discussing DeCoeSummary of this case from Jones v. United Automobile
April 4, 2002
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for an Order Remanding Case to Wayne County Circuit Court and Awarding Costs and Attorney Fees Due to Defendants' Improper Removal of the Case. Defendants responded and Plaintiff replied. The Court finds that the parties have adequately set forth the relevant law and facts, and that oral argument would not aid in the disposition of the instant motion. See E.D. MICH. L.R. 7.1(e)(2). Accordingly, the Court ORDERS that the motion be decided on the briefs submitted. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion for an Order Remanding Case to Wayne County Circuit Court and Awarding Costs and Attorney Fees Due to Defendants' Improper Removal of the Case is DENTED.
There are three other motions currently before the Court. Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint; Defendants' Motion to Stay Discovery; and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. These have yet to be fully briefed. Therefore, the Court shall decide these motions in a later opinion and order.
Plaintiff is a professor and former Chair of the English Department at the University of Detroit Mercy (hereinafter "UDM"). On May 18, 2001, he was suspended and removed from his position as Chair of the English Department pending an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and encouraging substance abuse among his students. Plaintiff was eventually disciplined by the UDM Sexual Harassment Resolution Panel, which determined that Plaintiff violated UDM's sexual harassment policy. On August 27, 2001, UDM suspended Plaintiff without pay for the fall semester of 2001, prohibited Plaintiff from appearing on campus or at any University function, and prohibited him from ever serving as Chair of the English Department again.
Plaintiff denies any alleged misconduct, and argues that Defendants made false allegations against Plaintiff in furtherance of their own personal and political agendas. Plaintiff filed a threecount complaint in the Wayne County Circuit Court on January 30, 2002, alleging claims for defamation, tortuous interference with an advantageous business relationship, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
On February 28, 2002, Defendants filed a responsive pleading, and removed the case to this Court. Defendants state that Plaintiffs cause of action arises out of a collective bargaining agreement (hereinafter "CBA") between UDM and the UDM Professors' Union. Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims fall within the purview of this Court's original jurisdiction under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. See 29 U.S.C. § 185. Plaintiff now brings this motion to remand the case to the Wayne County Circuit Court.
Ordinarily, absent diversity of citizenship, a defendant can only remove an action from state court to federal court if a federal question appears on the face of the plaintiffs well-pleaded complaint. See Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Typically, a plaintiff can avoid federal jurisdiction by pleading only state law claims, as is the case here. See id. There is an exception to that rule, however, for statutes that have such "extraordinary" preemptive force that it turns ordinary state law claims into federal claims for purposes of removal. See id. at 393.
Claims that arise out of contracts between employers and labor organizations maybe brought in federal court, despite the fact that a federal court may not have independent jurisdiction to hear a claim on the underlying contract. See 28 U.S.C. § 185; Textile Workers Union of Am. v. Lincoln Mill of Ala., 353 U.S. 448, 451-52 (1957). The Supreme Court explained that § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, see 29 U.S.C. § 185, is substantive because it provides one forum in which labor employment contracts may be interpreted, thus allowing for uniform interpretation. See Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 210-11 (1985). Extending that rationale, the Supreme Court held that not only are the actual labor agreements preempted by § 301, but state law claims that turn upon interpretation of the labor agreement, or, as the Supreme Court put it, claims that are "inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of the labor contract," are preempted as well. Id. at 213. Therefore, the Court concludes that removal was proper if Plaintiff's claims are "inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of the labor contract."
29 U.S.C. § 185(a) provides:
Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.
The Court finds that removal was proper in this case. Paragraph 5.12 of the CBA states that UDM "will discipline or discharge an employee only for just cause." Paragraph 6.2(d)(iii) of the CBA states that "Classes should be conducted in a manner consistent with the policies, schedules, and deadlines established and published by the appropriate administration offices." One such policy is UDM's "Policy Statement on Sexual Harassment," which was promulgated on January 2, 1996 by the President of UDM, Maureen A. Fay. That policy statement, which is incorporated into the CBA by means of paragraph 6.2(d)(iii), states: "Sexual harassment, therefore, will not be tolerated at University of Detroit Mercy in any context . . . ." The policy statement then declares that "individuals who sexually harass others may be" sanctioned by the University, and may be held personally liable to their victims in a legal action. The policy statement then proceeds to define sexual harassment, as well as the grievance procedure. Finally, the policy statement declares that "[a]ny actions . . . taken by the University under this Sexual Harassment Policy will be considered an exercise of [paragraph 5.12 of the CBA], Discipline and Discharge . . ."
In the present action, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants tortiously interfered with an advantageous business relationship by wrongfully accusing and subsequently disciplining him for sexual harassment, which he denies ever occurred. In order to determine whether he was wrongfully disciplined, however, the Court must determine whether, pursuant to paragraph 5.12 of the CBA, Defendants had "just cause" to discipline Plaintiff. In order to make that determination, the Court must interpret UDM's policy on sexual harassment, which is incorporated into the CBA.
As to the defamation claim, this Court is bound by the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeCoe v. General Motors, 32 F.3d 212, 217 (6th Cir. 1992). There, the plaintiff, a district committeeman for the UAW, was dismissed from his position following charges of sexual harassment that some of his co-workers alleged against him. See id. at 214-15. Plaintiff filed an action in Michigan state court, alleging claims for defamation, tortious interference with an advantageous business relationship, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, that was eventually removed to the United States District Court. See id. at 215. Plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the sexual harassment claims were false, and that they were politically motivated. See id. The Sixth Circuit noted that in order for plaintiff to be successful on a defamation claim in Michigan, he must prove that the defendants made a false statement, and made an unprivileged publication of that statement to a third party. See id. at 217. The Sixth Circuit held that whether the defendants had a privilege to publish information regarding plaintiffs alleged sexual harassment turns on the interpretation of the CBA. See id. The Court finds, for the same reasons stated in DeCoe, that Plaintiff's defamation claim turns on the interpretation of the CBA.
Finally, with regard to Plaintiff's claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress, this Court is also bound by the Sixth Circuit's opinion in DeCoe. The Sixth Circuit held that in order to have a successful claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress in Michigan, the Plaintiff must prove extreme and outrageous conduct. See id. at 218. The Sixth Circuit held, however, that if an employer is exercising its legal fights in a permissible way, then its conduct cannot be extreme and outrageous. See id. at 219. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit held that it was necessary to interpret the CBA in order to determine whether the defendants were properly exercising their legal rights. See id. at 220. The same analysis is applicable currently.
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff's Motion for an Order Remanding Case to Wayne County Circuit Court and Awarding Costs and Attorney Fees Due to Defendants' Improper Removal of the Case is DENIED. The Court shall therefore retain jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims.
The Court notes again that in making this ruling that it is not presently making a ruling on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or any other motion currently pending in this matter.