United States District Court, D. New Jersey
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
action, Plaintiffs ask the Court to hold that Section 2
Eleventh of the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”), 45
U.S.C. § 152 Eleventh, which preempts state law
prohibiting covered unions from entering into agreements
providing for agency fees, is unconstitutional under the
First and Fifth Amendments. For the reasons set forth below,
the Court declines to do so. Consequently, Plaintiffs fail to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 9, is
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Linda Rizzo-Rupon, Susan Marshall, and Noemieo Oliveira work
as passenger service employees for United Airlines at Newark
Liberty International Airport. Compl., ECF. No. 1
¶¶ 1, 8-10. Defendants are the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, AFL CIO, IAM
District Lodge 141, and IAM Local Lodge 914 (“the Union
Defendants”). Id. at ¶¶ 11-13.
Although not members of the Union Defendants, Plaintiffs are
covered by the collective bargaining agreement between United
Airlines and IAM Local Lodge 914 entitled Passenger Service
Employees 2016-2021 (“the Agreement”).
Id. at ¶¶ 8-10, 20, Compl. Exs. 2, 3, 5.
The collective bargaining relationship between United and the
Union Defendant is governed by the Railway Labor Act, 45
U.S.C. § 151, et. Seq. Compl. ¶ 11.
to Article 8(B)(1) of the Agreement, employees are not
required to become members of the Union, but they are
required to pay “service fees, ” also know as
agency fees, to the Union equal to monthly membership dues.
See Compl. Exs. 3, 5. Additionally, nonmember agency
fee payers may become “dues objectors” and pay a
reduced fee rate for expenses only directly related to
collective bargaining matters. Compl. Ex. 5, pp. 3, 5. The
parties agree that New Jersey has not enacted a
“right-to-work” law-that is, a prohibition on
unions from negotiating contracts with employers that require
all members who benefit from the union contract to contribute
to the costs of union representation. See Def.'s
Mot. 7; Pls'. Resp. 2.
filed suit on January 8, 2019. ECF No. 1. Defendants filed
their Motion to Dismiss on June 3, 2019. ECF No. 9.
Plaintiffs' response deadline was delayed to allow the
United States Attorney General to intervene if he chose to do
so. ECF No. 16. The Attorney General did not do so. ECF No.
17. Plaintiffs filed their opposition on September 24, 2019.
ECF No. 26. Defendants filed their reply on October 8, 2019.
ECF No. 28.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal
of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails
to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving
party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been
stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750
(3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule
12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint
as true and view them in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501
(1975). “A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is appropriate if,
as a matter of law, it is clear that no relief could be
granted under any set of facts that could be proved
consistent with the allegations.” Wilson v.
Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 774 (3d Cir. 1989).
move to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a
claim. Plaintiffs bring a First Amendment free speech
challenge to the agency-fee provisions of the Railway Labor
Act, 45 U.S.C. § 152 Eleventh, and argue that the
Supreme Court's decision in Janus v. AFSCME, 138
S.Ct. 2448 (2018) requires that this Court find agency fees
are unconstitutional as to employs covered by the Railway
Labor Act. Plaintiffs ask for an injunction restraining the
Union Defendants from forcing Plaintiffs to financially
support the Union Defendants as a condition of employment and
to award damages. Compl. 8-9. Defendants argue, in essence,
that (1) Plaintiffs' First Amendment claims must fail
because Defendants are not state actors and (2) even if
Defendants were state actors, the Supreme Court's
decision in Railway Employees' Dept. v. Hanson,
351 U.S. 225 (1956), upholding Section 2 Eleventh against an
identical constitutional challenge, is binding on this Court.
The Court addresses each argument.
State Action Doctrine
first issue is whether the Union Defendants, by entering into
the Agreement providing for agency fees under Section 2
Eleventh of the RLA, have engaged in state action sufficient
to raise a free speech claim. The First Amendment provides,
in relevant part, that “Congress shall make no law . .
. abridging freedom of speech.” U.S. Const. amend. I.
The Free Speech Clause prohibits only governmental
abridgement of speech, not private abridgment of speech.
See Manhattan Community Access Corp. v. Halleck, 139
S.Ct. 1921, 1928 (2019) (“By enforcing [the]
constitutional boundary between the governmental and the
private, the state-action doctrine protects a robust sphere
of individual liberty.”). “[A] private entity can
qualify as a state actor in a few limited
circumstances-including, for example, (i) when the private
entity performs a traditional, exclusive public function . .
. (ii) when the government compels the private entity to take
a particular action . . . or (iii) when the government acts
jointly with the private entity.” Id.
(internal citations omitted).
do not contend that the Union Defendants fall into any of
these categories. Rather, they argue that the Supreme
Court's conclusion in Hanson that state action
was present sufficient to reach the merits of
employee-plaintiffs' free speech challenge to Section 2
Eleventh of the RLA, also follows from the facts of this
case. The Supreme Court in Hanson found that state
action was present because, although Section 2 Eleventh did
not require private sector unions and employers to enter
agreements providing for agency fees, it preempted
Nebraska's right-to-work law. See 351 U.S. at
231-32. The Hanson Court explained that “[i]f
private rights are being invaded, it is by force of an
agreement made pursuant to federal law which expressly
declares that state law is superseded.” Id. at
233. This was sufficient for state action.
parties agree that New Jersey has no right-to-work law.
Consequently, because no New Jersey law is preempted by
Section 2 Eleventh of the RLA, Plaintiffs possess no private
rights implicated by the RLA. Id. at 232. The Third
Circuit in White v. Communication Workers of America
recognized that preemption of a contrary state law by federal
law was central to the Hanson Court's finding of
state action in the RLA context. 370 F.3d 346, 353 (2004).
The Supreme Court's decision in Janus concerned
only public sector unions and did not alter this logic. 138
S.Ct. 2448, 2479 (noting that “Abood [v.
Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977)] failed
to appreciate that a very different First Amendment question
arises when a State requires its employees to pay
agency fees.”). Plaintiffs appear to argue that state
action arises because the RLA preempts other states'