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Ochoa v. Service Employees International Union Local 775

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

October 4, 2019

CINDY ELLEN OCHOA, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION LOCAL 775, an unincorporated labor association; CHERYL STRANGE in her official capacity as SECRETARY of the DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES; and JAY INSLEE, in his official capacity as GOVERNOR of the STATE OF WASHINGTON, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING STATE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants Cheryl Strange and Jay Inslee's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 50). The motion was submitted for consideration without a request for oral argument. The Court has reviewed the record and files herein and is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the motion (ECF No. 50) is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         This case concerns two sets of unauthorized withdrawals of union dues from Plaintiff Cindy Ellen Ochoa's pay-one set from 2016 to 2017 and another set of withdrawals in mid-2018.

         Plaintiff works as an “individual provider” contracting with the State of Washington and the Department of Social and Health Services to provide care to Medicaid eligible clients. Defendants are state officials, sued in their official capacity, representing the State and the agency (hereinafter, collectively referred to as “Defendants”). The Defendants are a party to a collective bargaining agreement with the Service Employees International Union 775 (“SEIU 775”)-the union which represents individual providers like Plaintiff. ECF No. 51 at 2, ¶ 4. According to the agreement with SEIU 775-both at the time of the complained-of withdrawals and currently-individual providers communicate directly with SEIU 775 about whether they wish to have dues deducted; SEIU 775 then passes the information to Defendants, who provide the information to a third-party contractor that processes the payments to individual providers, including the withholding of union dues and other withholdings. ECF No. 51 at 2-3, ¶¶ 5-6.

         The legal framework for withdrawing union dues has shifted over the relevant time period. As of 2014, individual providers had the right to opt out of paying union dues-without affirmatively opting out, the union dues would be withdrawn. ECF No. 51 at 3, ¶ 7. On June 27, 2018, the Supreme Court determined that union dues could only be withdrawn if the individual provider opted in to paying union dues-without affirmatively opting in, the union dues would not be withdrawn. ECF No. 51 at 4-5, ¶ 13. To account for this, Defendants adjusted their procedures for withdrawing union dues soon after the decision-i.e., requiring an affirmative opt in for the withdrawal of union dues. ECF No. 51 at 5, ¶¶ 15-16.

         Plaintiff exercised her right to opt out of paying union dues in 2014 and the union dues withdrawals stopped at that time. See ECF No. 38 at 13, ¶ 77. Because Plaintiff had opted out, Plaintiff would have had to affirmatively opt in for union dues to be legitimately withdrawn. However, union dues were withdrawn from her pay in 2016 to 2017 and again in 2018 without Plaintiff's authorization.

         1. First series of withdrawals

         The first series of unauthorized withdrawals began on October 17, 2016 after Defendants “received a dues interface file from SEIU 775 for [Plaintiff] indicating dues should be withdrawn.” ECF No. 51 at 4, ¶ 11. The withdrawals stopped around May of 2017 after Defendants “received a dues interface file from SEIU 775 on June 4, 2017, indicating [Plaintiff's] dues withdrawal should cease.” ECF No. 51 at 4, ¶ 12. According to Plaintiff, the dues where withdrawn based on a forged signature allegedly manufactured by an agent of SEIU 775. ECF Nos. 59 at 4; 59-2 at 2, ¶ 1.

         Plaintiff noticed the dues were being withheld from her pay “soon before March 2017”. ECF No. 39 at 11, ¶ 64. Plaintiff alleges that she called the Defendants' third-party contractor and requested they stop withholding the union dues on March 1, 2017 and thereafter until May 1, 2017, when the contractor informed Plaintiff that she would need to contact SEIU 775 for assistance, explaining: “the deduction order comes from the union [so] the release also must come from the union”. ECF No. 39 at 12-14, ¶¶ 66-78.

         “As soon as [Plaintiff] realized [the third-party contractor] could not help her, she contacted SEIU 775.” SEIU 775 informed Plaintiff that “SEIU 775 was withdrawing union dues from [Plaintiff's] salary because [Plaintiff] had signed a union membership card.” ECF No. 39 at 14, ¶ 80. Plaintiff denied authorizing such and “demanded that she be shown the card”. ECF No. 39 at 14, ¶ 80. SEIU 775 sent Plaintiff a copy of the electronic signature dated May 28, 2016. ECF No. 39 at 14, ¶ 81. Upon receipt of the copy, Plaintiff “immediately recognized that the signature was not her own” and “again contacted SEIU 775 and demanded that they stop withdrawing dues from her salary, and remit the amount taken from her.” ECF No. 39 at 14, ¶ 82. “In June 2017, Adam Glickman, secretary treasurer of SEIU 775, sent [Plaintiff] a letter . . . admit[ing] . . . the electronic signature on the card [did not match Plaintiff's] other signatures on file[.]” ECF No. 39 at 14-15, ¶ 83. The letter included a check to Plaintiff returning $358.94. ECF No. 39 at 15, ¶ 83. “[I]n July 2017, SEIU 775 sent a second letter to [Plaintiff] returning an additional $51.12.” ECF No. 39 at 15, ¶ 84.

         2. Second series of withdrawals

         The second unauthorized withdrawal began in July 2018 and ended in August 2018. ECF No. 39 at 16, ¶ 92. As with the first series of withdrawals, Plaintiff had previously opted out, so she had to affirmatively opt in for dues to be legitimately withdrawn. Plaintiff denies authorizing the withdrawals and, at the time of filing suit, she did not know why the 2018 withdrawals began.

         Despite her previous experience with the third-party contractor not being able to help, Plaintiff again contacted them to stop the withdrawals to no avail. ECF Nos. 39 at 16-17, ¶¶ 93-95; 59-2 at 2, ¶ 4. According to Plaintiff, her “counsel informed SEIU 775 of the withholdings” and the “[d]ues withholdings ceased promptly thereafter.” Notably, Plaintiff attests that “[i]n both instances, in order to have the deductions stop, [she] had to contact [the third-party contractor] and SEIU 775 numerous times, but did not receive adequate assistance on any of these occasions.” ECF No. 59-2 at 2, ¶ 4. She also avers that she did not receive assistance from Defendants in ceasing dues deduction, but she does not allege that she contacted Defendants. ECF No. 59-2 at 2, ¶ 6.

         Although Plaintiff was not aware of why the second series of withdrawals began, Defendants have provided an explanation. According to Defendants, beginning on June 28, 2018 - the day after the Supreme Court determined members must affirmatively opt in for dues to be withdrawn - Defendants implemented a temporary procedure for determining whether individual providers had given affirmative consent for withdrawals and began processing withdrawals accordingly. See ECF No. 51 at 5-7, ¶¶ 18-30. The process was not without error, however, as Defendants determined that “there were approximately 87 individual providers who likely had dues deductions taken without affirmative consent” as a result of discrepancies in the lists received from SEIU 775; this included the ...


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