Care providers ask High Court to overturn ruling denying refunds of $32 million in forced union fees seized from 80,000 providers in violation of First Amendment
Washington, D.C. (February 25, 2019) – Today, with free legal aid from National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation staff attorneys, a group of Illinois homecare providers filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case in which providers seek the return of more than $32 million in union fees seized by SEIU officials in a scheme the High Court already declared unconstitutional.
The case, Riffey v. Pritzker, is a continuation of the 2014 Foundation-won Supreme Court Harris v. Quinn case. In Harris, the Court ruled that a scheme imposed by the State of Illinois, in which more than 80,000 individual homecare providers were forced to pay union fees out of the state funding they receive, violated the providers’ First Amendment rights.
In 2014, the case was re-designated Riffey v. Rauner (now Riffey v. Pritzker) and remanded to the District Court to settle remaining issues, including whether or not tens of thousands of providers who had not joined the union would receive refunds of the money taken from them unlawfully by the SEIU.
In June 2016, the District Court denied a motion for class certification. The ruling allowed the SEIU to keep more than $32 million in unconstitutional fees confiscated from union nonmembers who had not consented to their money being taken for union fees. Foundation staff attorneys appealed that ruling to the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, which also denied class certification.
In 2018, Foundation staff attorneys successfully petitioned the Supreme Court to review and reverse the Appeals Court’s ruling. The High Court did so the day after it issued the landmark Janus v. AFSCME decision, ordering the Appeals Court to reconsider the case in light of the Janus ruling, which struck down public sector forced union fees as violating the First Amendment.
In Janus, which was argued by the same National Right to Work Foundation staff attorney who is lead counsel in Riffey, the Supreme Court clarified that any union fees taken without an individual’s prior informed consent violate the First Amendment. That standard supports the Riffey plaintiffs’ claim that all providers who had money seized without their consent are entitled to refunds.
However, on December 6 a three-judge panel of the Appeals Court affirmed its previous ruling that no class can be certified for the more than 80,000 providers whose money was seized in violation of their First Amendment rights. The majority opinion, signed by two of the judges, denied class on the grounds that each individual homecare provider would have to prove that he or she objected to the taking of the fees when the seizures occurred.
In their petition for certiorari asking the Supreme Court to hear their case, the providers argue that Janus requires that the lower court’s class certification order be reversed. Foundation staff attorneys point out that the Janus precedent does not require a worker to prove his or her subjective opposition to forced union fees but held that the First Amendment is violated anytime union dues or fees are seized without clear affirmative consent.
Foundation attorneys argue that the case is of exceptional importance not only because it concerns the return of more than $32 million seized from some 80,000 homecare providers in violation of their First Amendment rights, but also because the lower courts’ ruling sets a precedent that could result in the denial of relief for millions of public employee victims of forced unionism.
“The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled that SEIU had illegally confiscated union dues from thousands of Illinois homecare providers, but those individuals are forced to jump through legal hoops for years to reclaim their money that should never have been taken from them in the first place,” said Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Foundation. “If the Supreme Court agrees to hear Riffey, these providers will be one step closer to relief in their fight to provide homecare – many to their own children in their own homes – without being forced to satiate union bosses’ greed.”
“Already the US Supreme Court has ruled for these providers twice in this case, now one more trip is necessary for the victims of this illegal union scheme to finally have their rights vindicated,” added Mix.
The National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization providing free legal aid to employees whose human or civil rights have been violated by compulsory unionism abuses. The Foundation, which can be contacted toll-free at 1-800-336-3600, assists thousands of employees in more than 250 cases nationwide per year.