KEENAN et al v. INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF MACHINISTS AND AEROSPACE WORKERS et al
ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS re 7 Motion to Dismiss By JUDGE GEORGE Z. SINGAL. (lrc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
MICHAEL A. KEENAN, et al.,
INTERNATIONAL ASSOC. OF,
MACHINISTS & AEROSPACE
WORKERS, et al.
) Docket no. 2:10-cv-377-GZS
ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS
Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Docket # 7). As explained herein,
the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the Motion.
A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) tests the “legal sufficiency” of a complaint. Gomes v. Univ. of Me. Sys., 304 F. Supp.
2d 117, 120 (D. Me. 2004). The general rules of pleading require a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This short and
plain statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations
and alteration omitted).
However, “[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual
matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, — U.S. — , 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “The
plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer
possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (internal quotation omitted). Thus, faced
with a motion to dismiss, the Court must examine the factual content of the complaint and
determine whether those facts support a reasonable inference “that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Id. In conducting this examination of the complaint, the Court must accept
as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in
Plaintiff’s favor. Gargano v. Liberty Intern. Underwriters, Inc., 572 F.3d 45, 48 (1st Cir. 2009).
However, the Court need not accept “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action,
supported by mere conclusory statements.”
Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
sufficient from insufficient pleadings, which is a “context-specific task,” the Court must “draw
on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 1950 (internal citation omitted).
Defendant International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (“IAM”) is an
international labor organization governed by its Grand Lodge. At all relevant times, Defendant
R. Thomas Buffenbarger served as the President of IAM’s Grand Lodge. Defendant Lynn
Tucker served as the Grand Lodge General Vice President of the Eastern Territory. Defendant
William Rudis served as a Grand Lodge representative reporting to Tucker and Buffenbarger.
Plaintiffs are members of Local Lodge S6 (“Local S6”), one of hundreds of local lodges
in the IAM. Local S6 represents approximately 3,400 employees of Bath Iron Works. Plaintiff
Michael A. Keenan was elected president of Local S6 in 2001 and then re-elected in 2004, 2007
and 2008. Plaintiff Troy E. Osgood was elected vice president of Local S6 in 2001 and then reelected in 2004, 2007 and 2008. Plaintiff Michael Cyr was elected chief steward of Local S6 in
2001 and similarly re-elected in 2004, 2007 and 2008.
The case marks the latest chapter in an ongoing dispute between Plaintiffs and
Defendants.1 The pending Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Title I of the Labor
Management Reporting and Disclosure Act (“LMRDA”), 29 U.S.C. § 401 et seq. (Count 1). As
clarified through the motion papers now before the Court, this claimed violation occurred in
connection with disciplinary charges that IAM brought against each of the Plaintiffs on or about
September 20, 2008.
Plaintiffs claim that the disciplinary charges were brought “for the purpose of retaliating
against [Plaintiffs] and disciplining them in reprisal for exercising the rights guaranteed under
[LMRDA].” (Compl. (Docket # 1) ¶ 38.) The Complaint alleges all three Plaintiffs criticized
and disagreed with the positions taken by the Grand Lodge on numerous issues. (Id. ¶¶ 10-14.)
In particular, the Complaint alleges a disagreement regarding the IAM’s Machinists NonPartisan League Education Fund (“MNPL Fund”), a fund set up by IAM to support political
campaigns. This political fund was, by law, voluntary. Under Keenan’s leadership, Local S6
had declined to pay into the MNPL Fund. Following the February 12, 2008 special election,
Tucker called Keenan (who had just been re-elected to the Local S6 President position) and
requested a meeting. At the meeting that followed on February 17, 2008, Tucker insisted that
Local S6 must make payments to IAM’s MNPL Fund. Tucker made clear to Keenan that he
would not tolerate Local S6’s continued refusal to contribute to the MNPL Fund. In response,
Keenan indicated that he would not approve a contribution by Local S6. (Id. ¶ 29.) Following
this meeting, Tucker met with other Grand Lodge representatives, including Rudis, and “set in
The previous iteration of the parties’ dispute is documented in a prior opinion by this Court. See Keenan v. Int’l
Ass’n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (“Keenan I”), 632 F. Supp. 2d 63 (D. Me 2009) (granting defendants
summary judgment on claims related to the imposition of a trusteeship).
motion a plan to remove [Plaintiffs] from office” by bringing disciplinary charges that would bar
Plaintiffs from acting as elected officers of Local S6. (Id. ¶ 30.)
