CIVIL ACTION, NO. 03-1670, SECTION "K" (5)
August 20, 2003
ORDER AND REASONS
Before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss brought by defendants American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO and American Postal Worker's Union Local #83, (hereinafter collectively "APWU"). APWU argues that Mr. VanCourt's state law claims should be dismissed with prejudice because they are preempted by federal labor law. Additionally, APWU contends that under federal law, Mr. VanCourt's claims should be dismissed as time-barred. For the following reasons the Court GRANTS the Motion to Dismiss and Mr. VanCourt's claims are hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.
Norman VanCourt was an employee of the United States Postal Service and a member of the APWU during his employment. In his complaint, Mr. VanCourt alleges that while he was employed he was attacked by a co-worker who struck him with a chair. After the incident the co-worker continued to harass and threaten him. Mr. VanCourt allegedly was unable to return to work because he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Consequently, the postal service terminated Mr. VanCourt's employment and he filed a grievance through the APWU.
According to the complaint, on February 6, 2002 Mr. VanCourt was supposed to participate in an arbitration proceeding in connection with the grievance. The proceeding was allegedly provided for under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between APWU and the Postal Service. When Mr. VanCourt arrived at the arbitration proceeding he was informed that the arbitration would not take place because APWU failed to timely submit his grievance. Mr. VanCourt now contends that his position at the postal service was permanently terminated as a result of APWU's failure to timely submit the grievance for arbitration.
In his complaint Mr. VanCourt alleges the following: 1) that APWU fraudulently let him to believe that his grievance had been submitted to arbitration and that he was not aware that it was untimely submitted until the date of the arbitration; 2) that APWU was negligent for failing to timely submit his grievance for arbitration bursuant to the contract between itself and the plaintiff; 3) that APWU breached the contract between itself and Mr. VanCourt by failing to provide services for him; 4) that APWU was unjustly enriched; and 5) that he detrimentally relied on APWU's promise to provide a specific service and as a result he was irreparably harmed.
STANDARD FOR MOTION TO DISMISS
"A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is a disfavored means of disposing of a case." Kennedy v. Tangipahoa Parish Library Board of Control, 224 F.3d 359, 365 (5th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). "A motion to dismiss an action for failure to state a claim `admits the facts alleged in the complaint, but challenges plaintiffs right to relief based upon those facts.'" Crowe v. Henry, 43 F.3d 198, 203 (5th Cir. 1995) (quoting Ward v. Hudnell, 366 F.2d 247, 249 (5th Cir. 1966)). "The district court may not dismiss a complaint under rule 12(b)(6) `unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief" Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, 2000 WL 1159321 at *2 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Spiller v. City of Texas City Police Dept., 130 F.3d 162, 164 (5th Cir. 1997). "In order to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, however, a plaintiff must plead specific facts, not mere conclusory allegations." Id.; see also Kaiser Aluminum Chemical Sales v. Avondale Shipyards, 677 F.2d 1045 (5th Cir. 1982). That being said, it is well established that courts do not have to accept every allegation in the complaint as true in considering its sufficiency. 5A Wright Miller, Federal Practice Procedure § 1357, at 311; see also Associated Builders, Inc. v. Alabama Power Company, 505 F.2d 97, 100 (5th Cir. 1974) (conclusory allegations and unwarranted deductions of fact are not admitted as true). Courts do not have to accept "legal conclusions, `unsupported conclusions,' `unwarranted references/or `sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.'" Wright Miller at 315-18.
APWU asserts that Mr. VanCourt fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted because it is preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. Further, APWU contends that Mr. VanCourt's claims were artfully pled as state law claims, but in actuality they constitute a breach of the duty of fair representation claim ("DFR claim"). Because a DFR claim also preempts state law claims, APWU urges that the Court find that these claims are preempted. Lastly, APWU contends that because Mr. VanCourt's state law claims are really DFR claims, they are governed by the six month statute of limitations set forth in 29 U.S.C. § 160(b) and are time barred. The Court addresses each argument in turn.
