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Sixth Circuit Adds its Voice to the post-Janus Chorus: Good-Faith Defense Applies to Union “Fair-Share” Fees

On Monday, the Sixth Circuit joined the Seventh and Ninth Circuits by ruling that the so-called “good faith” defense bars § 1983 claims that seek to recover “fair-share” fees collected under valid state law.

In the Supreme Court’s 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, the Court overruled a 1977 decision and held fair-share fees violated non-union members’ speech rights “by compelling them to subsidize private speech on matters of substantial public concern.”

An Ohio school teacher, Sarah Lee, relied on Janus to file a § 1983 suit against the Avon Lake Education Association. She sought to recoup the fair-share fees she had been required to pay as a non-member. But the district court recognized the union’s good-faith defense and dismissed.

A unanimous Sixth Circuit panel (Griffin op., Daughtrey, Clay) affirmed. Even assuming Janus applies retroactively, the union, as a private actor, could assert the affirmative defense that it acted in good faith: it followed Ohio law in effect at the time, which was consistent with prevailing Supreme Court precedent specifically allowing for fair-share fees.  The Seventh and Ninth Circuits, plus numerous district courts, have come down in the same way. The Sixth, according to Judge Griffin, “now add[s] our voice to that chorus.”

This post is brought to you thanks to the help of friend-of-the-blog Kirk Mattingly, EIC of the University of Louisville Law Journal.

© Copyright 2020 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP


About this Author

Benjamin Beaton Litigation Attorney Squire Patton Boggs Law Firm

Benjamin Beaton is a litigator who handles complex appeals, trial proceedings and regulatory disputes. He has authored more than a dozen briefs at the US Supreme Court, where he previously served as a law clerk, and drafted dozens more in the federal courts of appeal and state supreme courts. In trial proceedings across the country, Ben has tried cases, briefed and argued dispositive motions, defended and examined high-profile witnesses and negotiated settlements. Outside the courtroom, Ben has drawn on his governmental experience to counsel a Fortune 100 CEO appearing before a US Senate...