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Porch-Clark v. Engelhart

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 11, 2013

MARIA PORCH-CLARK and MARY L. CORNER, Plaintiffs,
v.
JACKIE ENGELHART, DAVE BASKIN, and LINDA RETEL, Defendants

Page 929

Maria Porch-Clark, Chairperson 2011 NWIAL Election Committee, Plaintiff, Pro se, Napverville, IL.

Mary Corner, NWIAL, Local 7140 President, Plaintiff, Pro se, Bellwood, IL.

For Jackie Engelhart, Dave Baskin, Linda Retel, NWIAL Local 7140, Defendants: N. Elizabeth Reynolds, LEAD ATTORNEY, Angie Cowan Hamada, Allison, Slutsky & Kennedy, P.C., Chicago, IL.

OPINION

Page 930

Gary Feinerman, United States District Judge.

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Maria Porch-Clark and Mary L. Corner filed this suit against Jackie Engelhart, Dave Baskin, and Linda Retel in the Circuit Court of DuPage County, Illinois. Doc. 1-1. After removing the case to federal court, Doc. 1, Defendants moved to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), Doc. 7. Plaintiffs opposed dismissal and moved to remand the case to state court. Doc. 23. The motion to remand is denied and the motion to dismiss is granted.

Background

This suit is a sequel to Corner v. Engelhart, No. 11 C 5183 (N.D. Ill. filed July 29, 2011). Like this suit, Corner v. Engelhart arose from an April 2011 election in which Corner ran against Engelhart for President of Northwest Illinois Area Local 7140, American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO (" NWIAL" ). The background is recounted in Corner v. Engelhart, 2011 WL 4688723, at *1-2 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 4, 2011), and may be summarized as follows.

After the American Arbitration Association certified Engelhart as the election's winner, Corner filed a protest with the three-member NWIAL Election Committee, arguing that Engelhart was ineligible to run for and serve as President. Porch-Clark, who at the time was Chairperson of the NWIAL Election Committee, also protested Engelhart's election; this maneuver led the Election Committee's other two members and designated alternate to disqualify Porch-Clark from sitting on the Committee for that election cycle. The Election Committee then rejected Corner's and Porch-Clark's protests on the merits, finding that Engelhart was indeed eligible to serve as President; the Committee added for good measure that Porch-Clark's protest was untimely. Corner appealed those decisions to the National Election Appeals Committee of the American Postal Workers Union (" APWU" ), the NWIAL's parent organization, arguing that Porch-Clark had been wrongfully removed from the NWIAL Election Committee and that

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Engelhart was ineligible to serve as President. The National Election Appeals Committee upheld the NWIAL Election Committee's decisions.

In the meantime, Porch-Clark wrote two letters, one to Corner and the other to Engelhart, invoking what Porch-Clark called her " authority" to declare Engelhart ineligible to run for and serve as President and to declare Corner the election's winner. Emboldened by Porch-Clark's action, Corner sued Engelhart in federal court, asking the court to " enforce" Porch-Clark's " decision" and to order Engelhart to vacate the NWIAL's building and to turn over its books, papers, and records. Corner, No. 11 C 5183, Doc. 1 (July 29, 2011). The case was dismissed for want of subject matter jurisdiction. As the court explained, Title IV of the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosures Act (" LMRDA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 481-483, provides the exclusive vehicle for challenging the results of a union election, requiring the challenger to exhaust the remedies available under the union's constitution and by-laws, then to file a complaint with the Secretary of Labor asking the Secretary to investigate the election and bring a civil action against the union to challenge the election results, and then, if the Secretary does not find probable cause to believe that the union violated federal law and thus does not sue the union, to seek judicial review of the Secretary's decision in federal district court. Corner, 2011 WL 4688723, at *2-3 (citing Calhoon v. Harvey, 379 U.S. 134, 140, 85 S.Ct. 292, 13 L.Ed.2d 190 (1964); Corner v. Solis, 380 F. App'x 532, 535 (7th Cir. 2010); Corner v. U.S. Dep't of Labor, 219 Fed.Appx. 492, 493 (7th Cir. 2007); Dole v. Local 1942, Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO, 870 F.2d 368 (7th Cir. 1989)). The court held that because Corner's complaint was simply a challenge to the union's decision declaring Engelhart the duly elected NWIAL President, the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Corner, 2011 WL 4688723, at *4.