Defendants subsequently removed Plaintiffs from their elected positions at Local S6
when Local S6 was placed in trusteeship by Buffenbarger around April 2008.2 Plaintiffs then
challenged the trusteeship by filing a lawsuit with this Court on May 12, 2008. See Keenan v.
Int’l Ass’n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, et al., D. Me Docket No. 2:08-cv-147-GZS.
Thereafter, in September 2008, Plaintiffs were notified that IAM was pursuing disciplinary
charges against each of them.
Buffenbarger and Tucker allegedly “hand-picked three Grand Lodge employees or
representatives to conduct the disciplinary proceedings.” (Id. ¶ 35.) “The chairman of the
committee [that heard the disciplinary proceedings] was a staff member employed directly in the
Grand Lodge’s office in Washington. The committee was supported by the Grand Lodge’s staff
attorneys, and the attorneys and the defendants controlled the proceedings.” (Id.) Plaintiffs assert
that the “sole purpose” of the disciplinary proceeding “was to find a pretext to hold [Plaintiffs]
guilty of the false charges and to impose a penalty disqualifying them from running for office
again.” (Id. ¶ 36.)
In connection with the disciplinary proceedings, Plaintiffs allege that they “were not told
the specifics of the charges against them” prior to the hearing nor were they “given a reasonable
opportunity to prepare their defenses.” (Id. ¶¶ 39 & 41.) At the disciplinary hearing, Plaintiffs
complain that the hearing officers were not impartial, that they were denied the opportunity to
“confront their accusers, examine and cross examine witnesses, and submit documentary and
testimonial evidence.” (Id. ¶¶ 40 & 42.) Following these allegedly flawed hearings, each of the
As detailed in the Court’s prior order, this trusteeship was reviewed pursuant to IAM’s internal procedures and, as
a result Buffenbarger decided to continue the trusteeship in August 2008. See Keenan I, 632 F. Supp. 2d at 67-69.
Plaintiffs was found guilty of one or more of the disciplinary charges on August 6, 2009. As a
result of the guilty findings, each was disqualified from running for a Local S6 office for a period
of time. Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleges that the period of disqualification imposed on each of them
was “excessively long” and that other union members “who actually violated legitimate rules
were punished more lightly.” (Id. ¶ 44.)
Before delving into the primary issue of whether the pending Complaint meets the
required plausibility standard, the Court clarifies what informs its view of the alleged facts.
Defendants have urged the Court to consider “binding rulings” from the prior summary judgment
opinion. (Defs. Mot. to Dismiss (Docket # 7) at 15; see also Defs. Reply (Docket # 18) at 6
n.4.) However, at this stage, the Court declines to rely upon the undisputed facts laid out in
Keenan I to supplement or supplant the factual allegations contained in the Complaint. See
Keenan I, 632 F. Supp. 2d at 66-68. Defendants are certainly free to affirmatively defend the
pending claim based on res judicata or collateral estoppel, if they believe that either doctrine has
some application to this matter. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c) (listing res judicata and estoppel as
affirmative defenses). These doctrines are the sole means by which the Court will determine that
any legal or factual ruling from Keenan I is “binding” on this case. In the Court’s assessment,
Defendants’ Motion does not present a developed preclusion defense as to Plaintiffs’ disciplinary
action claims. Thus, the Court declines Defendants’ invitation to consider certain prior factual
findings “binding” in conjunction with the pending Motion to Dismiss.
