Crowe v. Oregon State Bar, No. 19-35463 (9th Cir. 2021)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs filed suit against the Oregon State Bar, alleging First Amendment violations arising from the Oregon State Bar's (OSB) requirement that lawyers must join and pay annual membership fees in order to practice in Oregon. Specifically, plaintiffs contend that (1) the two statements from the April 2018 Bulletin are not germane; (2) compelling them to join and maintain membership in OSB violates their right to freedom of association; and (3) compelling plaintiffs to pay—without their prior, affirmative consent—annual membership fees to OSB violates their right to freedom of speech. Furthermore, the Crowe Plaintiffs alone contend that the Bar's constitutionally mandated procedural safeguards for objecting members are deficient, and the Gruber Plaintiffs alone continue to argue on appeal that OSB is not entitled to sovereign immunity from suit. The district court dismissed all of plaintiffs' claims.
The Ninth Circuit agreed with the district court that precedent forecloses the free speech claim, but neither the Supreme Court nor this court has resolved the free association claim now before the panel. Even assuming both statements at issue were nongermane, the panel concluded that plaintiffs' free speech claim failed. As alleged, the panel also concluded that the OSB's refund process is sufficient to minimize potential infringement on its members' constitutional rights. However, the panel explained that plaintiffs may have stated a viable claim that Oregon's compulsory Bar membership requirement violates their First Amendment right of free association. On remand, the panel noted that there are a number of complicated issues that the district court will need to address. First, the district court will need to determine whether Janus v. Am. Fed'n of State, Cnty., & Mun. Emps., Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2477, 2481 (2018), supplies the appropriate standard for plaintiffs' free association claim and, if so, whether OSB can satisfy its "exacting scrutiny standard." Given that the panel has never addressed such a broad free association claim, the district court will also likely need to determine whether Keller v. State Bar of California's, 496 U.S. 1, 13–14 (1990), instructions with regards to germaneness and procedurally adequate safeguards are even relevant to the free association inquiry. Finally, the panel concluded that the district court erred by determining that OSB was an arm of the state entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. Accordingly, the panel affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded to the district court with instructions.