Illinois Labor Relations Board has Exclusive Jurisdiction Over Malpractice Claims Against Union-Provided Lawyers

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The Village of Fox Lake (“Village”) sought to terminate the employment of police officer Russell Zander (“Zander”).  At the advice of attorney Roy Carlson (“Carlson”) whose services were provided to him by the Fraternal Order of Police (the “FOP”), Zander waived his right to a hearing before the local police board and chose instead to challenge his dismissal through an arbitration in which Carlson represented him.  When the arbitrator ruled against him, Zander sued Carlson and the FOP for legal malpractice.  The Circuit Court dismissed Zander’s complaint, holding that Carlson was immune from personal liability for actions taken on behalf of a union and that Zander’s claim against the FOP must be brought before the Illinois Labor Relations Board.  Zander appealed.

The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, affirmed dismissal.  It reiterated the Circuit Court’s holding that “the Labor Relations Act vests the [Illinois Labor Relations] Board with exclusive jurisdiction over claims that a union has violated its duty of fair representation.”  Id. at ¶13.  Similarly, with respect to any personal liability on Carson’s part, the Appellate Court explained that “when a union instead hires an attorney to act for it in the collective bargaining process—including in an arbitration proceeding where the underlying grievance belongs to a particular union member—the union itself continues to represent, and is ultimately responsible to, the member.”  Id. at ¶14.  To hold otherwise, it continued, would be to “hold certain agents or employees of the union to a far higher standard of care than the union itself.”  Id. at ¶15.  Zander countered that he had a direct attorney-client relationship which permitted him to sue Carlson independently.  The Appellate Court rejected this argument as well, saying “to invoke this exception, the union member must show that the attorney specifically agreed to provide direct representation to the union member as an individual client” rather than “acting pursuant to his obligation to provide representation for or on behalf of the union.”  Id. at ¶18.  Zander’s complaint did not allege any specific agreement to that effect.

Zander v. Carlson, 2019 IL App (1st) 181868

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

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