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November 9, 2016

Suing an employee organization for an alleged breach of its duty of fair representation

Suing an employee organization for an alleged breach of its duty of fair representation
Morton v Mulgrew, 2016 NY Slip Op 07270, Appellate Division, First Department

Dianna Morton, et al. [Plaintiffs] alleged that the New York United Federation of Teachers, Local 2, AFT, AFL-CIO, [Federation] breached the duty of fair representation to individuals in the collective bargaining unit who resigned from their positions after October 31, 2009 and prior to June 3, 2014 as a result of its negotiating and ratifying a collective bargaining agreement that provided for wage increases retroactive to the date the previous agreement expired, October 31, 2009 which including members who had retired, but not those who resigned, after October 31, 2009 and prior to June 3, June 3, 2014.

Supreme Court granted the Federation’s motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ petition and the Plaintiffs appealed. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

The Appellate Division said that Plaintiffs had noted “the obstacle” to their cause of action in view of the Court of Appeals’ decision in Martin v Curran, 303 NY 276,* but contended the so-called Martin rule was abrogated by the enactment of the Taylor Law in 1967** or by its 1990 amendment codifying the so-called Triboro Doctrine.

In Palladino v CNY Centro, Inc., 23 NY3d 140, explained the Appellate Division, the Court of Appeals noted “this Court held in Martinthat a voluntary unincorporated association ‘is neither a partnership nor a corporation. It is not an artificial person, and has no existence independent of its members’ [and] determined that ‘for better or worse, wisely or otherwise, the Legislature has limited … suits against association officers, whether for breaches of … agreements or for tortious wrongs, to cases where the individual liability of every single member can be alleged and proven.’ Although there were policy considerations that might suggest a different result, the Martin Court was ‘under the command of a plainly stated, plainly applicable statute, uniformly held by this court, for many years, to require pleading and proof of authorization or ratification by all the members of the group.’” 

The Palladinocourt also noted that New York is said to be "in the company of a small minority of states that cling to the common-law requirement that the complaint allege that all of the individual members of the union authorized or ratified the conduct at issue,” citing Mitchell H. Rubenstein, Union Immunity from Suit in New York, 2 NYU JL & Bus 641, 649 [summer 2006]. 

* Civil Service Law §200 et seq.

** Martin v Curran did not involve a union member suing his union but was a libel action in which the president of one union sued another union for libeling him in its newspaper.

The decision is posted on the Internet at:

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