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Brookens v. American Federation of Government Employees

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 5, 2018




         Defendant American Federation of Government Employees (“AFGE”) placed one of its local chapters, Local 12, under trusteeship and cancelled the Local 12 elections of officers that were scheduled to take place two weeks later. Dkt. 1-1 at 9-11. Plaintiff Benoit Brookens, proceeding pro se, had planned to run for several positions and, after the elections were cancelled, he filed this action in D.C. Superior Court challenging the imposition of trusteeship. See Dkt. 1-1. AFGE removed the case to this Court, Dkt. 1, and has now moved to dismiss for lack of standing and for failure to state a claim, Dkt. 26. Because Brookens lacks Article III standing to maintain this action in federal court, and because 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) mandates that district courts remand removed actions “[i]f at any time before final judgment it appears that the . . . court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, ” the Court will GRANT in part and DENY in part AFGE's motion to dismiss and will REMAND the case to D.C. Superior Court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Brookens, a former Department of Labor employee, alleges that he is a member of AFGE Local 12. Dkt. 1-1 at 1 (Compl. ¶ 3). Local 12 was scheduled to conduct elections for several positions on October 18, 2017. Id. (Compl. ¶¶ 1, 3-4). On October 4, 2017, however, AFGE notified the membership of Local 12 that it was placing the Local under trusteeship “to safeguard and protect the Local.” Id. at 10 (memorandum from AFGE National President to members of Local 12). Following imposition of the trusteeship, AFGE cancelled the October elections, removed the existing officers and ex officio delegates from the offices that they held at that time, and authorized the trustee “to appoint a secretary-treasurer and any other officers he deem[ed] necessary to assist him.” Id. at 9-10. Those actions have given rise to another lawsuit now pending in this Court brought by the officers who were removed at the time the trustee was appointed. See Bastani v. Am. Fed. of Gov't Emps., No. 18-63 (D.D.C.).

         Although Brookens was not an officer of Local 12 at the time the trusteeship was imposed, he had hoped to participate in the upcoming elections. Dkt. 1-1 at 1 (Compl. ¶ 4). Unhappy with the imposition of the trusteeship and the cancellation of those elections, Brookens filed this action in D.C. Superior Court on October 16, 2017 and, simultaneously, moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. Dkt. 1-1 at 1; Dkt. 1-2 at 1; Dkt. 1-3 at 1. Eight days later, AFGE removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1446(b), 1441(a). See Dkt. 1.

         Brookens alleges that he “was a candidate, in the October 18, 2017 election[s], for the positions of Head Steward, Delegate to the AFGE National Convention, scheduled for August 2018, and Delegate to the AFGE Council, ” id. at 1 (Compl. ¶ 4), but was notified “[o]n October 4, 2017 . . . that the election[s]” had been “cancelled” because Local 12 had been placed in trusteeship, id. at 4 (Compl. ¶ 17). According to Brookens's complaint, AFGE's decision to place Local 12 in trusteeship, and the resulting cancellation of the elections, violated the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (“LMRDA”), 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., in numerous respects. Those alleged violations correspond with the six causes of action set forth in the complaint, each of which alleges a distinct violation of the LMRDA. See Dkt. 1-1 at 4-7 (Compl. ¶¶ 20-45) (citing violations of 29 U.S.C. §§ 462, 481, 484).

         Several weeks after his case was removed to this Court, Brookens renewed his motions for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, requesting that the Court dissolve the trusteeship and restore Local 12's authority. Dkt. 13; Dkt. 14. AFGE, in turn, moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Dkt. 8. On January 5, 2018, the Court heard argument on those motions. Dkt. 18. At the hearing, Brookens clarified that his “only claim in this case” is that AFGE “did not follow the proper procedures in placing [AFGE] [L]ocal [12] in trusteeship, ” and, in particular, that it did not “satisfy” “the factors set forth in Article IX, Section 5(a)(1) through (4)” of AFGE's constitution. Id. at 38, 41 (Oral Arg. Tr. 38:14-15, 41:6-9). The Court, ruling from the bench, denied Brookens's motion for a temporary restraining order and held the motion for a preliminary injunction in abeyance to afford Brookens the opportunity to retain counsel. Minute Entry (Jan. 5, 2018). The Court also offered Brookens the opportunity to supplement his motion for a preliminary injunction, regardless of whether he was able to retain an attorney.[1] See Dkt. 18 at 30 (Oral Arg. Tr. 30:19- 22).

