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Riley v. Portland Maine Area Local No 458 American Postal Workers Union AFL-CIO

United States District Court, D. Maine

October 5, 2016

JOHN J. RILEY, Plaintiff
v.
PORTLAND MAINE AREA LOCAL NO. 458 AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION AFL-CIO and TIMOTHY DOUGHTY, Defendants

          FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

          D. Brock Hornby United States District Judge

         On September 6 and 7, 2016, I conducted a bench trial. These are my findings of fact and conclusions of law. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a).[1]

         Findings of Fact

         Governing Documents

         1. The American Postal Workers Union (APWU) Constitution and Bylaws provide that Union members who retire “may maintain full membership with all rights of such membership by continuing to pay full per capita taxes to the APWU plus whatever local dues may be required by their local union.” Pl. Ex. 42, art. 3, § 4(b).

         2. For APWU members on the United States Postal Service payroll, all Union dues are subject to automatic payroll deduction and transmitted directly to the Union. No such procedure is available for retirees who are no longer on the Postal Service payroll.

         3. The APWU's national Secretary-Treasurer is directed to “supervise the recording of the membership of each local union.” Id. art. 7, § 1(c).

         4. The APWU Constitution provides that “[r]etirees whose full dues/per capita payments have lapsed due to extenuating circumstances may appeal for reinstatement to the national Secretary-Treasurer [with supporting documents].” The Retirees Department Director then makes a recommendation to the national Secretary-Treasurer, who presents it to the National Executive Board for a final determination. Id. art. 3, § 4(d).

         5. For local elections, each local union establishes its own election committee, and “[t]he election committee shall be responsible for the conduct of local elections and shall decide all controversies arising out of the election processes.” Id. art. 12, § 8.

         6. APWU's Portland Maine Area Local No. 458 (Local 458) has its own Constitution. It provides-almost identically to the national APWU Constitution-that “[r]etired members may retain full membership with all rights of such membership by continuing to pay full per-capita tax to the APWU plus whatever Local dues may be required by this Local.” Pl. Ex. 41, art. III, § 1(C). It also provides that “[r]etired members may retain partial membership by paying three (3) dollars per year per-capita tax to the National Union. Such retirees shall have neither voice nor vote.” Id. It has no provisions concerning failure to pay dues.

         7. On the amount of dues, Local 458's Constitution provides:

The dues for each Active member shall be Eleven dollars and Ninety-Seven cents ($11.97) per pay period effective November 27, 1993, plus any future increases by the National Union. The dues of each Honorary member shall be Seven dollars ($7.00) per pay period effective April 13, 1996, plus any future increases by the National Union. The dues of each Retired member shall be Three dollars ($3.00) per year payable in advance.

Id. art. VII, § 1.

         8. Local 458's Constitution provides that enumerated officers “shall be reimbursed the payment of dues.” Id. art. V, § 1 (General President); § 2 (General Vice-President); § 3 (General Recording Secretary); § 4 (General Treasurer); § 5 (Clerk Craft Director); § 6 (Assistant Clerk Craft Director); § 8 (Motor Vehicle Craft Director); § 10 (Human Relations Representative); § 11 (Legislative Aide); § 12 (APWU Health Plan Representative, using variant language “will have his/her dues refunded.”).

         Chronology

         9. The plaintiff John J. Riley retired from the Postal Service on January 31, 2013. Until then he had been a member in good standing of both Local 458 and the national APWU for many years and had served in several leadership roles for Local 458, including that of President.

         10. Earlier that month Riley emailed both the Secretary and the Treasurer of Local 458 stating that he intended to remain an active member. In March he submitted paperwork to the APWU national office electing full retiree membership. He also emailed Local 458's President, the defendant Timothy Doughty, that he intended to keep full retiree membership.

         11. After his retirement Riley ultimately arranged to pay his national dues directly to the APWU national offices. He received and paid quarterly invoices from the APWU for payment of national dues.

