Friday, November 30, 2018
One of the questions that followed the Supreme Court's Janus decision was whether unions had to give back dues that unions had already collected. Several employees, backed by anti-union groups, sued based on the theory that unions shouldn't be able to keep funds that the Court has announced were unconstitutionally required under collective-bargaining agreements with their public employers. Unions, on the other hand, responded that although the Court had long made clear its intention to overrule Abood and rule this way, clear precedent states that until the Court makes such a change, current caselaw applies. This isn't just an interesting legal question; there is a ton of money at stake for unions.
Yesterday, we got the first judicial decision on this question, in favor of unions. In Danielson v. AFSCME, the Western District of Washington dismissed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that past-paid fees were unconstitutional and seeking a return of those funds. At the heart of the dismissal was the court's holding that the union involved enjoyed a good faith defense against the Section 1983 claim because when they collected the fees, they were legal under both state and federal law. There's a general understanding among many courts that Section 1983 includes a good faith defense and the court held that it applied here. That's not surprising given that the Supreme Court has been very clear that lower courts should not try to predict what the Court will do--the law is what it is until the Court says it isn't.
This is a significant win for public-sector unions, but this issue isn't over. There are several other identical suits which could well come out differently, and I'm sure this case will be appealed. So stay tuned.