's Mot. at 10. Mr. Castellano then appealed the ruling of ineligibility to AFGE's National President, who denied the appeal.

The Department of Labor also denied Mr. Castellano's appeal on October 24, 2005 after finding that AFGE's three year good standing eligibility requirement was reasonable. Id. A letter sent to Mr. Castellano on November 30, 2005 clarified that his appeal was not accepted by the Secretary of Labor because "rules that restrict members from being candidates based on non-payment of dues, meeting attendance or apprentice status may be reasonable if the time period of the restriction does not prevent the member from being a candidate for an inordinate period of time." Pl's Ex. 38 (U.S. Department of Labor Letter from Acting Chief, Division of Enforcement Patricia Fox to Vincent Castellano, November 30, 2005). The letter specifically refrained from commenting conclusively on Mr. Castellano's ability to run for office in future elections. Id.

On March 19, 2008, Mr. Castellano again sought the nomination for the office of National Vice President, District 2. Id. He received letters from AFGE's National Secretary-Treasurer and General Counsel throughout the month of March informing him that he was ineligible to run for office on the ground that his payment of retiree dues caused a loss in membership status that could only be repaired by Mr. Castellano regaining federal employment for three consecutive years and paying full membership dues for that period. Id. On April 2, 2008, Mr. Castellano appealed to the AFGE National President, who responded in a letter dated April 9, 2008 that Mr. Castellano was not eligible to run for national office. Def's Mot. at 11. Mr. Castellano then filed a timely complaint with the Secretary of Labor and ultimately the complaint at bar. Subsequently, AFGE changed its membership records to reflect that Mr. Castellano was no longer a member, retroactively dating back to 1996. Def's Mot. at 11; Pl's Mot. at 8. In the election held on May 17, 2008, incumbent Derrick F. Thomas was re-elected National Vice President, District 2. Def's Mot. at 11; Pl's Opp'n at 4; Pl's Mot. at 23.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

I. Motion to Dismiss

"[I]n passing on a motion to dismiss, whether on the ground of lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter or for failure to state a cause of action, the allegations of the complaint should be construed favorably to the pleader." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics and Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979). Therefore, the factual allegations must be presumed true, and plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236; Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, the Court need not accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor inferences that are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Trudeau v. Federal Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

Under Rule 12(b)(1), the party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court -- plaintiff here -- bears the burden of establishing that the court has jurisdiction. See US Ecology, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 231 F.3d 20, 24 (D.C. Cir. 2000); see also Grand Lodge of Fraternal Order of Police v. Ashcroft, 185 F. Supp. 2d 9, 13 (D.D.C. 2001) (a court has an "affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within the scope of its jurisdictional authority."); Pitney Bowes, Inc. v. United States Postal Serv., 27 F. Supp. 2d 15, 19 (D.D.C. 1998). "'[P]laintiff's factual allegations in the complaint . . . will bear closer scrutiny in resolving a 12(b)(1) motion' than in resolving a 12(b)(6) motion for failure to state a claim." Grand Lodge, 185 F. Supp. 2d at 13-14 (quoting 5A Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1350 (2d ed. 1987)). Additionally, a court may consider material other than the allegations of the complaint in determining whether it has jurisdiction to hear the case, as long as it still accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true. See Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253-54 (D.C. Cir. 2005); EEOC v. St. Francis Xavier Parochial Sch., 117 F.3d 621, 624-25 n.3 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 197 (D.C. Cir.1992).

In reviewing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court is mindful that all that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of the Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and ...


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