In so holding, the court rejected Corner's argument that she was merely seeking to enforce Porch-Clark's " decision" that Corner was President rather than to challenge the union's contrary decision:

Corner attempts to avoid the [the LMRDA's] jurisdictional bar by characterizing her suit not as one challenging the results of the election, but as one seeking to enforce the victory granted her by Porch-Clark's letters of July 26, 2011. Corner's premise is that Porch-Clark had the power to declare Engelhart ineligible to hold office and make Corner the victor. That premise is incorrect. The NWIAL Election Committee ousted Porch-Clark, replacing her with the alternate, due to the conflict of interest created by Porch-Clark's filing an election protest. In her appeal to the National Election Appeals Committee, Corner challenged not just the NWIAL Election Committee's decision that Engelhart was eligible, but also its replacement of Porch-Clark by the alternate. Doc. 21-1 at 2-7; Doc. 21-2; Doc. 21-3. The National Election Appeals Committee's written decision plainly shows that it rejected both of Corner's challenges. Doc. 13-1 at 41 (" After careful review of all documents and evidence provided, the NEAC upholds the decision of the Local Election Committee and denies your election appeal in its entirety. " ) (emphasis added). Thus, according to the union authority charged with making such decisions, Porch-Clark had no power to consider or resolve protests involving NWIAL's April 2011 elections. The letters from Porch-Clark declaring Corner the winner and Engelhart the loser have as much weight as letters written by any person selected at random from the Elmhurst, Illinois telephone book--that is, no weight.

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Corner did not appeal the dismissal of her suit.

In the meantime, as the court had suggested during a hearing in Corner v. Engelhart, see Corner, 2011 WL 4688723, at *3 n.*, Corner filed a complaint with the Secretary under 29 U.S.C. § 482 regarding the union's rejection of her election challenge. The Secretary found that Engelhart was eligible to hold office at the NWIAL, and therefore declined to bring a civil action against the union. Doc. 1-2 at 22, 24-26. As permitted by Dunlop v. Bachowski, 421 U.S. 560, 95 S.Ct. 1851, 44 L.Ed.2d 377 (1975), Corner sought judicial review of the Secretary's decision. Corner v. Solis, No. 11 C 8652 (N.D. Ill. filed Dec. 6, 2011). The district court granted summary judgment to the Secretary. 2012 WL 1969423 (N.D. Ill. June 1, 2012) (Leinenweber, J.); Corner, No. 11 C 8652, Doc. 62 (Aug. 17, 2012) (Leinenweber, J.). Corner's appeal of that judgment remains pending. Corner v. Solis, No. 12-2565 (7th Cir.).

Corner also brought a second suit, the suit now before the court, in the Circuit Court of DuPage County. Doc. 1-1. Other than adding one plaintiff (Porch-Clark) and two defendants (Baskin and Retel, the NWIAL's Vice President and Secretary, who can be ignored), the complaint in this case is materially identical to the complaint in Corner v. Engelhart. In language echoing the Corner v. Engelhart complaint, the complaint in this case alleges that: (1) Porch-Clark was Chairperson of the NWIAL Election Committee during the April 2011 election; (2) Porch-Clark " decided" that Engelhart was ineligible to serve as President; and (3) Engelhart refused to comply with Porch-Clark's " decision" to " vacate" her office. Doc. 1-1 at 3-4; compare Corner, No. 11 C 5183, Doc. 1 at 1-2. And like the Corner v. Engelhart complaint, the complaint in this case asks the court " to enforce the Locals's 2011 Election Committee Chairperson Ms. Maria Porch-Clark (Plaintiff) decision," " to enter an order enforcing the removal of Ms. Engelhart ... from office and the union building located at 194 West Lake Street Elmhurst, IL 60126 and to returned all keys to the union building and union rooms ...


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