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Murray v. Amalgamated Transit Union

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 26, 2016

JANICE MURRAY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

If there is a lesson to be learned from this labor dispute, it is a simple one: pay your bills on time. In 2013, Plaintiffs Janice Murray and Alnett (Tim) Queen were the short-lived victors of a triennial union election held by Local 1300 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Murray became President and Queen Vice President. The second-place candidate for President, incumbent David McClure, immediately challenged the election results, contending that Murray and Queen were ineligible given that each had an outstanding debt to the Union of $175.50 for unrepaid travel expenses. The ATU agreed with McClure that such debts rendered Plaintiffs not in “good standing” with the Union; as they could thus not stand for office, their election was invalidated. Plaintiffs responded by suing the ATU for violating the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 and for breaching their contract rights under the ATU’s constitution.

In December 2014, this Court denied the parties’ early-stage cross-motions for summary judgment, and it also denied Plaintiffs’ motion for reconsideration in April 2015. With both sides having now concluded a more extensive round of discovery, Defendant again seeks summary judgment, presenting only two issues for decision. The first is whether the ATU violated Plaintiffs’ contractual and statutory rights by voiding the 2013 election results on the basis of their outstanding debts. Because material disputes of fact remain, the Court concludes, Plaintiffs are entitled to go to trial on this question of liability. The second is whether damages are an appropriate remedy in these circumstances at all and, if so, what form they may take. While the Court agrees with Defendant that no punitive damages are permissible here, it cannot so determine on the question of compensatory damages.

I. Background

Most of the relevant facts are undisputed, and the liability question is nearly identical to the one addressed by the Court in its first summary-judgment Opinion. See Murray v. Amalgamated Transit Union, No. 14-378, 2014 WL 11281392 (D.D.C. Dec. 19, 2014). The parties have nevertheless spilled much ink in their voluminous and footnote-infested briefings on ground already trodden. A particular offender on this point is Defendant’s 50-page opening brief, which egregiously sought to create even more room by shrinking its line spacing and cramming digressive materials into 41 often-lengthy footnotes.

In any event, as much of this background has already been covered, the Court will endeavor to offer a more focused treatment of the facts relevant here - setting them forth in the light most favorable to Plaintiffs - and directs the reader to its December 2014 Opinion for a more comprehensive discussion of this case’s factual and legal background. See Murray, 2014 WL 11281392, at *1-5.

A. Key Players

The crux of this intra-union dispute is Local 1300’s 2013 election, in which Plaintiffs Murray and Queen won the vote for President and Vice President but were subsequently dethroned. Before diving into the chronology, however, the Court finds it helpful to introduce the cast of characters and the positions they occupied during the relevant time period:

• Janice Murray (Plaintiff): Longtime member of Local 1300, Vice President of Local 1300 from July 2004 to June 2007, Recording Secretary from July 2007 to June 2010, and President from July 2013 until the results of that election were voided by ATU International in February 2014. See Plaintiffs’ Statement of Facts, ¶ 5. Murray also unsuccessfully ran for President in June 2010 against David McClure. Id., ¶ 36. She held no position in Local 1300 between July 2010 and June 2013. Id.
• Tim Queen (Plaintiff): Another longtime member of Local 1300. Vice President of Local 1300 from July 2007 until his removal in February 2014. See id., ¶ 5.
• William Lovelace: Financial Secretary/Treasurer of Local 1300 from July 2007 to June 2010. See id., ¶ 36. Lovelace was on the same slate as Murray for their successful bid in June 2007 and their unsuccessful one in 2010 for President and Treasurer. Id.
• David McClure: President of Local 1300 from July 2007 to June 2013, see Murray, 2014 WL 11281392, at *3, and again from March 2014 to present, following Murray’s ouster in February 2014. See PSOF, ¶ 57.
• Bertrand DeLoatch: Financial Secretary/Treasurer of Local 1300 from July 2010 to present. See MSJ at 3; PSOF, ¶¶ 31, 41.
• Warren George: President of ATU International in 2009 up to September 2010. See PSOF, ¶¶ 3, 17, 59.
• Larry Hanley: President of ATU International from September 2010 to present. See Opp., Exh. 1 (Deposition of Larry Hanley) at 10:1-17.

B. Mileage-Reimbursement Dispute

The seeds of this 2013 election dispute were planted way back in 2009, when McClure, then-President of Local 1300, took issue with an expense-reimbursement practice that the Local had been using for some time. Before 2009, whenever an officer would travel out of state on business, the Local would “reimburse” her using the IRS’s standard mileage rate as a guide. See Murray, 2014 WL 11281392, at *1; PSOF, ¶ 14; see also Rev. Proc. 2010-51, 2010-51 I.R.B. 883 (“The term ‘standard mileage rate’ means the amount the [IRS] provides for optional use by taxpayers to substantiate the amount of . . . [d]eductible costs of operating for business purposes automobiles (including vans, pickups, or panel trucks) they own or lease . . . .”). Oddly, however, the Local would pay the officer for driving-related travel even if she were not driving her own car but rather were riding as a passenger in someone else’s. See Murray, 2014 WL 11281392, at *2.

