Sheridan v. Intern. Broth. Elec. Workers, Local 455, Civil Action No. 95-30222-MAP.

Decision Date05 September 1996
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 95-30222-MAP.
Citation940 F.Supp. 368
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Massachusetts

Daniel J. Sheridan, Sheridan & Sheridan, South Hadley, MA, Bruce N. Cameron, National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, Springfield, VA, for Plaintiff.

John Connor, Marshall T. Moriarty, Moriarty and Connor, Springfield, MA, for Defendant.

PONSOR, District Judge.

Upon de novo review the report and recommendation is adopted in its entirety. Defendant's motion is DENIED, and plaintiff's ALLOWED. These rulings dispose of all cognizable issues. Moreover, the defendant's future obligations are spelled out with reasonable clarity — certainly all clarity possible at this juncture. So ordered.


NEIMAN, United States Magistrate Judge.


Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff James Sheridan ("Plaintiff") commenced this action against the Defendant International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 455 (the "Union"), asserting that his constitutional rights were violated when the Union required that he pay a certain compulsory fee without affording him the procedural protections required by the Constitution, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court in Chicago Teachers Union, Local No. 1, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, 106 S.Ct. 1066, 89 L.Ed.2d 232 (1986). This compulsory fee, referred to herein as an "agency service fee," may not be required of nonunion employees for activities unrelated to collective bargaining. The Union's motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment have been referred to this Court for a report and recommendation pursuant to Rule 3 of the Rules for United States Magistrates in United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). At oral argument, Plaintiff, through counsel, withdrew his motion to strike the Union's motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 07).


The facts of this case, although somewhat lengthy, are straightforward, consisting primarily of letters between Plaintiff and the Union. Plaintiff is employed by the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co. ("MMWEC") and is a member of the collective bargaining group represented by the Union. On October 26, 1993, Plaintiff wrote the Union's business manager, informing him that he wished to convert his status from a full dues paying member to an agency service fee member only. Plaintiff requested documentation confirming that the agency service fee had been contractually set at 75% of full dues. Complaint, at Exhibit B (letter from Plaintiff to Defendant, October 26, 1993).

On December 1, 1993, having received no response, Plaintiff again wrote the Union's business manager, this time stating his intention to cancel his payroll deduction for Union dues. In addition, Plaintiff demanded a complete copy of the Union's records purportedly establishing a ratification of the agency service fee, as well as an independent audit of the Union's revenues and expenditures — specifically for "matters other than bona fide collective bargaining, grievance handling, or other contract administration." A copy of the letter was sent to MMWEC, whereupon MMWEC informed the Union on December 6, 1993 that, given Plaintiff's withdrawal from the Union, it would withhold his agency service fee.

On December 10, 1993, Plaintiff, this time through counsel, protested MMWEC's stated intention to withhold the agency service fee because the Union neither demanded payment of that fee nor provided the requested documentation. On December 13, 1993, the Union, again through counsel, informed Plaintiff that his resignation from the Union had been approved on November 23, 1993. Counsel also informed Plaintiff that the agency service fee was $33.83 per month and that less than one percent of the union dues was utilized for non-representational purposes. Complaint at Exhibit F (letter from Marshall T. Moriarty, Esq. to Daniel Sheridan, Esq.). While the correspondence referenced an attached letter, no such letter was attached or enclosed. Complaint at Exhibit G. (December 29, 1993 letter from Daniel Sheridan, Esq. to Marshall T. Moriarty, Esq.).

Subsequently, on January 13, 1994, the Union informed Plaintiff by letter that it would not pursue an agency service fee from him and therefore declined Plaintiff's offer to place a monthly sum of $30.89 into a jointly held escrow account, although it reserved the right to pursue such fee in the future. Included in this letter was a December 9, 1993 two-page letter from the Union's accountant certifying "expenditures not reasonably related to collective bargaining." Complaint at Exhibit H. By letter dated February 17, 1994, however, the Union reversed its position and demanded that Plaintiff pay a monthly agency service fee of $25.64. Complaint at Exhibit J. The letter indicated that the amount "represents the agreed to amount of the agency service fee between [MMWEC] and the Union" and included a copy of the Union accountant's letter previously provided.

