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Sixth Circuit joins “chorus” of appellate decisions applying unions’ good-faith defense in post-Janus litigation

March 5, 2020

In a pair of decisions, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit held that public-employee unions that acted in good-faith compliance with then-binding Supreme Court precedent, both in collecting mandatory fair-share fees from nonmembers and in expending those fees on collective bargaining activities benefiting members and nonmembers alike, could not be compelled to refund the fees to nonmembers when the precedent was later overturned.

The two cases, Lee v. Ohio Education Association, 951 F.3d 386 (6th Cir. 2020), and Ogle v. Ohio Civil Service Employees Local 11, 951 F.3d 794 (6th Cir. 2020), were brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the wake of Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448 (2018). Janus overruled a 41-year-old precedent, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 432 U.S. 209 (1977), which had upheld a state law authorizing the assessment of such fees. The Sixth Circuit examined Section 1983 within “the historical context from which the statute emerged” and held that those acting in good-faith reliance on seemingly valid state laws are shielded from monetary liability, whether characterized as damages, as in Ogle, or as a form of equitable restitution, as in Lee. In doing so, the Sixth Circuit added its voice to what it described as a “chorus” of appellate decisions applying the good-faith defense to post-Janus lawsuits, referring to the Seventh Circuit’s decision following remand in Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 942 F.3d 352 (7th Cir. 2019), and the Ninth Circuit in Danielson v. Inslee, 945 F.3d 1096 (9th Cir. 2019). Bredhoff & Kaiser represented the defendant unions in Lee and Ogle as well as the defendant union on remand to the Seventh Circuit in Janus.