United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG United States District Judge
do not usually raise claims or arguments on their own. But
federal courts have an independent obligation to ensure that
they do not exceed the scope of their jurisdiction, and
therefore they must raise and decide jurisdictional questions
that the parties either overlook or elect not to press."
Henderson ex rel. Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S.
428, 434 (2011). And so, despite all of the ink spilled to
date in multiple prior Opinions, the Court now finds itself
questioning its subject-matter jurisdiction in this
long-running labor dispute.
of the case concerns a contested union-officer election held
by Local 1300 of the Amalgamated Transit Union in June 2013.
Plaintiffs Janice Murray and Tim (Alnett) Queen ran for
President and Vice President respectively and won the
election. The disappointed runner up for presidency,
incumbent David McClure, challenged these results. He argued
that Murray and Queen were not "in good standing"
with the Union - a requirement under the ATU Constitution to
be eligible for office - because they both owed outstanding
debts to the Union. The ATU ultimately agreed that such debts
rendered them ineligible for office and thus invalidated the
election, causing the Local to hold a re-run election, which
McClure won. Plaintiffs then sued the ATU for violating the
Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA)
and for breaching their contract rights under the ATU
Constitution. They requested a range of remedies that
included reinstatement as duly elected officers, a
declaration of invalidity regarding the ATU's decision
and the subsequent rerun election, and damages for wages
lost, emotional distress, and reputational harm.
suit has now proceeded through a motion for a temporary
restraining order, a motion for a preliminary injunction, two
periods of discovery, two summary-judgment motions, and one
reconsideration motion. On resolving the most recent round,
the Court observed potential jurisdictional defects in the
suit - an issue that might well have saved considerable time
and money had it been raised at the outset. As
"[f]ederal courts are courts of limited subject-matter
jurisdiction, " this Court must assure itself through
all stages of the litigation that it has such jurisdiction
"even if the parties ... are willing to assume it."
Al-Zahrani v. Rodriguez, 669 F.3d 315, 317 (D.C.
Cir. 2012). The Court raised the jurisdictional question with
the parties and permitted Defendant to file a Motion to
Dismiss, which is now ripe. Concluding that Congress has not
given federal courts jurisdiction over a dispute such as this
one, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion and dismiss
particulars of this dispute are not tremendously important in
resolving the jurisdictional question posed here. A few key
facts will do the trick, and the reader may refer to the
Court's second summary-judgment decision for a more
thorough treatment of the case's factual and procedural
backdrop. See Murray v. Amalgamated Transit Union
(Murray III), No. 14-378, 2016 WL 1664775 (D.D.C.
Apr. 26, 2016).
dispute centers on Local 1300's triennial election of
officers (and, at least for some positions, ex
officio delegates to the national ATU Convention) in
which Murray and Queen ran together for President and Vice
President and won the vote. Murray III, 2016 WL
1664775, at *1, 4. David McClure, Local 1300's President
from 2007 to 2013, also ran for President but came in second.
Id. at * 1-2. Dissatisfied with the outcome, and
believing that neither Murray nor Queen was eligible to run
for office, McClure challenged the election, going first to
the Local. He argued that because both Plaintiffs had failed
to pay an outstanding debt to the Union of $175.50 (for
travel reimbursements that they should not have received),
they were not members "in good standing" and thus
could not properly run for office under rules established by
the ATU Constitution. See Id. at *4; ATU Const.,
§ 14.2 (good-standing requirement); id., § 21.9
(specifying that member is no longer in "good
standing" when she fails to pay dues or any other
"monies owed the Union" and the arrearage continues
for a period of time).
1300 denied McClure's challenge. Murray III.
2016 WL 1664775, at *4. He then appealed to the ATU, filing a
letter with its President, Larry Hanley, in August 2013.
Id. After conducting an investigation, Hanley issued
a decision in February 2014 concluding that Murray and Queen
both failed the "good standing" requirement and
thus had been, at the time of the June 2013 election,
ineligible to run for office. Li That conclusion invalidated
the June 2013 election results, stripped Plaintiffs of their
offices, and necessitated that the Local hold a re-run
election in early 2014, which McClure won. Id.
