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Garcia v. Service Employees International Union

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 10, 2019

RAYMOND GARCIA, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, et al., Defendants

          ORDER (1) GRANTING THE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND (2) DENYING THE PLAINTIFFS' MOTIONS FOR RECONSIDERATION [ECF NOS. 266, 271, 276]

          ANDREW P. GORDON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Cherie Mancini filed suit to challenge discipline imposed on her as a member of the Local 1107 union (Local) that removed her from office as the Local's president and stripped her of union membership for six months. She and fellow plaintiff Frederick Gustafson also challenge defendant Service Employees International Union's (SEIU) imposition of an emergency trusteeship on the local union. I granted in part the defendants' motion to dismiss some of the plaintiffs' allegations. Mancini, ECF No. 32.[1] The defendants now move for summary judgment on the remaining claims. The plaintiffs oppose the motion, move for reconsideration related to a prior motion to amend the complaint, and move for reconsideration of my dismissal order.

         The parties are familiar with the facts, and I set them forth here only where necessary to resolve the motions. I grant the defendants' motion for summary judgment. I deny the plaintiffs' motions for reconsideration.

         I. ANALYSIS

         Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a), (c). A fact is material if it “might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute is genuine if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id.

         The party seeking summary judgment bears the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts demonstrating there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. Fairbank v. Wunderman Cato Johnson, 212 F.3d 528, 531 (9th Cir. 2000); Sonner v. Schwabe N. Am., Inc., 911 F.3d 989, 992 (9th Cir. 2018) (“To defeat summary judgment, the nonmoving party must produce evidence of a genuine dispute of material fact that could satisfy its burden at trial.”). I view the evidence and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. James River Ins. Co. v. Hebert Schenk, P.C., 523 F.3d 915, 920 (9th Cir. 2008).

         A. Count One

         Count one of the complaint alleges the defendants violated the Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (LMRDA), 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5), by (1) not serving Mancini personally or by registered or certified mail as required by the SEIU constitution, (2) not adequately identifying the charges against Mancini so she could prepare a defense, and (3) not providing her a full and fair hearing. Mancini, ECF No. 1 at 8-14. I previously granted the defendants' motion to dismiss the allegations related to service and adequate identification of the charges. Mancini, ECF No. 32 at 2-4. But I read count one to also contain an allegation that Mancini did not receive a full and fair hearing because the charges and evidence were contradictory, she acted in good faith, and the University Medical Center (UMC) ratification vote took place after collective bargaining ended so she should not have been disciplined for interfering in collective bargaining. Id. at 4. Because the defendants did not move to dismiss count one in relation to these allegations, the full and fair hearing portion of count one survived dismissal. Id.

         The defendants move for judgment on the remainder of this claim, arguing that Mancini sought only injunctive relief in her complaint and, to the extent Mancini seeks to restore her membership rights, that is moot because Mancini's membership rights have been restored. They also argue that to the extent Mancini seeks to be restored as president, that is not an available remedy under § 411(a)(5). Finally, the defendants argue that even if the claim is not moot, Mancini received a full and fair hearing because the discipline was supported by some evidence, which is the applicable standard for reviewing the union's disciplinary decision. They also argue that nothing in the LMRDA requires the SEIU to refrain from disciplining Mancini even if she acted in good faith; the ratification vote is part of the collective bargaining process; and regardless of whether there was some contradiction between the charges and the evidence, Mancini had adequate notice of the charges against her.

         Mancini responds that her claim is not moot because she previously moved to amend to add a request for damages. She contends that when I denied her motion to amend, I did not address her request to add damages and that I should do so now.[2] Mancini further contends that even if she cannot amend, she still has an interest in having her discipline declared unlawful because her suspension from union membership cost her a reduction in pay, which will affect her future raises, pension, and other benefits.

         On the merits, Mancini argues that the disciplinary report is based on an erroneous factual finding that she admitted at the disciplinary hearing that she did not keep apprised of the bargaining with employer UMC. Next, she argues the decision to place the local in a trusteeship was predetermined, and she was removed as president as part of this plan. She contends a proceeding with a predetermined result is not a full and fair hearing. She also asserts that SEIU President Mary Kay Henry had investigatory, prosecutorial, and adjudicative power, and reposing all of these functions in a single person raises due process concerns. Additionally, Mancini argues the defendants applied the rules differently to charges brought against her as opposed to charges brought against other Local members. Specifically, she contends Henry assumed jurisdiction over the charges against Mancini even though those charges were filed initially with the SEIU instead of through the Local and there was no specific request that the SEIU take jurisdiction over those charges. She claims that in contrast, when Mancini brought charges against other members, she was required to first file them with the Local and then request the SEIU to take jurisdiction. Finally, she contends all of her allegations must be viewed collectively to determine if she received a full and fair hearing.