         12. There was confusion or dispute within Local 458 over what local dues retirees must pay to remain active members. Interpreting the language “whatever local dues may be required by their local union, ” the defendant Doughty believed that retirees must pay the same local dues as Local 458 required of active members. On the other hand, Local 458's Treasurer Gilchrest believed and informed Riley in 2013 that Riley owed no local dues because Local 458 had never required retirees to pay local dues. Pl. Ex. 5. Gilchrest based his 2013 determination upon research into the available Local 458 records. But before Riley's retirement, there had been only one other retiree who maintained full membership, Wayne Poland.[2] He had not paid dues after retirement, but there were varying explanations. At one point while Riley was President, the membership of Local 458 voted that Poland should not have to pay dues because of his many past contributions to the Union. As a result, at that point Local 458 paid Poland's national dues. In 2004, Local 458 revoked that waiver by vote of the membership. Def. Ex. 1. For a time, another member paid Poland's national dues. Poland never paid any local dues as such. For many periods he held an officership position where such dues would have been reimbursable/refundable in any event. Doughty believed that it would have been pointless to require Poland to pay local dues only to have Local 458 turn around and write a check to Poland in the same amount. Pl. Ex. 33. Riley (a past President), on the other hand, said that Local 458 treated Poland as never having to pay local dues as a retiree at all. He also testified that if there is a right to reimbursement or refund, a retired member must first pay the dues and then be reimbursed, because the reimbursement is for services rendered and therefore is taxable income to the member unlike a dues waiver. Doughty agreed on the tax issue. A Local 458 Executive Board member, Donald Parks, testified that at one time he believed that under both Constitutions, the Local membership could vote to have retirees pay whatever Local 458 decided-for example, half the active dues or no dues at all. But he had learned that his interpretation was wrong after talking to “most of our national executive board members, including president Dimondstein, ” and now believes that local dues for retirees must be the same as for active members on account of the national Constitution. Poland at one time maintained that Local 458's Constitution required him to pay only $3 per year to remain a full retiree member. At various times Doughty and Gilchrest expressed the view that Local 458's Constitution did not adequately address the issue. Pl. Exs. 3, 5. Change in the Constitution would require the membership to consider the issue. Pl. Exs. 5, 41 art. XI. All the relevant actors agreed that in any event the retirees Poland and Riley should be treated equally. Pl. Exs. 3, 4; Def. Ex. 45. Doughty also told Riley in 2013 that there was no rush to resolve the issue. Pl. Ex. 4.

         13. Riley told Doughty on March 13, 2013 that he would provide a $175 check for unspecified dues. Riley did not in fact provide that check.[3] Later, however, in January 2014, aware of potential controversy over retiree payment of local dues, he did provide Local 458's Treasurer Gilchrest a local dues check for $350 so that no one could challenge his eligibility in the upcoming 2014 union election in which Riley planned to be a candidate for certain Local 458 positions. Pl. Exs. 5, 6. Gilchrest never cashed that check. He believed that retired members had never paid Local 458 dues. Pl. Ex. 5.

         14. In December 2013, Riley began filing election challenges regarding the upcoming Local 458 election. At least some of these, including the one that would later become the subject of a Department of Labor lawsuit, were against the campaign of the defendant Doughty for President. Riley was running for Vice-President, but he was running on a joint ticket where his running mate opposed Doughty.

         15. In February 2014, Riley filed still more election challenges.

         16. Sometime in mid-February 2014, the APWU sent Riley a “National Per Capita Dues Invoice.” Pl. Ex. 9. It described dues obligations for all four quarters of 2014. For the first quarter, on the line with the date “03/31/2014, ” it listed a “Total Due Now” of $24.18, and stated at the bottom of the Invoice “You MUST pay the ‘Total Due Now' amount to remain a member in good standing.” Id.[4] Riley interpreted the notice to mean that he must pay the $24.18 by March 31-still several weeks away-to remain in good standing.

