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Bastani v. American Federation of Government Employees AFL-CIO

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 5, 2019

ALEXANDER BASTANI et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          TREVOR N. McFADDEN, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs Alexander Bastani, Eleanor Lauderdale, and Kevin McCarron (collectively, the “Local Officers”) claim that the American Federation of Government Employees (“AFGE”) wrongfully imposed an emergency trusteeship on their local AFGE union in retaliation for their protected speech and in violation of the AFGE Constitution. AFGE moved for summary judgment. Upon consideration of the pleadings and the entire record, AFGE's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted in part and denied in part. AFGE is entitled to summary judgment on Lauderdale and McCarron's claims in Count I of the Complaint. But summary judgment will be denied for Bastani's claim under Count I because there is still a genuine dispute of material fact. Count II of the Complaint will be dismissed as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         AFGE is made up of more than 1, 000 local unions. Compl. 3, ECF No. 1.[1] One of those local unions is the AFGE Local 12, part of the larger AFGE District 14. Id. Local 12 is the largest AFGE local union in the D.C. metropolitan area. Id.

         Every two years, Local 12 holds elections for its officer positions. Id. Beginning in April 2006, the Local Officers began to serve as officers for Local 12. Id. at 2. From April 2006 to October 2017, Alexander Bastani was the local president, Eleanor Lauderdale was the executive vice president, and Kevin McCarron was the treasurer. Id. All planned to run for reelection in October 2017. Id. at 3.

         District 14 Vice President Eric Bunn received several complaints about the management of Local 12 while Bastani, Lauderdale, and McCarron were Local 12 officers. Bunn Dep. 4-7, ECF No. 34-11. Bunn assigned Nathan Nelson to investigate. Id. at 3:6-13. In January 2017, Bunn submitted a recommendation to AFGE National President J. David Cox that Local 12 be placed in a trusteeship. See Mem. from Bunn to Cox (Jan. 13, 2017), ECF No. 35-14; Bunn Dep. 3:18-4:14, ECF No. 35-13. Nothing appears to have resulted from that recommendation. Bunn Dep. 4:17-19, ECF No. 35-13.

         But Bunn was undeterred. Later that year, he again submitted a memo to Cox recommending that he place Local 12 in a trusteeship. See Mem. from Bunn to Cox (Sept. 21, 2017), ECF No. 35-5. The memo claimed to outline a “pattern of egregious misconduct” by Local 12's officers and stated that Local 12 needed to be “placed in a trusteeship for the purpose of safeguarding and protecting the local.” Id. at 2.

         The AFGE Constitution, which governs AFGE administrative processes and AFGE's relationship with local unions, allows the national president to impose a trusteeship on an expedited basis when there is a “violation of law established by a preponderance of evidence.” AFGE, Const. and Rules 12 (2015), ECF No. 1-3. Relying on this provision of the AFGE Constitution, Cox forwarded a ballot to members of AFGE's National Executive Counsel (“NEC”) to vote on whether to impose a trusteeship on Local 12. Mem. from Cox to NEC (Sept. 26, 2017), ECF No. 15-2. Cox and Bunn recused themselves from the vote. Hr'g Tr. 78:13- 79:23 (Apr. 16, 2018), ECF No. 19.

         The NEC voted to place Local 12 under a trusteeship. Mem. From Cox to NEC (Oct. 4, 2017), ECF No. 15-3. Cox notified Local 12 of the trusteeship. Mem. from Cox to Members, AFGE Local 12 (Oct. 4, 2017), ECF No. 1-4. The notice stated that the basis for the trusteeship was a “violation of law” and cited three examples of misconduct:

“[T]he Local Executive Board have [sic] failed to abide by a vote of the Local membership, conducted in September 2016, regarding the establishment of an audit committee and the hiring of an outside vendor for conducting an audit. The Local also failed to honor the vote of the membership at meetings to fund members' representation, and there have been expenditures without proper approval, specifically $18, 000 at the Hyatt Regency. All of this is in violation of 5 U.S.C. § 501(a) and 29 C.F.R. § 458.32.” Id. at 1. As a result of the trusteeship, Bastani, Lauderdale, McCarron, and all other incumbent Local 12 officers were automatically removed from office. Id. Cox appointed Nelson to act as the Local 12 trustee. Id.

         About two months later, pursuant to the AFGE Constitution, Cox convened a three-member panel to review AFGE's expedited trusteeship decision. Compl. 7. The panel issued a decision affirming AFGE's imposition of the trusteeship. Bastani Dep. 6:3-8, ECF No. 34-4.

         The Local Officers then filed a Complaint here seeking a preliminary and permanent injunction on Local 12's trusteeship as well as declaratory and monetary relief. Compl. 13-14. Following an evidentiary hearing with testimony from several key witnesses, the Court denied the Local Officers' request for a preliminary injunction. Hr'g Tr. 65:2-4 (Apr. 17, 2018), ECF No. 20. The Court also granted in part and denied in part AFGE's Motion to Dismiss. Id. at 66- 76. The Court dismissed Count III of the Local Officers' Complaint which alleged a breach of contract under D.C. law. Id. at 74:24. But the Court found that the Local Officers had plausibly stated a claim upon which relief could be granted for a violation of their free speech rights under Section 102(a)(2) of the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”), id. at 66:22-23, 69:12-13, and for a breach of the AFGE Constitution under Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), id. at 71:2-3, 73:5-6.

         In July 2018, before exiting the trusteeship, Local 12 held an election for its officers. Bastani Dep. at 6:21-7:2, ECF No. 34-4. Bastani, Lauderdale, and McCarron ran for office again and none of them were re-elected. Id. at 6:21-7:6; Lauderdale Dep. 6:20-7:5, ECF No. 34-5; McCarron Dep. 12:2-15, ECF No. 34-6. AFGE lifted the Local 12 trusteeship the following month. Mot. Summ. J. 8, ECF No. 34-1.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a movant must show that “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A material fact is “genuine” if “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The moving party bears the initial responsibility for showing the lack of a genuine dispute. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The nonmoving party must, then, point to “specific facts” in the record “showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id.

         When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court “must assume the truth of all statements proffered by the non-movant except for conclusory allegations lacking any factual basis in the record.” Dist. Intown Props. Ltd. P'ship. v. District of Columbia, 198 F.3d 874, 878 (D.C. Cir. 1999). The Court's function at the summary judgment stage is not to “weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         III. ...


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