Hanley took no other allegedly "disciplinary"
action against them.
filed suit here shortly thereafter in March 2014 against both
the ATU and Local 1300. The Court denied their motion for a
temporary restraining order - in which they primarily sought
to invalidate the rerun election - on March 18, 2014. See
Murray v. Amalgamated Transit Union (Murray I),
No. 14-378, 2014 WL 11281392, at *5 (D.D.C. Dec. 19, 2014)
(first summary-judgment Opinion). Plaintiffs then filed an
Amended Complaint that included only two counts asserted
against the ATU.
alleges a violation of Title I of the LMRDA. Section
101(a)(5) of that statute, 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5),
prohibits "labor organization[s]" from
"fin[ing], suspending], expel[ling], or otherwise
disciplining]" its members, "except for nonpayment
of dues, " without providing notice and a hearing.
Plaintiffs contend that Hanley's February 2014 decision
constitutes "discipline[ against] Murray and Queen by
deeming them to be . . . members not in good standing and
ineligible to run for Local officer positions." Am.
Compl., ¶ 37. In Count II, Plaintiffs claim that
Defendant breached its contractual duties under the ATU
Constitution by improperly deeming them ineligible for
office, thereby stating a claim under either state contract
law or § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of
1947. While both counts were thus pled under distinct sources
of law, each was tethered to the question of whether the ATU
had improperly vacated the election results on account of
Plaintiffs' outstanding debts and wrongly deemed
Plaintiffs ineligible to participate in the rerun election.
declined to file a motion to dismiss, and in summer 2014 the
parties filed early-stage cross-motions for summary judgment,
focusing on the merits of the dispute and Plaintiffs'
eligibility for office. The Court denied both cross-motions
in December 2014. See Murray I, 2014 WL 11281392, at
*9-13. Plaintiffs then filed a motion for reconsideration,
which the Court denied in April 2014. See Murray v.
Amalgamated Transit Union (Murray II), 99
F.Supp.3d 149, 158 (D.D.C. 2015). After discovery, Defendant
filed a second motion for summary judgment targeted at both
liability and damages. The Court granted in part and denied
in part that motion in April 2016, eliminating Plaintiffs
request for punitive damages but otherwise concluding that
genuine issues of fact precluded the award of summary
judgment in Defendant's favor. See Murray III,
2016 WL 1664775, at *6-14.
consideration of this last motion, however, the Court
developed a concern about its authority to hear the case. It
issued an Order on May 2, 2016, in which it asked the parties
whether section 403 of LMRDA's Title IV - which provides
as the "exclusive" "remedy ... for challenging
an election already conducted" a complaint to the
Secretary of Labor, see 29 U.S.C. § 483 - stripped the
Court of subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs suit.
See ECF No. 64 (Order of May 2, 2016). After holding
a hearing on May 12, 2016, the Court gave Defendant leave to
file a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction. See Minute Order of May 12, 2016. That
briefing is now complete.
courts possess only limited subject-matter jurisdiction, and
"[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this
limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the
contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction."
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994). "If the court determines at any time
that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must
dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Where, as
here, the Court is "faced with what a party
characterizes as a Rule 12(h)(3) motion, [it] should treat
the motion as a traditional Rule 12(b)(1) motion for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction." Harbury v.
Hayden, 444 F.Supp.2d 19, 26 (D.D.C. 2006) (citing
Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 905-06 (D.C. Cir.
1987)). In so doing, the Court "is not limited to the
allegations of the complaint, " Hohri v. United
States, 782 F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated
on other grounds, 482 U.S. 64 (1987), but "may
consider materials outside the pleadings in deciding whether
to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction."
Jerome Stevens Pharm., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249,
1253 (D.C. Cir. 2005). "[P]laintiffs are not limited to
evidence that meets the standards of admissibility required
by the district court. Rather, they may rest their argument
on their pleadings, bolstered by such affidavits and other
written materials as they can otherwise obtain."
Mwani v. bin Laden, 417 F.3d 1, 7 (D.C. Cir. 2005).
jurisdictional challenge is premised on a concept peculiar to
the labor-relations world known as "Title IV
preemption." See Casumpang v. Int'l
Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union. Local
142. 269 F.3d 1042, 1057 (9th Cir. 2001). The Court will
first provide a digest of this form of preemption and then
apply it to the challenge at issue.
