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Pierson v. National Institute for Labor Relations Research

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

October 17, 2016

DALE PIERSON, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR LABOR RELATIONS RESEARCH AND STAN GREER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Ruben Castillo, Chief Judge United States District Court.

         Dale D. Pierson ("Plaintiff') brings this diversity action against the National Institute for Labor Relations Research ("NILRR") and Stan Greer ("Greer") (collectively, "Defendants") alleging defamation under Illinois law. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl.) Defendants move to dismiss these claims pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6). (R. 21, Mot.) For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Defendants' 12(b)(2) motion to dismiss and dismisses this lawsuit without prejudice to refiling in a court that has personal jurisdiction over Defendants.

         RELEVANT FACTS

         Plaintiff is a resident of Cook County, Illinois, and a licensed attorney currently employed as general counsel to Local 150 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, AFL-CIO, headquartered in Countryside, Illinois. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) Defendant NILRR is "a non-profit research facility analyzing and exposing the inequities of compulsory unionism." (Id. ¶ 4.) NILRR's principal office is in Springfield, Virginia. (Id.) Defendant Stan Greer is a "Senior Research Associate" for NILRR and is a citizen of Virginia. (Id. ¶ 5; see also R. 22-1, Ex. A to Mem., Greer Dec. ¶¶ 2-3; R. 1, Notice of Removal ¶ 5.)

         Plaintiffs claims arise out of remarks made during the course of a series of lawsuits challenging Indiana's "Right-to-Work" law. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl.) Shortly after the State of Indiana passed its Right-to-Work law in 2012, Plaintiff served as lead counsel in a lawsuit challenging the law. Chief Judge Philip Simon of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana described Right-to-Work legislation as:

The "Right to Work" label has a nice sound to it, but is misleading. What these types of laws actually prohibit are "union security clauses, " which are provisions in collective bargaining agreements between labor unions and employers that condition employment on a worker joining the union. In addition, such clauses permit, as a substitute for union membership, requiring the payment of fees to the union or, in the case of religious objection, making a substitute payment to a charitable organization. So it's not as if prior to the law's enactment certain people in Indiana were prevented from working and the law suddenly gave them the "Right to Work." Rather, it simply prevents forced union membership.

Sweeney v. Daniels, 2:12CV-81-PPS/PRC, 2013 WL 209047, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 17, 2013). The district court dismissed the suit without prejudice because, among other determinations, it found that Indiana's Right-to-Work law is not preempted by the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 158(a)(3), and the plaintiffs had failed to state a valid equal protection claim. Sweeney, 2013 WL 209047, at *6-12. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal. Sweeney v. Pence, 767 F.3d 654 (7th Cir. 2014).

         While the appeal was pending, the union plaintiffs refiled their claims in Lake County, Indiana. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl. ¶ 7.) On September 5, 2013, the Lake County Superior Court denied the State of Indiana's motion to dismiss and "found the Right-to-Work law unconstitutional under ... the Indiana Constitution." (Id.) The Attorney General of Indiana appealed that decision to the Indiana Supreme Court. (Id.) On September 4, 2014, the Indiana Supreme Court heard oral argument in the aforementioned appeal. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff argued before the Indiana Supreme Court in opposition to the appeal. (Id. ¶¶ 6-11.) Ultimately, the Indiana Supreme Court reversed the lower court and held that the Right-to-Work law did not violate the Indiana Constitution. Zoeller v. Sweeney, 19 N.E.3d 749 (Ind. 2014).

         Plaintiffs amended complaint summarizes the arguments he made before the Indiana Supreme Court. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6-11.) Specifically, he argued that Right-to-Work laws are "fundamentally unfair, " that "[f]ederal law requires unions to represent fairly all employees in any given bargaining unit regardless of their membership in the union, " and that the laws allow "individual employees to refuse to pay their fair share of the costs of representing them, allowing such employees to ride for free on the work of the union paid for by their coworkers." (Id. ¶ 8.)

         Shortly after the oral arguments, Defendants posted an article on NILRR's website under the headline "Operating Engineers Union Lawyer Fiat-Out Lies to Indiana Supreme Court, " which reported on the oral argument. (R. 12-1, Ex. A to Second Am. Compl., Post.) The article was authored by Greer. (Id.) The article stated:

How can it be, then, that Dale Pierson, the top lawyer for the other union seeking to overturn Indiana's Right to Work law judicially, told the Indiana Supreme Court on September 4 that union officials' representing only those who join and pay dues "is not a legal possibility"? ...
The answer is, quite simply, that Pierson flat-out lied.

(Id. (emphasis added).) The post also refers to "a petition filed with the National Labor Relations Board seven years ago." (Id.) The post asserts that in this petition, lawyers for the Steelworkers Union "acknowledged without qualification that, under... the [NLRA], in any workplace where no union is recognized as employees' exclusive bargaining agent, employees' right to bargain with their employer through a union remain[s] available and protected, though on a non-exclusive basis, thus applicable to union members only." (Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).) According to Plaintiff, the preceding statement is false because it fails to acknowledge that the 2007 petition was denied by the NLRB. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl. 15.)

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On September 11, 2015, Plaintiff filed his complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. (R. 1, Notice of Removal ¶ 1.) Plaintiff alleges that NILRR's post contained false and defamatory statements and that Defendants published them knowing that they were false. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 14.) On December 9, 2015, Defendants timely filed their notice of removal in this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332, 1441(a), and 1446. (R. 1, Notice of Removal at 1.) On January 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed his amended complaint. (R. 12, Second Am. Compl.) Plaintiff's amended complaint contains one count alleging defamation per se against Defendants under Illinois law. (Id.)

         Defendants filed their motion to dismiss on March 15, 2016, pursuant to Rules 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6), arguing that the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants and that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for defamation. (R. 21, Mot.) The motion is now fully briefed. (R. 26, Resp.; R. 27, Reply.) As explained below, because the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over Defendants, it will not address whether Plaintiff has stated a claim for defamation per se under Rule 12(b)(6).

         LEGAL ...


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