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Steele-Klein v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

December 3, 2014



RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, District Judge.


This matter comes before the Court on a number of pending motions, including: Defendant International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 117's ("Local Teamsters") Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #9); Defendant International Brotherhood of Teamsters' ("International Teamsters") Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #15); Plaintiff's Motion for Substitution of Signed Letter (Dkt. #18); Plaintiff's Motion to Appoint Counsel (Dkt. #19); Plaintiff's Motion for Joinder (Dkt. #20); Defendants' Motion for Protective Order to Stay Discovery (Dkt. #28); Plaintiff's Motion to Continue as Class Action (Dkt. #30); and Defendant Dow Constantine's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. #31). The Court addresses each of these motions below.


Pro Se Plaintiff, Mary Steele-Klein, filed a Complaint on April 21, 2014. Dkt. #4. She brings claims against two Defendants - International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local 117 and King County Executive Dow Constantine. Plaintiff alleges that in 2011 she was hired by King County as one of a group of predominantly low-income seniors to work in the King County Elections division. Id. at 5. In that position, she was a nonmember of the Local Teamsters bargaining unit, and, as a condition of her employment, was required to pay dues. Id. These dues were automatically withheld from her paycheck by her employer, King County Elections division. Id. at 2. Plaintiff worked intermittently for several election cycles (approximately 2-4 per year) until 2013. Id. at 5. She worked less than 1/6 of full time equivalent hours, received no benefits, did not accrue leave time, and received no retirement benefits. Id. She also was not guaranteed rehire from cycle to cycle. Id. Plaintiff was not entitled to notice or the right to vote on union matters. In addition, according to Plaintiff, Washington's Public Employment Relations Commission ("PERC") has ruled that she has no standing under Washington law to object to alleged union or employer abuses of dues. Id.

Plaintiff alleges that on July 19, 2013, King County informed her that she would be assessed an additional $0.50 per hour in dues to support a new union pension trust fund. At the same time, Plaintiff was informed that she was excluded from ever benefitting from the fund. Id. at 6. Plaintiff verbally objected to the payments, and signed a "Notice" of the increase "under protest." Id. Plaintiff followed with written objections to the union and her employer on July 23, 2014. Id. She received no response to her objections. Instead, Plaintiff alleges, she was subjected to undue public criticism and King County refused to hire her for the next two election cycles. Id. Plaintiff also asserts that nonmember workers were discouraged from talking about the issue at lunch breaks, and were told that "the walls have ears" and anything they discussed would get back to the union. Dkt. #4 at 6. Plaintiff also complains that she had been previously unaware of the "ideological" uses of the dues by the union, which she did not support, because of the union's misrepresentations that dues were for collective bargaining purposes. Id. at 7.

She now alleges that her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights were infringed when the union and her employer failed to respond to her written objections to the payment of dues and to the use of the dues for "uses not germane to collective bargaining purposes." Id. Plaintiff alleges that despite her written objections, Defendants failed to provide her with information, process or procedure as to the apportionment of disputed dues to exclude nongermane uses, that they have not provided an escrow account for the disputed portion of her dues, and that they have failed to make any rebates. Id. at 2. Plaintiff apparently filed a complaint with PERC, and alleges that she suffered retaliation for such filing, as evidenced by King County's failure to rehire her for the 2014 January and April election periods despite her excellent work history. Id. Plaintiff asserts that such action or inaction violates the United States Supreme Court's rulings in Chicago Teacher's Union No. 1, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292, 106 S.Ct. 1066 (1986) and Davenport v. Washington Education Assoc'n, 551 U.S. 177, 127 S.Ct. 2372 (2007), which she asserts requires the union to take specific affirmative action after receipt of written objections. Id. at 2-3. In addition to her constitutional claims, Plaintiff alleges a host of other federal state law claims against all defendants including: impermissible imposition of a tax burden, fraudulent misrepresentation, theft, and embezzlement. Id. at 9.


A. Plaintiff's Motion to Substitute Signed Letter

As an initial matter, the Court examines Plaintiff's pending Motion to Substitute, which requests that a signed version of Exhibit A to the Complaint replace the unsigned version initially filed with the Court. Dkt. #18. Defendants have not objected. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Substitute.

B. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss

All Defendants have moved to dismiss this case against them under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkts. #9, #15 and #31. The Court next addresses these motions, as the Court's decisions on these motions will inform its decisions on the remaining motions.

1. Applicable Standard

On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), all allegations of material fact must be accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996). However, the court is not required to accept as true a "legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). The Complaint "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 678. This requirement is met when the plaintiff "pleads factual content that allows the court ...

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