McClure understandably decided this practice was nonsense and in the summer of 2009 resolved to do something about it. He started off by writing a letter to then-officer Edgar Sewell (who otherwise plays no role in this litigation) demanding repayment of a mileage-reimbursement stipend Sewell had received for riding as a passenger in a car to a work-related event in Cleveland. See id. Sewell balked, and Local 1300’s Executive Board - i.e., the governing body of officers - somehow agreed with Sewell that the practice was sound. See id.

Dissatisfied, McClure next wrote to then-President of the ATU, Warren George, asking him to weigh in “on the validity” of the practice. Id. George sided with McClure, writing back in a September 23, 2009, letter that the Local’s practice was “disingenuous” and suggesting that it be curtailed because it “provides certain individuals with ‘expense reimbursement’ payments from the Local 1300 treasury for expenses not actually incurred.” ECF No. 28, Exh. I (Letter from Warren George to David McClure) at 1-2.

With George’s backing in hand, McClure then went after five officers - including both Plaintiffs - for recent trips in which they had accepted mileage reimbursements for traveling as passengers. See PSOF, ¶ 19. As to Murray and Queen, he wrote each a letter demanding that they repay the stipends they had received for carpooling to an event in Allentown, Pennsylvania, during the prior fiscal year. See id. (Although Plaintiffs assert that at the time McClure asked for repayment, they did not remember the precise stipend they had received in 2008 for the Allentown trip, the parties now agree with the fact that each received $175.50. See id., ¶ 14.) McClure instructed them to deal with Lovelace, the Local’s then-Treasurer, to work out the particulars of the reimbursements. See id., ¶ 19.

Murray took issue with McClure’s demand and, disinclined to back down, wrote to George herself on November 3, 2009. She asked whether she was obliged to pay restitution retroactively - which would include stipends like the one she had received for the 2008 Allentown trip - or whether, in accordance with the Board’s understanding of George’s instructions, she was simply prohibited from obtaining such stipends in the future. See id., ¶ 20; Murray, 2014 WL 11281392, at *2.

George wrote back on November 9, 2009, indicating that any “impression” that his guidance only applied prospectively was erroneous, and that the Local’s prior practice was “simply inappropriate.” ECF No. 28, Exh. L (November 9, 2009, Letter from Warren George to Janice Murray). In short, “[b]ecause any such ‘reimbursements’ were not justifiable, ” George could not “find fault with any efforts to obtain restitution of the amounts at issue where available information about the foundational circumstances is available [sic] to the local union.” Id.

C. Attempts at Repayment

After receiving this clarification, Murray insists that she wanted to repay the amount, but that her efforts were stymied by both Lovelace and, quite counterintuitively, McClure. See PSOF, ¶ 23. This is the pivotal question concerning liability that is in dispute here. She says she approached Lovelace at least twice - once in 2009 and again in early 2010 - about repaying the amount, but Lovelace told her he would not accept her money “without specific direction from McClure” that she pay it back. Id., ¶ 24; see Opp., Exh. 5 (Deposition of William T. Lovelace) at 14:19-22 (“Janice came to me and wanted to pay me some money and I refused to take it . . . .”); id. at 87:2-6 (“[T]he second time Janice came in was . . . when I said, ‘I’m not taking your money unless I take everybody’s money.’”). According to Plaintiffs, McClure never gave him such “specific direction, ” and thus Lovelace stood firm in his refusal to accept any money from Murray. See PSOF, ¶ 24 (indicating that McClure “never provided” an instruction to Lovelace to recoup the improperly paid stipends); but see Lovelace Depo. at 87:2-92:15 (describing Board meeting in 2010 when McClure “brought [the stipend issue] up” and testifying that “I said, . . . ‘David, you received the same thing when you were on the Board and you ain’t paid anybody back.’ And he was the President then.’”).

Murray insists that her efforts did not end there. She also claims to have approached McClure himself “a couple of times” after Lovelace shut her down. See Opp., Exh. 9 (Deposition of Janice Murray, Day 1) at 160:12; PSOF, ¶ 24. As she recounts the conversation(s), she told McClure that Lovelace would not tell her how much she owed for the Allentown trip and asked him to provide her the answer. See Murray Depo. Day 1 at 160:7-161:18. He either told her to take it up with Lovelace or ignored her and walked away. See id.

Unlike Murray, Queen does not claim to have had any direct contact with either Lovelace or McClure about his debt. Instead, he interfaced mostly with Murray, who relayed her failed attempts at repayment and assistance, telling him that Lovelace would not accept any payment until McClure told him otherwise. See Opp., Exh. 2 (Deposition of Alnett T. Queen) at 63:10-67:7.

Ultimately, Murray did not pay the money back in 2010, 2011, 2012, or 2013. See PSOF, ¶ 24. In February 2014, after the ATU made its ineligibility determination, Murray wrote a check for $200 to Local 1300 as an estimate of what she owed and attached a letter requesting a refund of any overpayment. See PSOF, ΒΆ 55. The Union deposited $175.50 and provided her a refund of ...


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