In BIW Deceived v. Local S6t Industrial Union of Marine and Shipbuilding Workers of America, the Court clearly laid out two theories of preemption that are also relevant in this case. 132 F.3d 824, 830 (1st Cir. 1997). The first type of preemption involves Section 301 of LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185. Section 301 confers federal jurisdiction over "[s]uits in violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce." The Supreme Court has concluded that in enacting section 301, Congress intended federal principles of labor law to prevail over inconsistent state principles. Local 174, Teamsters, Chauffeurs. Warehousemen Helpers v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 104 (1962). The Supreme Court subsequently held that "if the resolution of a state law claim depends upon the meaning of a collective bargaining agreement, the application of state law . . . is pre-empted and federal labor-law principles . . . must be employed to resolve the dispute." Lingle v. Norge Division of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 406 (1988). In BIW Deceived, the court held that a state law claim can depend upon the meaning of a collective bargaining agreement in either of two distinct ways: 1) a claim can allege the violation of a duty that arises from the CBA itself, or 2) a claim can require a court to interpret a specific provision of the CBA. 132 F.3d at 829.
Not all state law claims, however, are pre-empted by section 301. If a state law remedy is "independent" CBA, i.e., it does not involve a dispute regarding the CBA's terms and instead involves facts or documents independent or only tangentially related to the CBA, then the state law claims are not pre-empted. Id. at 407 (finding that a claim for retaliatory discharge involved a purely factual inquiry that did not turn on the meaning of the CBA); Niehaus v. Greyhound Lines, Inc., 173 F.3d 1207, 1211 (9th Cir. 1999) (finding that state law claims for breach of contract were not preempted despite a possible reference to the CBA because interpretation of the CBA was not at issue and his claims arose from an action distinct from his rights under the CBA); Alexander v. UDV North America, Inc., 78 F. Supp.2d (E.D. Mich. 1999) (finding that plaintiffs action for breach of contract was not pre-empted because separate employment contracts were at issue).
Preemption can also occur by operation of the duty of fair representation ("DFR"). BIW Deceived, 132 F.3d at 830; Richardson v. United Steel Workers of America, 864 F.2d 1162, 1167 (5th Cir. 1989). A union acting in its representative capacity owes this duty to its constituents. Ford Motor Co. v. Huffman, 345 U.S. 330, 337 (1953). The duty derives from the union's status as an exclusive bargaining agent and implicates section 9(a) of the Nation Labor Relations Act. The Supreme Court has held that section 9(a) encompasses "a statutory obligation to serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177 (1967). A complaint stating a DFR claim alleges a breach by the Union of a duty grounded in federal statutes . . . and federal law governs the action. Id. State law, therefore is preempted whenever a plaintiff states a DFR claim. Condon v. Local 2944, 683 F.2d 590, 594-95 (1st Cir. 1982).
Section 9(a) provides: Representatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by the majority of the employees . . . shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees . . . for the purposes of collective bargaining in respect to rates of pay, wages, hours of employment or other conditions of employment.
APWU first argues that Mr. VanCourt's claims are preempted by 1208(b), the statutory analogue to section 301(a). Section 1208(b) of the Postal Reorganization Act states:
Suits for violation of contracts between the Postal Service and a labor organization representing Postal Service employees, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy.39 U.S.C. § 1208. Federal courts have consistently held that section 301 law applies to section 1208. Accord, AFL-CIO v. United States Postal Service, 590 F.2d 1171 (D.C. Cir. 1978); Melendy v. United States Postal Service, 589 F.2d 256 (7th Cir. 1978); Winston v. United States Postal Service, 585 F.2d 198 (7th Cir. 1978); National Association of Letter Carriers v. Sombrotto, 449 F.2d 915, 919 (2d Cir. 1971). Lawson v. Truck Drivers, Chauffers Helpers, Local Union 100, 698 F.2d 250, 255 (6th Cir. 1983). In other words, just as section 301 preempts state law claims, so does section 1208.