On March 14, 1994, Plaintiff acknowledged receipt of the documentation and noted his continued objection to its adequacy. In addition, Plaintiff agreed to pay $25.64 monthly into a jointly administered escrow account pending resolution of the agency service fee issue by the Massachusetts Labor Relations Commission ("the MLRC"). Shortly thereafter, on March 30, 1994, Plaintiff filed a charge with the MLRC in which he asserted that the Union had failed to produce adequate proof of the validity or appropriateness of the agency service fee.

In response, the Union faxed a request to Plaintiff on March 31, 1994 that he identify the portion of the agency service fee he disputed and the additional information he specifically needed in order to make an informed judgment. Complaint at Exhibit N (March 31, 1994 letter from Moriarty to Sheridan, at Exhibit N). Plaintiff responded that same day, stating that he was unable to identify which particular expenditures he was challenging without knowing what the Union's expenditures had been.

On April 9, 1994, the Union, in a lengthy letter, pointed to Plaintiff's filing of an unfair labor practice and noted that the requested information had been provided. The Union further asserted that, under both MLRC and National Labor Relations Board guidelines, the Union was obligated to furnish financial information only after a party objects. Nevertheless, the Union provided Plaintiff with additional information, including reports to the Massachusetts Department of Labor and Industries and the United States Department of Labor. Complaint at Exhibit P. None of those reports, however, required or included the signature or verification of an auditor.

On April 25, 1994, Plaintiff acknowledged the April 9, 1994 letter as partially adequate, but reasserted his demand for information. On May 13, 1994, the Union resubmitted to Plaintiff the information provided on April 9, 1994. The Union also asked that, if Plaintiff still felt the document production was inadequate, he specify what additional information he was seeking.

On November 3, 1994, the MLRC issued a complaint against the Union charging that the Union's agency service fee demand was both invalid and excessive. On or about September 13, 1995, however, the MLRC dismissed Plaintiff's charges, noting that his constitutional claims should be before a court. Soon thereafter, on October 24, 1995, Plaintiff filed the present action in this Court.

Plaintiff's complaint asserts violations of the United States Constitution because the Union's February 17, 1994 "agency fee demand" did not comport with minimum procedural requirements. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he was not provided with either an independent audit of the financial records of the Union or a breakdown of chargeable (agency service fee) expenses and nonchargeable (non-agency fee) expenses. The complaint also alleges that Plaintiff was not informed of his right to challenge the procedures involved, the amount of the agency fee demand or his right to withhold payment of any fees pending the resolution of any objection he might file. The Union's motion to dismiss and Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment shall be addressed in turn.


The Union makes three arguments, only the first of which shall be treated in the context of its motion to dismiss.1 In particular, the Union argues that Plaintiff's claims should be dismissed in their entirety because the Union's conduct cannot amount to state action under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Union distinguishes Chicago Teachers Union v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, 106 S.Ct. 1066, 89 L.Ed.2d 232 (1986), upon which Plaintiff primarily relies, see discussion infra, as well as Abood v. Detroit Bd. of Ed., 431 U.S. 209, 97 S.Ct. 1782, 52 L.Ed.2d 261 (1977), relied upon by Hudson, as cases that involved clear "state action," i.e., agreements between a municipality and a collective bargaining unit. In contrast, the Union claims, MMWEC, although a "political subdivision" of the state, see M.G.L. ch. 164, is privately funded and services its own bonds.

In making its claim, the Union relies primarily upon Gorenc v. Salt River Project Agr. Imp. & Power Dist., 869 F.2d 503 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 899, 110 S.Ct. 256, 107 L.Ed.2d 205 (1989), in which the Ninth Circuit refused to allow a § 1983 action against an electric company for terminating its employee even though the company was designated a political subdivision under the Arizona state constitution. In addition, the Union relies on the appendix to M.G.L. ch. 164, which states that M.G.L. chs....

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