Title IV Preemption
LMRDA "was Congress's first major attempt to
regulate the internal affairs of labor unions."
Local No. 82, Furniture & Piano Moving v.
Crowley. 467 U.S. 526, 528 (1984); see 29 U.S.C. §
401(c) (statement of congressional purpose noting that LMRDA
was enacted in part "to eliminate or prevent improper
practices on the part of labor organizations"). It is a
"complex statutory scheme" consisting of seven
titles, see Crowley, 467 U.S. at 529, and two of
them -Titles I and IV - play leading roles here.
I, codified at 29 U.S.C. §§ 411-15, provides a
"Bill of Rights" for union members, which is
"designed to guarantee every union member equal rights
to vote and otherwise participate in union decisions, freedom
from unreasonable restrictions on speech and assembly, and
protection from improper discipline." Crowley,
467 U.S. at 536-37; see 29 U.S.C. § 411; Molina v.
Union de Trabajadores de Muelles y Ramas Anexas, Local
1740, 762 F.2d 166, 168 (1st Cir. 1985) ("The
typical Title I claim involves an allegation of unequal
treatment among union members.") (citing Calhoon v.
Harvey, 379 U.S. 134 (1964)). Title IV, in contrast,
codified at §§ 481-83, "regulates the conduct
of elections for union officers, and therefore protects many
of the same rights as does Title I." Crowley,
467 U.S. at 539. It gives "every member [of a union] in
good standing" the right to "be eligible to be a
candidate and to hold office (subject to . . . reasonable
qualifications uniformly imposed) . . . without being subject
to penalty, discipline, or improper interference or reprisal
of any kind by such organization or any member thereof."
29 U.S.C. § 481(e).
Title, significantly, also provides a distinct mechanism for
enforcement. Title I grants a federal cause of action to
individual members, who may bring suit to vindicate their
Title I rights in federal district court. See id.
§ 412. Title IV, in turn, "provides an elaborate
postelection procedure aimed solely at protecting union
democracy through free and democratic elections, with primary
responsibility for enforcement lodged with the Secretary of
Labor." Crowley, 467 U.S. at 528. The remedy
contemplated by Title IV involves a union member's filing
a complaint with the Secretary, who may then sue the union
directly in district court if it decides that the complaint
warrants its intervention. See 29 U.S.C. §
482(a)-(c). Importantly, Congress in Title IV also included
"an exclusivity provision, " which explains when
and under what circumstances a Title IV remedy will preempt a
plaintiffs ability to seek overlapping relief under other
state laws (like torts or contracts) or other federal laws
(like Title I of the LMRDA). See Crowley, 467 U.S.
at 540. That provision provides in relevant part:
Existing rights and remedies to enforce the constitution and
bylaws of a labor organization with respect to elections
prior to the conduct thereof shall not be affected
by the provisions of this subchapter. The remedy provided by
this subchapter for challenging an election already
conducted shall be exclusive.
29 U.S.C. § 483 (emphases added).
interpreting this provision, the Supreme Court concluded that
Congress intended a "suit by the Secretary [to be] the
'exclusive' post-election remedy for a
violation of Title IV." Trbovich v. United Mine
Workers of Am., 404 U.S. 528, 531 (1972) (emphasis
added) (quoting § 483); see Crowley, 467 U.S. at 541
("[T]he exclusivity provision included in [§ 483]
of Title IV plainly bars Title I relief when an individual
union member challenges the validity of an election that has
already been completed."). Reading that provision
alongside Title I's limitation that district courts may
only award "appropriate" relief, 29 U.S.C. §
412, the Court also concluded that Congress "would not
have considered a court order requiring and judicially
supervising a new election to be 'appropriate' relief
under Title I, " meaning courts lack jurisdiction over
such claims. Crowley, 467 U.S. at 543, 546.
also suggests, however, that Title IV need not always divest
courts of jurisdiction to hear election-related challenges,
and it identified a possible exception to that general rule,
albeit phrased in hypothetical rather than concrete terms.
Specifically, it noted that § 483 might allow
courts to entertain Title I or other federal- or state-law
claims that are merely tangential to an already-completed
election. As a result, the Court's conclusion that
"§  of Title IV ...