Likewise, Plaintiffs invite the Court to consider two letters, which they attach as exhibits
to their Response (See July 30, 2009 Letters to Buffenbarger (Docket #s 17-1 & 17-2).) The
Court has not considered these letters. In the Court’s view, consideration of these documents
would require the Court to convert the pending Motion to a motion for summary judgment and
then allow a reasonable opportunity for further supplementing the record.3 See Fed. R. Civ. P.
Left with the well-pled factual allegations and the reasonable inferences that may be
drawn in Plaintiffs’ favor, the Court considers whether the Complaint states a plausible claim for
violation of Title I of the LMRDA, which generally “provides a Bill of Rights for union
members, guaranteeing equal rights and privileges to nominate and vote for candidates, as well
as freedom of speech and assembly and protection from improper discipline.” McCafferty v.
Local 254, Serv. Employees Int’l Union, AFL-CIO, 186 F.3d 52, 57 (1st Cir. 1999) (citation and
internal punctuation omitted). As Defendants readily accede, the Title I guarantees include
explicit procedural safeguards for members facing disciplinary action.
See 29 U.S.C. §
411(a)(5). In relevant part, LMRDA also protects union members from being suspended or
otherwise disciplined for exercising any rights protected by Title I. See 29 U.S.C. § 529. Based
on the parties’ motion papers, it is clear that both sides agree that Plaintiffs’ One-Count
Complaint can be read as claiming retaliatory discipline in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 529 and due
process violations under 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5).
A. Retaliatory Discipline (29 U.S.C. § 529)
Defendants themselves acknowledge that the Complaint contains factual allegations
regarding “oppositional behavior” by Plaintiffs and more specific allegations regarding the
dispute over the MNPL Fund. (Defs. Mot. (Docket # 7) at 11.) However, Defendants argue that
The Court recognizes that the July 30, 2009 Letters might be deemed to have “effectively merge[d]” into the
Complaint because the Complaint’s allegations are linked to and dependent upon the letters, which appear to
summarize the results of the IAM disciplinary proceedings against Osgood and Cyr. Trans-Spec Truck Service, Inc.
v. Caterpillar Inc., 524 F.3d 315, 321 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Beddall v. State St. Bank & Trust Co., 137 F.3d 12,
16-17 (1st Cir. 1998)). The Court would have been more inclined to adopt this approach if it had been provided a
more complete record that included the similar letter that was presumably created regarding the proceeding against
Plaintiff Keenan. In the absence of a complete set of letters and any authenticating affidavit for the letters, the Court
declines to consider these letters as integral to the Complaint.
“mere temporal proximity” of these events and the disciplinary charges do not make Plaintiffs’
claim of retaliation plausible. (Defs. Mot. at 12.) As Defendants note, Plaintiffs will ultimately
need to prove that retaliation was the but-for cause of the disciplinary action. See, e.g., Serafinn
v. Local 722, 597 F.3d 908, 914-15 (7th Cir. 2010) (concluding that the language of 29 U.S.C. §
529 requires but-for causation). To that end, Defendants urge this Court to follow other district
courts, which have concluded that a plaintiff cannot prevail by “demonstrating nothing more than
proximity between the protected conduct and the union’s action.” Johnson v. Holway, 439 F.
Supp. 2d 180, 228 (D.D.C. 2006); see also Yager v. Cary, 910 F. Supp. 704, 725 (D.D.C. 1995).
Given the difference in procedural posture, Johnson and Yager are inapposite.4 Johnson
examined causation in the context of a bench trial, which required that the plaintiffs prove
causation by a preponderance of the evidence. See Johnson, 439 F. Supp. 2d at 184 & 228-29.