         In the course of the argument, the Court also asked Brookens to describe the “personal injury” that he alleges he has sustained-or is sustaining-due to AFGE's actions. Id. at 42 (Oral Arg Tr. 42:15-17). Although Brookens's response was not entirely clear, he appeared to argue that imposition of the trusteeship led to the cancellation of the Local 12 elections and thus deprived him of the opportunity to run for office. To avoid any uncertainty on this issue, and to help determine whether it has jurisdiction over Brookens's claims, the Court instructed Brookens to “submit evidence” establishing that he has “standing under Article III of the Constitution.” Id. at 43 (Oral Arg. Tr. 43:15-24). The Court also denied AFGE's motion to dismiss without prejudice but granted AFGE leave to file a renewed motion to dismiss in combination with its opposition to Brookens's motion for a preliminary injunction. Id. at 35-36 (Oral Arg. Tr. 35:17- 36:3).

         Brookens filed a supplement to his motion for a preliminary injunction on January 17, 2018, Dkt. 19, and AFGE renewed its motion to dismiss approximately a month later, Dkt. 26. Brookens, in turn, filed a combined reply and opposition, Dkt. 28, and AFGE filed a reply, Dkt. 30. The Court, then, heard oral argument on Brookens's motion for a preliminary injunction and AFGE's motion to dismiss on March 16, 2018. Dkt. 33. Ruling from the bench, the Court denied Brookens's motion for a preliminary injunction, finding that Brookens had not carried his burden of establishing a likelihood of success on the merits; that “standing [presents] a substantial hurdle in this case;” and that Brookens had failed to show that a preliminary injunction was necessary to avoid an irreparable injury. Id. at 63-64 (Oral Arg. Tr. 63:24- 64:11). The Court explained, in particular, that it was likely that a decision setting aside the trusteeship would actually delay, rather than advance, the date on which the Local 12 elections would take place. Id. at 64 (Oral Arg. Tr. 64:13-16). In short, because the elections planned under the trusteeship were imminent, while removal of the trustee and reinstatement of the prior officers would require the rescheduling of the elections, granting the requested relief would likely have delayed the elections. For a plaintiff whose only identified injury was the delay in conducting elections, setting aside the trusteeship would have had the unfortunate effect of “snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” Id. at 65 (Oral Arg. Tr. 65:1-3).

         Concluding that it needed additional information to address the question of standing, the Court took AFGE's motion to dismiss under advisement at the conclusion of the hearing. Id. at 66 (Oral Arg. Tr. 66:2-5). After the parties submitted supplemental briefs, the Court issued a further order directing AFGE to “update[] the Court on the timeline for the . . . Local 12[] . . . election[s]” and to address Brookens's showing that he was qualified to participate in the upcoming elections. Minute Order (May 18, 2018). AFGE complied with that order on May 23, 2018. Dkt. 40. In doing so, it conceded that Local 12 had determined that Brookens was qualified to participate in the elections, and it provided the Court with a copy of a notice to the Local 12 membership stating that the elections will take place on June 7, 2018. Id.; see also Dkt. 40-1 (2018 Election Notice).


         “The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing” each of the elements of Article III standing, although “the manner and degree of evidence required” varies with “the successive stages of the litigation.” Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). “At the pleading stage, general factual allegations of injury resulting from the defendant's conduct” will often suffice. Id.; see also Owner-Operator Indep. Drivers Ass'n v. Dep't of Transp., 879 F.3d 339, 346-47 (D.C. Cir. 2018). But, “[w]here a motion to dismiss a complaint present[s] a dispute over the factual basis of the court's subject matter jurisdiction[, ] . . . the court may not deny the motion to dismiss merely by assuming the truth of the facts alleged by the plaintiff and disputed by the defendant.” Feldman v. FDIC, 879 F.3d 347, 351 (D.C. Cir. 2018) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Rather, the Court “must go beyond the pleadings and resolve any disputed issues of fact . . . necessary to a ruling []on the motion to dismiss;” in doing so, however, the Court must also ensure that Plaintiffs have been accorded “ample opportunity to secure and [to] present evidence relevant to the existence of jurisdiction.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Prior to discovery, the Court must accord Plaintiffs “the benefit of all reasonable inferences, ” and, in the absence of “evidentiary offering[s], ” the Court must avoid “assessing the credibility of [their] allegations.” Id.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Before reaching the merits of a dispute, federal courts must satisfy themselves that they have Article III jurisdiction. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998). To satisfy Article III, the plaintiff must have standing-that is, “‘a personal stake in the outcome of the controversy [sufficient] to warrant . . . federal-court jurisdiction.'” Chamber ofCommerce v. EPA, 642 F.3d 192, 199 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. ...

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