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Murray v. Amalgamated Transit Union

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

April 20, 2015

JANICE MURRAY, et al., Plaintiffs,

Page 150

For JANICE MURRAY, ALNETT TIMOTHY QUEEN, Plaintiffs: Robert W. Hesselbacher, Jr., LEAD ATTORNEY, WRIGHT, CONSTABLE & SKEEN, LLP, Baltimore, MD; Jason R. Potter, Paul F. Evelius, PRO HAC VICE, WRIGHT, CONSTABLE & SKEEN, L.L.P., Baltimore, MD.

For AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION, Defendant: Kathy L. Krieger, Steven K. Hoffman, LEAD ATTORNEYS, JAMES & HOFFMAN, P.C., Washington, DC.

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JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

In this labor dispute, Plaintiffs Janice Murray and Tim Queen challenge the lawfulness of an election-eligibility ruling made by Defendant Amalgamated Transit Union, claiming that it violated the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 as well as its own constitution. On December 19, 2014, the Court denied the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, holding that material facts remain in dispute. Plaintiffs have now moved for reconsideration. Although the Court declines the invitation to alter its prior decision, it avails itself of this opportunity to clarify its response to certain arguments.

I. Background

The background of this case is set forth more fully in the Court's Opinion denying summary judgment. See ECF No. 42 (December 19, 2014, Memorandum Opinion). To recap briefly, Plaintiffs are longstanding members of Local 1300, a public-sector affiliate of the ATU that represents employees of the Maryland Transit Administration. See id. at 2. The Local is governed by an Executive Board, which is elected by the membership on a triennial basis. See id. In June of 2013, when Local 1300 conducted its most recent election, Murray and Queen were duly nominated for and elected to the respective offices of President and Vice-President. See id. at 6.

Upon learning of the results, runner-up presidential candidate and former President David McClure promptly challenged Plaintiffs' victory. See id. Under the ATU Constitution, union members lose their " good standing" -- and are thereby rendered ineligible for office -- when they fail to pay dues or any other " monies owed the Union." Compl., Exh. 3 (ATU Constitution), § § 14.2, 21.9. McClure argued that both Murray and Queen had failed to discharge years-old arrearages. See December 19, 2014, Mem. Op. at 6-7. According to his timely challenge, Plaintiffs had improperly received automobile-mileage reimbursements from the Local in connection with a 2008 union event in Allentown, Pennsylvania, to which they had traveled as passengers. See id. at 7. McClure claimed that they subsequently refused to return the funds after he -- as then-President of the Local -- demanded they do so, and after the ATU's then-International President endorsed his position. See id. at 4-5, 7.

The ATU's new International President, Lawrence Hanley, sided with McClure, concluding that Murray and Queen were

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obligated to repay the Allentown mileage stipends, and that their subsequent failure to do so over the course of several years rendered them members not in good standing and thus ineligible to hold elected positions in the Local. See id. at 8, 20. Piqued by their unceremonious expulsion from office, Plaintiffs brought suit against the ATU challenging the ruling. See id. at 9. Count One of their Complaint alleged that Hanley had violated § 101(a)(5) of the LMRDA by " disciplin[ing]" Murray and Queen without providing the requisite procedural protections. See 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5) (" No member of any labor organization may be . . . disciplined except for nonpayment of dues by such organization or by any officer thereof unless such member has been (A) served with written specific charges; (B) given a reasonable time to prepare his defense; (C) afforded a full and fair hearing." ). In Count Two, they claimed that Defendant had breached its contractual duties under the ATU Constitution by improperly deeming them ineligible for office. After conducting some discovery, both sides moved for summary judgment. Agreeing with Plaintiffs on some issues and Defendant on others, the Court ultimately concluded that judgment as a matter of law was unwarranted on either count.

