No Constitutional Violation Arising Out Of Internal Union Discipline

Shawn Hallinan and Wayne Harej are police officers employed by the City of Chicago, Illinois. On April 19, 2005, disciplinary charges were filed against Hallinan and Harej pursuant to the Constitution and Bylaws of Lodge 7 of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), exclusive bargaining representative for police officers in Chicago. Hallinan and Harej had run unsuccessfully for office in Lodge 7’s elections, and the disciplinary charges stemmed from their criticism of Lodge 7’s president during the election. Hallinan and Harej had claimed to have uncovered wrongdoing relating to the president’s under-reporting of his salary on a report filed with the Illinois Attorney General and discussed this wrongdoing publicly during their campaigns.

Lodge 7 suspended Hallinan and Harej from its membership and barred them from union meetings prior to a hearing on the charges. After an internal hearing, a panel recommended that Hallinan and Harej be expelled from Lodge 7. The two appealed through to the state board of the Illinois Fraternal Order of Police, which accepted the panel’s recommendation.

When Hallinan and Harej’s appeals were concluded, Lodge 7 requested, without their consent and over their objections, that the City make Hallinan and Harej fair-share payers. Hallinan and Harej then filed a federal court lawsuit, alleging that Local 7’s actions violated their constitutional rights.

To successfully assert a constitutional violation, Hallinan and Harej were obliged to establish that some sort of “state action” had adversely impacted them. The constitutional rights that Hallinan and Harej were asserting only barred governmental bodies from taking certain actions; private parties are generally unregulated by the Constitution.

Hallinan and Harej alleged that requisite “state action” was present because of the City’s compliance with Local 7’s request that they be converted to fair-share members. A federal court rejected their claims.

As put by the Court, “to accept Hallinan and Harej’s assertion would be to find state action in any union action against an employee by virtue of the existence of a collective bargaining agreement with a public entity. As the FOP argues, the assertion would eviscerate the distinction between public and private actors that was intended for claims under Section 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. Governmental regulation or participation in some affairs of unions does not consequently make every union activity so imbued with governmental action that it can be subjected to constitutional restraints.”

The Court also observed that “even if the City were to resume deducting full dues from Hallinan and Harej, they would not become members of Lodge 7 because the City has no control over whom Lodge 7 accepts as members. Thus, the City did not cause Hallinan and Harej injury or otherwise encourage Lodge 7’s decision to expel them, and Lodge 7’s expulsion of them fails to constitute state action.”

Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police, Chicago Lodge 7, 2006 WL 2494743 (N.D.Ill. 2006).

This article appears in the October 2006 issue