New opinion: Third Circuit upholds mootness dismissal of union-fees suit

Hartnett v. Pa. State Educ. Assoc.—civil—affirmance—Bibas

The Third Circuit today affirmed the dismissal on mootness grounds of  a challenge to Pennsylvania’s statute authorizing unions to collect agency fees from non-members. Agency fees are intended to eliminate the freerider problem by charging non-members for the union’s costs for negotiating on their behalf.  The parties to the suit all agreed that the law was unenforceable after the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Janus v. AFSCME, and the court found no reason to think that these defendants would try to collect the fees from these plaintiffs again, and that rendered the plaintiffs’ suit moot. (The opinion helpfully distinguishes mootness from standing, which remains if established at the outset.) “Just because a statute may be unconstitutional does not mean that a federal court may declare it so,” the opinion began. “If there is no real dispute over a statute’s scope or enforceability, we must dismiss any suit attacking it, no matter how obvious the result may seem.”

Joining Bibas were Chagares and Restrepo. The appeal was decided without oral argument.