New opinion — union-fee clawback appeal results in fractured ruling in favor of the unions

Diamond v. Pa. State Ed. Assoc. — civil / labor — affirmance — Rendell

After the Supreme Court overruled its prior precedent and struck down state laws that allowed public-sector unions to collect fair-share fees from non-members who benefited from the union’s work, a new round of litigation emerged where the non-members then sued for refunds of the fair-share fees they’d paid in the past. Today’s lone case involves two such appeal, one brought by teachers and another by state employees.

In a fractured ruling, the Third Circuit today ruled in favor of the unions, denying refund of the fair-share fees. In the lead opinion, Judge Rendell concluded that the plaintiffs’ claims failed because the fees had been collected in good faith under unambiguous then-controlling law. Concurring in the judgment, Judge Fisher disagreed that good faith was a defense to § 1983 liability but concluded that a similar-but-narrower common law defense that was available when the statute was passed in 1871 foreclosed the plaintiffs’ claims. Judge Phipps dissented, also rejecting any good-faith defense and disagreeing that Judge Fisher’s common-law defense would apply on the facts.

Arguing counsel were Leon Dayan of D.C. for one union, Jonathan Mitchell of Texas for one group of challengers (note he is not listed in the conventional format in the opinion caption), Casey Pitts of California for the other union, and Brian Kelsey of Illinois for the other group of challengers.