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Caruso v. Washington State Bar Association

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

May 11, 2017

ROBERT E. CARUSO and SANDRA L. FERGUSON, Plaintiffs,
v.
WASHINGTON STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Washington State Bar Association (“WSBA”) and WSBA officials. Dkt. #16. Plaintiffs Robert E. Caruso and Sandra L. Ferguson oppose this Motion. Dkt. #18. For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Motion, dismisses Plaintiffs' claims without leave to amend, and DENIES as MOOT Plaintiffs' other pending motions.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This case was filed on January 3, 2017, initially as a putative class action on behalf of all WSBA members, naming Plaintiffs Robert E. Caruso and Sandra L. Ferguson as class representatives. See Id. at 11. On February 21, Plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint, which asserts individual claims on behalf of Plaintiffs Caruso and Ferguson, abandoning all class claims. See Dkt. # 4. Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint describes Defendants as: (1) “Washington State Bar Association 1933, ” an entity Plaintiffs allege is “the Washington State Bar Association created by the State Bar Act, Wash. Sess. ch. 94, 1933 and prior to the amendments made to its Bylaws by the WSBA 1933 Board of Governors the afternoon of September 30, 2016;” (2) “Washington State Bar Association 2017, ” an entity Plaintiffs allege is “the Washington State Bar Association created by amendments made to Bylaws of the WSBA 1933 by the WSBA 1933 Board of Governors on September 30, 2016;” and (3-21) various WSBA officials. Id. at 1-3. Plaintiffs Caruso and Ferguson are licensed attorneys under the laws of the State of Washington and each “is a member of the WSBA.”[1] Id. at 5.

         Plaintiffs' First Cause of Action is for declaratory judgment and seeks, in part, an injunction “enjoining Defendants from compelling Plaintiffs to be a members (sic) of the WSBA 2017 and from compelling Plaintiffs to pay dues to the WSBA 2017.” Id. at 32. Plaintiffs' Second Cause of Action is brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution for being “compelled to be a members (sic) of WSBA 1933 or WSBA 2017.” Id. Plaintiffs' Third Cause of Action is similarly brought under the First and Fourteenth Amendments as “[c]ompulsory dues violate Plaintiffs' right of freedom of speech, including the freedom not to speak and to not be forced to finance speech…” Id. at 33. Plaintiffs' Fourth Cause of Action is titled “WSBA Discipline System No Longer Exists.” Id. at 34-35. Plaintiffs' Fifth Cause of Action alleges that the WSBA discipline system violates constitutional due process. Id. at 35. Plaintiffs' Sixth Cause of Action alleges that the WSBA discipline system deprives Plaintiffs' rights “under the doctrine of constitutional scrutiny.” Id. at 36. Plaintiffs' Prayer for Relief essentially requests the Court declare that Plaintiffs, attorneys licensed to practice law in the State of Washington, do not have to be members of the WSBA, do not have to pay WSBA dues, and are not subject to WSBA discipline. Id. at 38-39.

         On March 1, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Dkt. # 8. On March 3, 2017, Plaintiffs also filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction, making similar arguments in support of Plaintiffs' claims in this case. See Dkt. # 15. On March 21, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss, which the Court will address first. Dkt. #16.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         In making a 12(b)(6) assessment, the court accepts all facts alleged in the complaint as true, and makes all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Baker v. Riverside County Office of Educ., 584 F.3d 821, 824 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal citations omitted). 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 to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The complaint need not include detailed allegations, but it must have “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Absent facial plausibility, Plaintiff's claims must be dismissed. Id. at 570.

         Where a complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim, “leave to amend should be granted unless the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency.” Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir. 1986).

         B. Nature of Defendants “WSBA 1933, ” “WSBA 2017, ” and the actual WSBA

         The Court will not address tangential facts and arguments raised by the parties and will focus instead on the key legal questions in Defendants' entirely dispositive Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiffs' Complaint asserts that the WSBA ceased to exist and was born anew on the afternoon of September 30, 2016, when the WSBA enacted certain bylaw amendments. Dkt. #4 at 9. At issue are amendments to include limited-license practitioners (“Limited Practice Officers, ” or “LPOs, ” and “Limited License Legal Technicians, ” or “LLLTs”). Dkt. #4 at 11-14; see also Dkt. #15 at 5-6, 11. Plaintiffs assert that the bylaws amendments remove the WSBA from the purview of the State Bar Act, chapter 2.48 RCW. Dkt. #4 at 34, see also Dkt. #8 at 10. Defendants argue that the State Bar Act establishes the WSBA as an “agency of the state, ” RCW 2.48.010, and gives the WSBA Board of Governors the power to adopt rules governing bar membership and discipline. Dkt. #16 at 14 (citing RCW 2.48.060). Defendants argue that “[p]ursuant to and consistent with the State Bar Act and other Washington law, the WSBA regularly amends its bylaws regarding any number of matters relevant to the practice of law in Washington, including bar membership and limited-license practices.” Id. (citing RCW 2.48.050; WSBA Bylaws at 72-73). Defendants argues that the amendments at issue do not render the WSBA a new entity. Id. (citing RCW 2.48.050; WSBA Bylaws at 72-73; cf. Fletcher Cyclopedia of the Law of Corps. §§ 6, 4176 (2016)). Defendants argue that “[n]othing in the amendments changes the WSBA into something beyond what the Washington Supreme Court has authorized, in its inherent authority over the practice of law.” Id. at 15 (citing State ex rel. Schwab v. Wash. State Bar Ass'n, 80 Wn.2d 266, 269, 493 P.2d 1237 (1972); Hahn v. Boeing Co., 95 Wn.2d 28, 34, 621 P.2d 1263 (1980)).

         In Response, Plaintiffs argue the WSBA was created in 1933 by the Bar Act, that it is an integrated association, that “the new WSBA came into being, not by any action on the part of the Supreme Court, but by action of the WSBA 1933 Board of Governors, ” and that “[t]he authority of the state has not be (sic) passed on to the WSBA by the state legislature or the Supreme Court.” Dkt. #23 at 13. ...


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