A Chicago federal judge has tossed a union lawyer’s defamation
lawsuit against a leading anti-union advocacy organization, saying the facts of
the case – which centers on the veracity of the lawyer’s statements to the
Indiana Supreme Court during a court fight over the constitutionality of
Indiana’s Right to Work law - indicate
the defamation suit should not have been filed in Illinois.
On Oct. 17, U.S. District Judge Ruben Castillo, who serves as
chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois,
dismissed the lawsuit brought about 13 months earlier by Dale Pierson against
the Springfield, Va.-based National Institute for Labor Relations Research.
“Other than maintaining a publicly accessible website, holding two
meetings in Chicago over the past 30 years, and occasionally receiving emails
and scholarship applications from Illinois residents, Defendants (the NILRR)
have no meaningful and continuing connections to Illinois,” Castillo wrote in
his decision. “In addition, Defendants could not reasonably have expected that
posting an article on their website relating to an Indiana lawsuit would
subject them to a lawsuit in Illinois.”
Castillo granted dismissal without prejudice, saying he would
allow Pierson to refile his lawsuit in a more appropriate court, if he wished.
Castillo did not state which jurisdiction would be the appropriate destination for
the complaint, should Pierson desire to try to press his claims again.
The case landed in federal court in December 2015, after the NILRR
removed it from Cook County Circuit Court, where Pierson had originally filed
his lawsuit three months earlier.
In the complaint, Pierson had alleged the NILRR had wrongly
smeared his reputation by asserting in an article published on the organization’s
website that Pierson “flat-out lied” while representing a group of labor unions
before the Indiana Supreme Court in 2014.
Pierson, who served as general counsel for the International Union
of Operating Engineers Local 150, based in suburban Countryside, focused his
single count of defamation on that September 2014 article, which appeared days
after Pierson had argued the unions’ case before the Indiana high court.
The Indiana Supreme Court had agreed to hear arguments in the case
after a Lake County, Ind., judge had ruled the state’s 2012 Right to Work law
unconstitutional. Judge George
Paras had ruled the law, which would make it illegal to force employees working
in a union shop to pay fees to unions purportedly negotiating on their behalf,
would force unions to represent the workers for free. That, he said, violated a
clause in the Indiana Constitution barring the state from forcing anyone to
provide services for free.
The Indiana Supreme Court vacated
that ruling in November 2014 and upheld the law.
During arguments, however, Pierson
had purported said “federal law requires unions to represent fairly all
employees in any given bargaining unit regardless of their membership in the
union.” So, he argued, it is “not a legal possibility” that unions could
negotiate solely on behalf of their members in a right to work shop. Thus, he
said, by requiring unions to represent even non-dues-paying workers in the shop
when negotiating with employers, the Indiana law unfairly burdens the unions.
Reporting on the arguments, the
NILRR published its article, headlined “Operating Engineers Union Lawyer
Flat-Out Lies to Indiana Supreme Court.” To support its claim, the NILRR
article cited a petition presented by the United Steel Workers union to the
National Labor Relations Board – which the NLRB rejected – which argued unions
have the right to represent workers in shops in which no union has been granted
exclusive bargaining rights.
Pierson said the NILRR article
mischaracterized the unions’ position on the question and omitted key
information to set the filing in its proper context.
The failure to include such important
information, coupled with the assertion Pierson had “lied,” stated as fact, and
not opinion, made the article defamatory and damaging to Pierson’s reputation,
Pierson argued in his lawsuit.
He had sought a combined total of at least $550,000 in actual and
punitive damages for the alleged defamation.
The NILRR moved to dismiss the lawsuit, however, arguing neither
Cook County courts nor Chicago federal courts were the proper place for such an
Pierson responded by arguing the article was targeted at him “in
Illinois,” meaning the case should be tried in Illinois.
Castillo, however, disagreed.
“The article concerned an Indiana law, referenced ‘Hoosier
employees,’ and reported on events that occurred before the Indiana Supreme
Court,” Castillo wrote. “The only connection between Defendants’ allegedly
tortious post and the forum state is that Plaintiff happens to live in
The NILRR was represented in the action by attorneys with the firm
of Nielson, Zehe & Antas, of Chicago.
Pierson represented himself.