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Zurawski v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority

May 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.


Plaintiff, Mark Dennis Zurawski, asks the court to set aside a decision by an arbitration board that affirmed the termination of his employment with defendant, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA"). In his "Petition for Review in the Nature of a Second Amended Complaint" (the "Second Amended Petition") under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188 (the "RLA"), Zurawski claims that the court should set aside the arbitrators' decision because it was tainted by "fraud or corruption." SEPTA has filed a motion pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the Second Amended Petition. SEPTA argues that Zurawski has failed to state a claim that could warrant review under the extremely narrow standards of the RLA. I agree with SEPTA that, even accepting Zurawski's allegations as true, none of the conduct he alleges to have been improper rises to the level of fraud or corruption under the RLA. Accordingly, I will grant SEPTA's motion and will dismiss Zurawski's Second Amended Petition with prejudice.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

The allegations of the Second Amended Petition, which the court assumes to be true for the purposes of this 12(b)(6) motion, are summarized as follows.*fn1

On January 29, 2007, Zurawski had a disagreement with a co-worker at SEPTA. (Second Amended Petition ¶ 5.) The two had a heated exchange that concluded with the co-worker backing away from Zurawski. (Id. ¶ 11.) According to Zurawski, the co-worker was the instigator of the disagreement and exacerbated it through insults and physical aggression. (Id. ¶¶ 6-10.) Nonetheless, it was Zurawski who, the next morning, was suspended and, after an investigation, terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.)

Zurawski filed a grievance challenging this termination. (Id. ¶ 14.) Pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between SEPTA and Zurawski's union (the Transport Workers Union of America, Local 2013), an arbitration was held on July 18, 2008, before three arbitrators: one chosen by SEPTA (Jeffrey T. Sheridan); another chosen by Zurawski's union (Charles H. Little); and a third, neutral arbitrator, from the Special Board of Adjustment (Robert L. Douglas). (Ex. A 1-2.)*fn2

On September 22, 2008, a two-person majority of the arbitrators (Sheridan and Douglas) rendered a decision against Zurawski. (Ex. B.) On October 27, 2008, Zurawski filed a complaint in this court against Douglas. (Docket No. 3.) A short time later, on November 30, 2008, Little filed a dissent to the arbitration board's decision. (Second Amended Petition ¶ 15; Ex. C.)

Douglas filed a motion to dismiss on February 26, 2009. (Docket No. 7.) On March 23, 2009, Zurawski filed an amended complaint naming as defendants, along with Douglas, the Special Board of Adjustment, Sheridan, Little, SEPTA, and Zurawski's union. (Docket No. 9.) On April 6, 2009, Douglas and the Special Board of Adjustment filed a motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 11.) The other defendants filed motions to dismiss on May 7, 2009. (Docket Nos. 21-23.) On June 15, 2009, the court granted the motion to dismiss of Douglas and the Special Board of Adjustment because they were immune from suit. (Docket Nos. 28 and 29.) The court granted the motions to dismiss of Sheridan and Little on August 12, 2009, for the same reason. (Docket Nos. 40 and 41.)

The court held oral argument on the motions to dismiss of SEPTA and Zurawski's union on September 24, 2009. (Docket No. 47.) On September 30, 2009, with the agreement of the parties, the court ordered that the amended complaint should be treated as a Petition for Review under the RLA pursuant to 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (q). (Docket No. 50.) On October 5, 2009, at Zurawski's request, the court dismissed the action against Zurawski's union pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(a)(2). (Docket No. 51.)

On October 13, 2009, Zurawski filed his Second Amended Petition, naming only SEPTA as a defendant. (Docket No. 52.) In the Second Amended Petition, Zurawski claims that the decision of the arbitrators was the product of fraud or corruption. (Second Amended Petition ¶ 16.) Zurawski's allegations of fraud or corruption fall into three categories: (1) allegations against SEPTA for its investigation of the disagreement; (2) allegations against SEPTA for its conduct in preparing for and presenting its case at the arbitration; and (3) allegations against the arbitration board, and Douglas in particular, for its conduct of the arbitration and for the manner in which it reached its decision.

First, Zurawski contends that SEPTA's investigation of the disagreement was insufficient. According to Zurawski, SEPTA did not seek a statement from him and did not allow him to prepare one "without intimidation." (Id. ¶¶ 16a, 16m.) He alleges that, in contrast, SEPTA allowed an opposing witness, James M. Andrews, to prepare a statement at his leisure at home. (Id. ¶ 16m.) Zurawski also alleges that SEPTA's investigator, Gary Fisher, had been accused of impropriety in previous investigations of other matters. (Id. ¶ 16b.)

Second, Zurawski contends that SEPTA's conduct in preparing for and presenting its case at the arbitration was improper. He alleges that SEPTA called several witnesses at the arbitration who were not made available to Zurawski or his union representatives beforehand for deposition. (Id. ¶ 16d.) According to Zurawski, SEPTA also prevented him from calling several non-union witnesses who would have provided testimony in support of him. (Id. ¶ 16e.) Zurawski further alleges that SEPTA coordinated the testimony of witnesses prior to the arbitration and then blocked inquiry into that coordination by claiming attorney-client privilege. (Id. ¶ 16f.)

Third, Zurawski contends that the arbitration board did not conduct the arbitration properly. He alleges that the arbitration board did not advise him of his right to obtain independent counsel and that, as a result, he was not represented by an attorney. (Id. ¶ 16c.) He also alleges that almost none of the testifying witnesses saw what had caused the disagreement and those who did provided little insight. (Id. ¶ 16h.) He further alleges that the arbitration board was supposed to sequester witnesses but allowed Fisher to testify, even though Fisher had been in attendance for the testimony of previous witnesses and even though SEPTA had not identified Fisher as a witness. (Id. ¶ 16j.) Zurawski also alleges that the presence of Fisher in the room intimidated other witnesses. (Id.) In addition, Zurawski alleges that the arbitration board improperly allowed SEPTA to enter position statements into evidence that contained never-before-seen hearsay reports that were over three years old and that were written by employees who no longer worked for SEPTA. (Id. ¶ 16k.)

As to the neutral arbitrator, Douglas, Zurawski alleges that Douglas spoke to witnesses before they testified, and that these conversations unfairly colored Douglas's decision. (Id. ¶ 16i.) Zurawski also alleges that Douglas allowed SEPTA five hours to present its case but only allowed Zurawski one hour, unless Zurawski was willing to continue the hearing over five months later. (Id. ¶ 16l.) Zurawski further alleges that Douglas made a settlement offer to Zurawski that violated Article III, Section 403(i), of the collective bargaining agreement between SEPTA and Zurawski's union because it sought to add and/or subtract terms from the agreement only as they applied to Zurawski. (Id. ¶ 18.) Zurawski alleges that Douglas knew or should have known that the offer violated the agreement but nevertheless presented it as non-negotiable and pressured Zurawski to accept it. (Id. ¶¶ 19-20.)

Zurawski also alleges that the written decision of the arbitration board makes false or inappropriate statements that:

(1) the parties were afforded a full opportunity to offer evidence and argument, even though Zurawski was not afforded sufficient ...

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