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PHILLIPS v. SELIG

March 28, 2001

RICHARD G. PHILLIPS, ET AL.,
V.
ALAN H. "BUD" SELIG, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, District Judge.

    MEMORANDUM

Plaintiffs Richard G. Phillips and Richard G. Phillips Associates P.C. originally filed the instant suit in the Court of Common Pleas for Philadelphia County against Defendants Alan H. Selig, the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, Robert Manfred, Richard Alderson, Francis Coonelly, American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, National League of Professional Baseball Clubs, David Phillips, Joseph Brinkman, John Hirschbeck, Timothy Welke, Ronald Shapiro, Shapiro and Olander, Shapiro Negotiations Institute, and the World Umpires Association. On January 24, 2001, Defendants filed a Notice of Removal alleging that the Court has original federal question jurisdiction over the action because the claims asserted in the Complaint are completely preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185.*fn1 Before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion to Remand. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Plaintiffs' Motion.

I. BACKGROUND*fn2

Richard Phillips ("Phillips") is an attorney; Richard G. Phillips Associates P.C. ("RGPA") is a law firm incorporated in Pennsylvania. Alan Selig ("Selig") is the commissioner of major league baseball. The Office of the Commissioner of Baseball ("Commissioner's Office") is an unincorporated association whose members consist of the American League of Professional Baseball Clubs ("American League"), the National League of Professional Baseball Clubs ("National League"), and the individual baseball franchises who comprise those clubs. Robert Manfred, Richard Alderson, and Francis Coonelly (collectively "Commissioner Employees") all are employed by the Commissioner's Office. The American League is an association of major league baseball franchises that compete within the American League. Similarly, the National League is an association of major league baseball franchises that compete within the National League. David Phillips, Joseph Brinkman ("Brinkman"), John Hirschbeck ("Hirschbeck"), Timothy Welke ("Welke") (collectively "Umpires") are umpires employed by the American League. Ronald Shapiro ("Shapiro") is an attorney licensed in Maryland and a principal of both Shapiro and Olander ("Shapiro Firm"), a law firm in Maryland, and the Shapiro Negotiations Institute ("Shapiro Institute"), a corporation that provides educational and consulting services in the area of labor negotiations. The World Umpires Association ("WUA") is an association that represents major league umpires in collective bargaining with the American League and National League (collectively "Leagues").

Since 1979, Plaintiffs had been counsel to the Major League Umpires Association ("MLUA"), formerly the exclusive bargaining agent for major league baseball umpires prior to the WUA. Plaintiffs and the MLUA entered into a series of retainer agreements each lasting for five-year terms. The last such agreement was set to expire on April 10, 1999. The retainer agreements generally provided for payment to Plaintiffs of annual retainer and administrative fees, as well as a percentage of the compensation negotiated in any collective bargaining agreement during the life of the agreement. The last collective bargaining agreement negotiated between the MLUA and the Leagues ("Collective Bargaining Agreement") expired on December 31, 1999.

During this time, the Umpires were members of the MLUA, and Welke was a member of the MLUA board of directors. In the fall of 1998, Brinkman, Welke, and Hirschbeck began making disparaging and false statements about Plaintiffs' professionalism and integrity in an effort to convince the MLUA and its membership not to renew the retainer agreement with Plaintiffs and instead to retain Shapiro and the Shapiro Firm as legal counsel. The MLUA membership, however, voted to renew the agreement ("Retainer Agreement") for a four-year term from April 10, 1999, to April 10, 2003.

Prior to 1999, Selig secretly attempted to usurp powers relating to the employment relationship between umpires and the baseball leagues originally possessed by the Leagues for the purpose of interfering with the contractual relationship between the MLUA and Plaintiffs. Selig personally disliked Richard Phillips because he supported a different candidate for the position of commissioner. When Plaintiffs learned about Selig's activities, they lodged objections with the Leagues. Selig then temporarily abandoned his plan.

In February 1999, Selig, the Commissioner's Office, and the Commissioner Employees (collectively "Commissioner Defendants") again tried to directly control the umpires employment relationship with the Leagues by requiring the Leagues to obtain their approval of matters relating to the umpires' employment. The Commissioner Defendants also made defamatory statements about Plaintiffs to convince MLUA members that difficulties in contract negotiations were caused by Plaintiffs. As a result, MLUA members began calling for a strike during the first half of the 1999 baseball season. A general MLUA membership meeting was held on July 14, 1999. To avert a potential strike, Phillips and the MLUA president suggested that MLUA members submit written notices of intent to resign to the Leagues with the resignations to be effective on September 2, 1999, unless their grievances were addressed. This suggestion was accepted and implemented by all of the umpires attending the July 14 meeting.

On July 22, 1999, Selig, the Commissioner Employees, and League representatives met and Selig proposed a plan to hire replacement umpires from the minor leagues for the purpose of coercing the MLUA to eliminate its relationship with Plaintiffs. The plan would deprive the MLUA membership of the right to rescind their resignations and hence eliminate support for Plaintiffs. The Leagues opposed the plan, but Selig forced them to acquiesce. The Commissioner Employees told Hirschbeck, Brinkman, and Shapiro of the plan so that they could warn select members of the MLUA to rescind their resignations. Following the July 22 meeting, at the behest of the Commissioner Employees, the Leagues hired twenty-five new umpires and refused to permit rescission of the resignations of twenty-two MLUA members.

Hirschbeck, Brinkman, and Shapiro sought David Phillips and Welke's help in convincing MLUA members to terminate the MLUA's relationship with Plaintiffs. Subsequently, the Umpires, Shapiro, and the Shapiro Firm made various defamatory statements to MLUA members and the public about Plaintiffs' integrity, professional competence and ethics. These Defendants also told MLUA members that the Commissioner would refuse to negotiate with Plaintiffs. Later, these Defendants organized efforts to decertify the MLUA and created the WUA to replace the MLUA as the bargaining representative for major league umpires. On February 24, 2000, the major league umpires voted to decertify the MLUA in favor of the WUA. Plaintiffs believe that the establishment and certification of the WUA is a guise to terminate the relationship between Plaintiffs and the major league umpires, and install Shapiro and the Shapiro Firm as legal counsel to the major league umpires.

Plaintiffs' Complaint states ten counts all of which purportedly arise under state law, including tortious interference with existing and prospective contract, defamation, invasion of privacy, fraudulent conveyance, injurious falsehood, conspiracy, commercial disparagement, unjust enrichment, and breach of contract. On January 24, 2001, Defendants Shapiro and the Shapiro Firm filed a timely Notice of Removal to which all Defendants separately consented. The Notice of Removal states that the Complaint's claims are completely preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, because they are dependent upon an interpretation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Removability is determined from a plaintiffs pleadings at the time of removal. See American Fire & Casualty Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6, 14, 71 S.Ct. 534, 95 L.Ed. 702 (1951). A defendant may remove a civil action filed in state court if the federal court would have had original jurisdiction to hear the matter. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b) (1994); Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir.), cert. denied 498 U.S. 1085, 111 S.Ct. 959, 112 L.Ed.2d 1046 (1991). The defendant bears the burden of establishing removal jurisdiction and compliance with all pertinent procedural requirements. Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111. Once the case has been removed, the court may remand if the removal is ...


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