         17. At 5:28 a.m. on March 1, 2014, someone from Local 458 checked online the APWU's record of active cash paying members, which showed that Riley was paid only through February 28, 2014. Pl. Ex. 8. Doughty testified that he saw the record that same day, but the evidence does not establish who made the early morning inquiry.

         18. On March 12, the day before the election ballots were to be counted, Doughty-as a result of what he had learned from the national office-notified Local 458's election committee that Riley was not a member in good standing because he had failed to pay dues. The election committee chair, Sally Welch, phoned Riley to inform him that he was allegedly delinquent on his national dues. Riley immediately called the national Secretary-Treasurer, Elizabeth Powell. She allowed Riley to use a credit card that very day to come current on his national dues and pay future national dues through June 30, 2014. Thereafter on that same day, March 12, the national Secretary-Treasurer emailed President Doughty, who in turn forwarded her email to Local 458's election committee chair, stating that Riley was fully paid on his national dues through June 2014. Pl. Ex. 10. Local 458's election committee then determined that Riley was a member in good standing for purposes of the election. There was no reference to Local 458 dues during these March 12 events and communications.

         19. When the ballots were counted on March 13, Doughty was elected President and Riley lost his Vice-Presidential contest.

         20. Riley presided at the April 5-6, 2014 state convention as State President, with his term expiring at the end of the meeting. At that convention, Poland was elected State Treasurer for the year ahead. The offices of State President and State Treasurer do not qualify for dues reimbursement under Local 458's Constitution, see ¶ 8 above.

         21. The national APWU rejected Riley's election challenges, but the Department of Labor decided to pursue one of them. On April 30, Doughty asked Local 458's Secretary to communicate with the Department of Labor's assigned investigator about that election challenge. Pl. Ex. 21.

         22. Thereafter, things began to heat up.

         23. On May 7, 2014, Doughty wrote to APWU national Secretary-Treasurer Powell, challenging Riley's good-standing status and insisting that Riley's national membership had lapsed as of March 1, 2014. Def. Ex. 11. Doughty believed that if Riley was not a member in good standing, he could not pursue his election challenges. Def. Ex. 14. The national Secretary-Treasurer did not respond to Doughty.

         24. On May 9, Doughty reported to the members (“Membership Update”) that Riley and his running-mate “have filed a total of 6 challenges to the last local election. Their challenges have all been rejected by the Election Committee. I have not been provided any details or a copy of their challenges, but I expect that both have appealed to the National APWU and will continue to appeal to the Department Of Labor as well. . . . The local elections have cost the local approximately $5, 000.00 so far.” Pl. Ex. 22.

         25. There was testimony about a May 9 Union meeting, [5] but no minutes were provided and Doughty testified that he could recall no vote being taken. Doughty testified that at the meeting there was great controversy over Wayne Poland having an officership position (State Treasurer) while not paying Local 458 dues, because his entitlement to local dues reimbursement as an officer expired April 1. But in his May 9 Report to Membership, Doughty was more restrained, stating: “Members have raised concerns of local union dues not being paid by retirees while retaining a voice and vote. We are planning to address how the constitutional language applies and to address any conflicts. There is a bit of disagreement regarding how this was handled in the past, or at least how the rules were thought to have been historically applied.” Id.

         26. On May 11, 2014, Doughty engaged in an email interchange with the APWU's Northeast Regional Coordinator that showed that Doughty was much more exercised. He stated:

I have two cash pay retiree's; Wayne Poland & John Riley. Neither have paid their local share of dues for a long time, and I never really addressed it. A member raised the issue at the General Membership Meeting last Thursday and basically the policy has been applied loosely, (especially with Mr. Riley). Wayne was a local Health Plan Rep (and would have gotten his dues returned) and he was also the State Sec/Treasurer. Riley was the State President. Now Wayne is still the State Sec/Treas and Riley is still a pain in my ass. . . . Riley and Taddeo are still challenging the last Local Elections with the Department of Labor and there are five more challenges pending. The election has cost the Local about $5k so far and it came up at the ...

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