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Garcia v. Service Employees International Union

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 25, 2017

RAYMOND GARCIA, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This lawsuit originally was brought by plaintiff Raymond Garcia, who is a member of the Clark County Public Employees Association, also known as SEIU 1107 (Local 1107). Local 1107 is a union for private and public sector employees in Clark County, Nevada. Garcia brought this lawsuit on Local 1107's behalf in Nevada state court against defendants Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Luisa Blue (the trustee appointed over Local 1107), Mary Henry (president of the SEIU), the Executive Board of Local 1107 (who voted in favor of the trusteeship), and Steve Ury (SEIU counsel who allegedly gave advice to the Executive Board of Local 1107).

         In brief, Local 1107 is affiliated with the international union, SEIU. When Local 1107 experienced internal management issues that resulted in the removal of the Local's president and vice president, the Local's executive board voted in favor of SEIU placing the local union in a trusteeship, and the SEIU did so. Garcia contends this action violated the affiliation agreement between Local 1107 and the SEIU, breached Local 1107's constitution, was achieved through misrepresentations and legal malpractice, and constitutes a breach of fiduciary duties.

         The defendants removed the case to federal court on the basis that Garcia's claims are completely preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) and thus are removable under federal question jurisdiction. Garcia moved to remand. I denied that motion, finding that Garcia's claim that the SEIU breached the parties' affiliation agreement was preempted under section 301 as a claim asserting a breach of a contract between labor organizations. ECF No. 39. After I denied remand, Garcia amended his complaint to add new plaintiffs who are Local 1107 members and are also public sector employees. ECF No. 29.

         The plaintiffs now move for reconsideration of my ruling that federal question jurisdiction exists and move to remand to state court. They also request leave to supplement their arguments on the motion to remand. The defendants oppose all motions.

         I deny the motion for reconsideration and the motion to remand. I stand by my original ruling that in the context of this case, the plaintiffs' claim that the SEIU breached the affiliation agreement is completely preempted by section 301, thus giving rise to federal question jurisdiction supporting removal. I decline to adopt the plaintiffs' position that complete preemption under section 301 applies only when interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement is at issue. Finally, I grant the motion to supplement. However, the supplemental arguments do not alter my rulings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Local 1107 entered into an affiliation agreement with the SEIU in 1987. ECF No. 1-1 at 28-39. Paragraph 18 of the affiliation agreement waives Article VIII, Section 7(a)-(f) of the SEIU's constitution, which governs when the SEIU can place a local union into trusteeship. Under paragraph 18 of the affiliation agreement, the SEIU cannot place Local 1107 into a trusteeship “except . . . with the approval of the [Local 1107] Board of Representatives.” Id. at 36.

         In the fall of 2016, in response to complaints from local union members, defendant Henry-as president of the SEIU-ordered a hearing to determine the validity of charges against the Local's president, Cherie Mancini, and executive vice president, Sharon Kisling. Id. at 41, 180 (Article XVII, Section 2(f) of the SEIU constitution granting the SEIU president the power to assume jurisdiction over charges against a local member or officer in certain circumstances). Henry appointed Carol Nieters as hearing master. Id. Following a hearing, Nieters recommended that Mancini and Kisling be removed from their positions and that the SEIU impose a trusteeship over Local 1107 due to deteriorating conditions there. Id. at 42, 52-54.

         Based on these recommendations, Henry issued a letter to Local 1107 members informing them she was invoking her power as SEIU president to remove Mancini and Kisling from their positions. Id. at 56-58. Henry took the trusteeship recommendation under advisement and dispatched SEIU vice president Neal Bisno, deputy chief of staff Deedee Fitzpatrick, and associate general counsel Steve Ury to attend Local 1107's already-scheduled executive board meeting “to discuss how the Local can move forward in the way that best serves its members.” Id. at 57.

         Local 1107's board met on April 26, 2017, which included a closed session with the SEIU officials. According to the complaint, Ury told the board members that because Local 1107's constitution did not contain provisions for what to do if the president and vice president positions were simultaneously vacant, the board had no choice but to request the SEIU place the Local into trusteeship. Id. at 6. A majority of the board voted to do so, with 17 voting in favor of the trusteeship, 7 against, and 5 abstaining. Id. at 6, 59, 61; ECF No. 11 at 6. Henry then entered an order of trusteeship invoking her powers under Article VIII, Sections 7(a) and (f) of the SEIU constitution and appointed defendant Luisa Blue as Trustee. ECF No. 1-1 at 59, 61.

         Based on these allegations, Garcia brought suit in Nevada state court as a member of Local 1107. Among his claims was that the SEIU breached the affiliation agreement between the two unions. Id. at 9-10.

         The defendants removed the case to this court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction, arguing that although Garcia's claims were styled as state law claims, section 301 of the LMRA completely preempts the breach of contract claims. Garcia moved to remand, arguing that because both the Local and the SEIU have public sector employees to which the LMRA does not apply, his claims were not preempted.

         I held a hearing on the motion to remand (along with a pending motion for a temporary restraining order). ECF No. 39. At that hearing, I denied Garcia's motion to remand. Id. at 90. I ruled that based on section 301's plain language, this lawsuit fell within that section's complete preemptive force for lawsuits involving a “violation of contracts between . . . labor organizations.” Id. I rejected Garcia's attempt to rely on the public employee exemption in the LMRA, which essentially defines public sector employers and employees out of the LMRA's scope. Id.; see also 29 U.S.C. §§ 152(2), (3), (5). I concluded that the cases on which Garcia relied were distinguishable because here, “the unions are labor organizations in the context of a breach of [the] two unions' Affiliation Agreement that has no specific relation to public employees, a public employer, or a public Collective Bargaining Agreement.” ECF No. 39 at 91.

         At the end of the hearing, Garcia's counsel asked for clarification about whether my ruling hinged on the fact that Garcia was not a public sector employee. Id. at 96. I stated that my ruling did not rely on that fact and that I did not deny the motion to remand “just because the plaintiff is a private employee . . . .” Id. I also advised Garcia's counsel that I was aware he could simply amend to add a public sector employee, but that ...

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