         Section 411(a)(5) provides that “[n]o member of any labor organization may be fined, suspended, expelled, or otherwise disciplined . . . by such organization . . . unless such member has been (A) served with written specific charges; (B) given a reasonable time to prepare his defense; [and] (C) afforded a full and fair hearing.” The LMRDA provides a private right of action for a person whose LMRDA rights have been infringed. 29 U.S.C. § 412.

         1. Restoration as a Member and President of the Local

         Mancini's complaint sought only injunctive relief for this claim in the form of being restored to her office as president and having her suspension from union membership lifted. Mancini, ECF No. 1 at 14. But § 411(a)(5) cannot provide relief for removal from office in the union. United Steel Workers Local 12-369 v. United Steel Workers Int'l, 728 F.3d 1107, 1117 (9th Cir. 2013) (stating § 411(a)(5) applies only to discipline as a member, not as an officer, of a union). And because Mancini's suspension as a member of the Local has been lifted, that requested relief is moot. See Deutsche Bank Nat. Tr. Co. v. F.D.I.C., 744 F.3d 1124, 1135 (9th Cir. 2014) (stating a case may become moot “if circumstances have changed since the beginning of litigation that forestall any occasion for meaningful relief” (quotation omitted)). Consequently, the defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Mancini's first claim unless she can amend to add a request for damages.

         Mancini moves for reconsideration of her prior motion to amend her complaint to add a request for damages and to add new allegations as to why she did not receive a full and fair hearing. Garcia, ECF No. 266. As discussed below, even considering the new allegations, Mancini has failed to raise a genuine dispute that the defendants denied her a full and fair disciplinary hearing. I therefore deny Mancini's motion for reconsideration because amending the complaint would be futile. Shermoen v. United States, 982 F.2d 1312, 1319 (9th Cir. 1992) (“[A] district court does not err in denying leave to amend where the amendment would be futile.” (quotation omitted)).

         2. Original Allegations

         Section 411(a)(5) “guarantees union members a ‘full and fair' disciplinary hearing, and . . . this guarantee requires the charging party to provide some evidence at the disciplinary hearing to support the charges made.” Int'l Bhd. of Boilermakers, Iron Shipbuilders, Blacksmiths, Forgers & Helpers, AFL-CIO v. Hardeman, 401 U.S. 233, 245-46 (1971). Thus, judicial review is deferential and evaluates only whether there was “some evidence” to support the decision. Id.

         The allegations in the complaint that survived dismissal were that Mancini did not receive a full and fair hearing because the charges and evidence were contradictory, she acted in good faith, and the UMC ratification vote took place after collective bargaining ended so she should not have been disciplined for interfering in collective bargaining. Mancini has not pointed to evidence raising a genuine dispute on any of these grounds. As to the charges and evidence being contradictory, it is unclear what Mancini means by this, but in any event I have already held that Mancini had adequate notice of the charges against her. Mancini, ECF No. 32 at 3-4; see also Garcia, ECF No. 80 at 43. I also concluded, and the Ninth Circuit affirmed, that there was “some evidence” at the evidentiary hearing to support the discipline imposed on Mancini. Garcia, ECF Nos. 80 at 45; 175 at 3. The evidentiary record at summary judgment only bolsters these conclusions. See Garcia, ECF No. 271-14 (transcript of disciplinary hearing).

         As for Mancini's good faith, disciplinary hearing officer Carol Nieters recognized that Mancini was motivated by a legitimate concern but that discipline nevertheless was warranted. Garcia, ECF No. 271-18 at 16-17. Mancini cites no law for the proposition that a union member who acts in good faith cannot be disciplined or that her good faith somehow rendered the hearing unfair. Finally, Mancini admitted at her deposition that the Local's ratification vote is part of the collective bargaining process and she presents no evidence that it is not. Garcia, ECF No. 271-3 at 12; see also Mancini, ECF No. 4-8 at 50.

         In her opposition to the defendants' motion for summary judgment, Mancini does not respond to the defendants' arguments with respect to any of these allegations and does not point to evidence that would raise a genuine dispute. The defendants therefore are entitled to summary judgment on the full and fair hearing claim based on the complaint's allegations.