Yager involved a motion for summary judgment requiring those plaintiffs to show a trialworthy
issue regarding causation. Yager, 910 F. Supp. at 712, 725. Faced only with a motion to
dismiss, Plaintiffs’ factual allegations are not required to cross these higher hurdles. Rather, the
Court need only conclude that the specific factual allegations and reasonable inferences drawn
therefrom create a plausible case for but-for causation. In the Court’s assessment, the Complaint
passes the plausibility hurdle allowing the Court to reasonably infer that Defendants pursued
disciplinary action against Plaintiffs in retaliation for exercising their rights under Title I.
B. Procedural Due Process Violation (29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5))
To the extent Plaintiffs’ Complaint can be read as alleging violations of the procedural
safeguards contained in 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5), Defendants argue that these factual allegations
Likewise, Commer v. McEntee, 121 F. Supp. 2d 388 (S.D.N.Y. 2000), involved the denial of a motion for
preliminary injunction. See id. at 399. Thus, the Court’s statement that there was “no connection” shown between
the alleged punishment and the union member’s exercise of free speech rights bolstered the conclusion that the
union member did not have a substantial likelihood of success. See id. at 398.
similarly do not satisfy the pleading standards of Iqbal. In relevant part, the Complaint alleges
that Plaintiffs “were not told of the specifics of the charges against them before trial” (Compl.
¶39), “were not given reasonable opportunity to prepare their defenses” (Id. ¶41), and “were not
given a fair hearing before impartial hearing officers.” (Id. ¶40.) Title I of LMRDA explicitly
requires that a union member facing disciplinary charges must be: “(A) served with written
specific charges; (B) given a reasonable time to prepare his defense; [and] (C) afforded a full and
fair hearing.” 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5). Juxtaposing the just-quoted language of the statute against
the quoted portions of the Complaint, there would appear to be nothing more than “a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. However, the quoted
language is not the entirety of the Complaint.
As to the “full and fair hearing” safeguard, Plaintiffs’ Complaint includes adequate
allegations that the entire panel was “hand-picked” by Buffenbarger and Tucker and that, as a
result, they “controlled” the proceedings. (Compl. ¶ 35.) The additional allegations regarding the
makeup of the panel adds sufficient factual matter to make Plaintiffs’ claim for violation of 29
U.S.C. § 411(a)(5)(C) plausible. See Knight v. International Longshoremen’s Ass’n., 457 F.3d
331, 342-43 (3rd Cir. 2006) (explaining that a “full and fair hearing” requires an “unbiased
committee” and that even a single biased decisionmaker on a three-person committee can
“constitute a denial of the right to a full and fair hearing under the LMRDA.”) (internal quotation
omitted). Thus, Plaintiffs’ claim for violation of 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5) survives the pending
motion to dismiss on this basis alone—even if the Court were to conclude that the factual
allegations related to the other alleged due process violations in 29 U.S.C. § 411(a)(5)(A) & (B)
were formulaic and, therefore, insufficiently pled.5
Viewing the entire Complaint in context, the Court would likely conclude that Plaintiffs also have adequately
alleged that Defendants did not comply with the requirement of providing them the written specific charges. See 29
C. Claims Against Individual Defendants Buffenbarger & Rudis
Defendants alternatively seek dismissal of the Complaint as to two of the individually
named Defendants, Buffenbarger and Rudis. In the Court’s assessment, Plaintiffs’ Complaint
contains adequate factual allegations regarding Buffenbarger’s role in the disciplinary
proceedings, which are the focus of Plaintiffs’ claim. (See Compl. ¶¶ 16, 19 & 35.) However,
the Court finds no similarly sufficient factual allegations as to Rudis. Therefore, the Court
concludes that Plaintiffs’ have failed to state a claim as to Defendant Rudis only.
Therefore, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Motion to
Dismiss (Docket # 7). The Complaint shall be DISMISSED as to William Rudis but remain
pending as to all other Defendants.
/s/ George Z. Singal
United States District Judge
Dated this 22nd day of September, 2011.
U.S.C. § 411(a)(5)(A). Given the plain nature of this requirement, it is hard for the Court to imagine what “further
factual enhancement” Plaintiffs could provide beyond simply asserting that the required writing was not provided.
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007).
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