In the case at bar, APWU alleges that Mr. VanCourt's claims will require the Court to interpret the terms of the CBA because Mr. VanCourt's allegations of fraud and breach of contract stem from APWU's duty in the CBA to follow certain procedures when an employee files a grievance against his employer. Section 15 of CBA governs grievance procedures and arbitration. See Collective Bargaining Agreement Between APWU, AFL-CIO and U.S. Postal Service. The Court will have to interpret this section in order to determine whether APWU was negligent or breached the agreement. Because the Court must interpret terms of the CBA, Mr. VanCourt's claims are not independent of the CBA and are pre-empted by section 301. Lingle, 486 U.S. at 406. Plaintiff does not point to any independent contract outside the CBA that could save his claims from preemption. Consequently, plaintiffs claims are pre-empted.
APWU's second argument is that Mr. VanCourt is really bringing a DFR claim. As discussed previously, the Fifth Circuit and other federal courts have held that a DFR claim preempts state substantive law. Richardson v. United Steel Workers of America, 864 F.2d 1162, 1167 (5th Cir. 1989).
Sections 8(b) and 9(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 158(b), 159(a), empower a union that represents a majority of the employees in an appropriate bargaining unit to act as the exclusive representation of all the employees in collective bargaining. Because the union acts as agent of all the employees, it owes each of them, whether or not a union member, the duty of fair representation. . . . The scope of this duty was outlined in Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177(1967). The Supreme Court there held that, when a union acts as the collective bargaining agent of its members, it is obliged `to secure the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty and to avoid arbitrary conduct.' Id. at 177.Richardson, 864 at 1166-67 (citing Bass v. International Broth, of Boilermakers, 630 F.2d 1058, 1062 (5th Cir. 1980)). This duty of fair representation generally governs a union's conduct vis-a-vis the bargaining unit members when the union is representing them. Id. The duty of fair representation applies to all union activity. Airline Pilots Ass'n, Inc. v. O'Neill, 495 U.S. 65, 67 (1991). This would include APWU's actions in filing grievances on behalf of an employee and arranging arbitration pursuant to its obligations under the CBA. After reviewing Mr. VanCourt's allegations, it appears that his state law claims for breach of contract, negligence, fraud, unjust enrichment and detrimental reliance relate to APWU's duty to avoid arbitrary conduct and to act in good faith (APWU's duty of fair representation). All of plaintiff's allegations concern APWU's actions in not timely filing Mr. VanCourt's grievance and misrepresenting that it had complied with the grievance procedures. Because Mr. VanCourt's allegations arise for misconduct associated with the unions duty to fairly represent him, his state law claims are preempted.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONSIn Smith v. Int'l Org. of Masters, Mates, and Pilots, 296 F.3d 380, 382 (5th Cir. 2002) the Fifth Circuit held that a six month statute of limitations period applies to an employee's duty of fair representation claim against a union. Id; 29 U.S.C. § 160(b). Because this case is an action for breach of the duty of fair representation brought by an employee against his union, the six month statute of limitations applies.
To ascertain whether Mr. VanCourt's claims are time-barred, the Court must determine when his claim against the union accrued. Ordinarily a claim accrues and the limitations clock begins to run when a plaintiff discovered or should have discovered the injury or offense. Barrett v. Ebasco Constructors. Inc., 868 F.2d 170, 171 (5th Cir. 1989). In this case, Mr. VanCourt's injury occurred when he was informed that APWU did not timely file a grievance on his behalf, he was unable to participate in the arbitration, and as a consequence of this he permanently lost his employment with the Postal Service. Although it is unclear when Mr. VanCourt was apprized of the fact that there would be no arbitration or when his termination became final, the arbitration was set for February 6, 2002 and plaintiff did not file suit in state court until February 6, 2003, well beyond the six month limitation period. Mr. VanCourt knew or should have known that no grievance had been filed in his behalf on or about February 6, 2002. At this time he was aware of his injury and the possibility, if not the fact, that his termination was final. Therefore, the Court finds that Mr. VanCourt filed suit outside the applicable statute of limitations and his claims are time barred.
Because this Court has found that Mr. VanCourt's claims are prescribed, he fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under the 12(b)(6) standard. Plaintiff can prove no set of facts entitling him to relief,
IT IS ORDERED that APWU's Motion to dismiss is hereby GRANTED and plaintiffs claims against APWU are hereby DISMISSED with prejudice.