         3. Proposed New Grounds

         Mancini offers several new grounds for why she contends she did not receive a full and fair hearing. Those can be broken into four general areas. First, Mancini identifies various alleged flaws in Nieters' decision. Second, she contends that her due process rights were violated because all relevant fair hearing functions resided in Henry. Third, she contends different procedural rules were applied to her charges against fellow local union members Sharon Kisling and Patricia Greaux versus Kisling's and Brenda Marzan's charges against her. Finally, Mancini argues that all of her allegations must be considered as a whole to determine if she received a full and fair hearing. As set forth below, Mancini fails to raise a genuine dispute about whether she received a full and fair hearing on any of these grounds.

         a. Nieters' Decision

         Mancini contends Nieters' decision was flawed because (i) the result was predetermined; (ii) Nieters relied on biased witness testimony; (iii) Nieters relied on an erroneous statement of the evidence; and (iv) Nieters ignored the UMC bargaining team's misconduct. As discussed below, Mancini does not raise a genuine dispute on any of these grounds.

         i. Predetermined Result

         Mancini has not presented sufficient evidence to get to trial on her allegation that Nieters' decision about Mancini's discipline was predetermined. Even if I considered unauthenticated hearsay-upon-hearsay evidence that (1) SEIU representative Mary Grillo coached Local members on how to bring charges against Mancini and what charges to bring and (2) Local members were working with the SEIU to place the Local into a trusteeship, [3] there is no evidence that Nieters was involved in a conspiracy to reach the predetermined result of removing Mancini from office.

         Mancini contends that the predetermined result is shown by the fact that some SEIU officials had discussions about placing the Local in a trusteeship long before Nieters issued her decision, some SEIU officials knew what Nieters' decision was going to be approximately eight days before Nieters issued it, and those officials planned to approach the Local's board to vote for a trusteeship after Kisling and Mancini were removed from office. But Mancini does not point to any evidence that Nieters was engaged in discussions about a predetermined result on either trusteeship or Mancini's discipline.

         Further, the evidence shows that Local members (not the defendants) started a petition for a trusteeship, filed the charges against Mancini, asked for a trusteeship at the internal needs hearing, and pleaded for the SEIU to intervene after the internal needs hearing. See, e.g., Garcia, ECF Nos. 271-10; 271-14; 271-17; 271-27; 292-6. The conditions at the Local continued to deteriorate after the internal needs hearing. See, e.g., Garcia, ECF Nos. 271-17; 291-1; 292-5. And the SEIU was considering trusteeship as one of several possible options for addressing the dysfunction at the Local. Garcia, ECF No. 149 at 21-22. None of those options discussed removing Mancini from office. Id. And Mancini does not point to any evidence that Nieters was involved in the SEIU's internal discussions about a trusteeship or how Mancini's discipline would impact a potential trusteeship vote.

         Thus, even if some individuals at the SEIU were contemplating an attempt to persuade the Local's executive board to vote for a trusteeship, that does not raise a genuine dispute that Nieters' recommendation regarding Mancini's discipline was a foregone conclusion. And the fact that some SEIU officials knew what Nieters was going to recommend a few days before she issued her final decision also does not raise a genuine dispute that the outcome of that decision was predetermined.

         ii. Biased Witnesses

         Mancini next contends Nieters relied on witnesses who were biased against Mancini and in favor of the trusteeship. But it is not up to me to weigh the credibility of the witnesses at the disciplinary hearing. Hardeman, 401 U.S. at 246. The question is whether some evidence supported Nieters' decision, and the record provided ample evidence that Mancini was subject to discipline for her actions in publicly disparaging the bargaining team members and subjecting the Local to a potential unfair practices charge by UMC. See id.; Garcia, ECF Nos. 271-1; 271-18 at 16-17.

         iii. Erroneous Statement of the Evidence

         Mancini contends Nieters relied on an erroneous statement of the testimony when she wrote in her disciplinary report that Mancini admitted that the no access provision was inserted in the proposed UMC collective bargaining agreement early in the bargaining process. In her report, Nieters wrote that “[a]lthough the evidence did not establish clearly the point in time when Sister Mancini became aware of that term in the tentative agreement, it appears that the provision was negotiated in the first days of bargaining.” Garcia, ECF No. 271-18 at 16. Nieters cited page 80 of the transcript for the second day of the hearing. Id.; see also Garcia, ECF No. 271-14 at 350 (page 80 of the transcript of day two).

         Nieters was citing to a portion of the transcript in which Mancini states, in a question to a witness, that the no access term was changed “on the very first day of bargaining.” Garcia, ECF No. 271-14 at 350. Mancini also stated during her closing argument that the change to the no access term was proposed “on the very first day of bargaining.” Id. at 97. Nieters' statement in her report therefore was not groundless. Mancini does not point to evidence that the no access term was in fact proposed or changed later in the bargaining process, nor does she identify where in the record such evidence was presented to Nieters. She thus has not presented any basis for why Nieters should have ...


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