It first considered Plaintiffs' invocation of § 101(a)(5) of the LMRDA. The ATU did not dispute that Hanley had failed to provide Murray and Queen with the procedural safeguards mandated by that section prior to deeming them ineligible for office. Defendant instead contested whether § 101(a)(5)'s protections were applicable here, claiming that: (1) its actions fell within that section's explicit nonpayment-of-dues exception; (2) President Hanley's election determination did not interfere with Plaintiffs' rights as " members" of the union, as required under the statute; and (3) his determination was not " disciplinary" in the sense contemplated by § 101(a)(5). See December 19, 2014, Mem. Op. at 13. After quickly dispensing with the ATU's first two assertions, the Court turned to its last, and best, point -- whether Hanley's ineligibility ruling constituted discipline.

To analyze that argument, the Opinion first teased out the governing law, explaining that a union's " 'fair[]'" and " 'even-handed'" application of a reasonable classification rule is not considered discipline under § 101(a)(5). See id. at 18-19 (quoting Macaulay v. Boston Typographical Union No. 13, 692 F.2d 201, 204 (1st Cir. 1982)). Armed with that framework, the Court considered two distinct questions: (1) whether Hanley reasonably determined that Plaintiffs actually owed the mileage reimbursements; and (2) if so, whether he fairly determined that their failure to repay the sums rendered them ineligible for office under the ATU Constitution. See id. at 20-22. The Court answered the first question in the affirmative, stating that it could not " find fault with Hanley's determination insofar as he concluded that the 2009 letters from George and McClure obligated Plaintiffs to repay the Allentown mileage reimbursements." Id. at 20. It concluded, however, that the parties had " raised triable issues of fact with respect to the fundamental fairness" of Hanley's ineligibility ruling that precluded it from determining whether such ruling amounted to discipline for purposes of § 101(a)(5). See id. at 19-20. In particular, noted the Opinion, the parties vehemently disagreed on the highly pertinent issue of whether Murray and Queen had, in fact, attempted to return the disputed sums. See id. at 20-22. Plaintiffs claimed they had repeatedly tried to make good on the delinquencies in 2009 yet been rebuffed by union officers, while the ATU rejoined that neither Murray nor Queen had endeavored

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to pay back the sums until the election challenge in 2014. See id. Should a jury credit Plaintiffs' account, it could easily find that Hanley had acted in " a wholly unjust manner" by deeming them ineligible for office. Id. at 21.

Finally, with regard to the second count, the Court found that those same factual disputes precluded it from assessing the reasonableness of Hanley's ineligibility determination under the ATU Constitution. See id. at 24-25. Murray and Queen now ask the Court to reconsider and clarify particular aspects of its ruling.

II. Legal Standard

Because Plaintiffs seek reconsideration of an interlocutory order denying their Motion for Summary Judgment, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) governs the Court's analysis. See Judicial Watch v. Dep't of Army, 466 F.Supp.2d 112, 123 (D.D.C. 2006) (discussing Rule 54(b)'s application to denials of dispositive motions). " The standard of review for interlocutory decisions differs from the standards applied to final judgments under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 59(e) and 60(b)." Williams v. Savage, 569 F.Supp.2d 99, 108 (D.D.C. 2008). Such decisions may be reconsidered " as justice requires," a standard that affords a court wide latitude in exercising its discretion. See Cobell v. Norton, 224 F.R.D. 266, 272 (D.D.C. 2004). Its task, essentially, is to determine " 'whether [relief upon] reconsideration is necessary under the relevant circumstances.'" Lewis v. Dist. of Columbia, 736 F.Supp.2d 98, 102 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Cobell, 224 F.R.D. at 272).

A court's discretion under Rule 54(b), however, is " limited by the law of the case doctrine and subject to the caveat that where litigants have once battled for the court's decision, they should neither be required, nor without good reason permitted, to battle for it again." Singh v. George Washington Univ.,383 F.Supp.2d 99, 101 (D.D.C. 2005) (internal citations omitted). " [A]s a rule a court should be loathe to revisit its own prior decisions in the absence of extraordinary circumstances . . . ." Brookens v. United States, No. 12-502, 308 F.R.D. 14, 2015 WL 1359631, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 24, 2015) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted). Accordingly, a court will ordinarily grant a motion for reconsideration of an interlocutory order " only when the movant demonstrates: (1) an intervening change in the law; (2) the discovery of new evidence not previously available; or (3) a clear error in the first order." Stewart v. ...

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