IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
February 3, 2011
CAROL BERGIN, PLAINTIFF,
TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 77, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rufe, J.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Carol Bergin filed this action against Teamsters Local Union No. 77 ("the Union") for failure to provide due process and for breach of the Union's duty of fair representation during its representation of her late husband, John Bergin, at an arbitration hearing concerning a wrongful discharge grievance Mr. Bergin had filed against his employer, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, prior to his death. The Complaint alleges that Defendant violated Plaintiff's constitutional right to due process when it excluded her from the arbitration hearing, and also alleges that Defendant breached its duty of fair representation in excluding her from that hearing.
Before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's two count complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In its motion to dismiss Defendant argues that Plaintiff alleged no facts suggesting that the union acted under color of state law; therefore, as it is a private entity, her claim for due process violations must be dismissed. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's duty of fair representation claim should be dismissed because any duty of fair representation is owed only to union members, and not their spouses or survivors; therefore Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue the breach of duty of fair representation claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's due process claim and remand her duty of fair representation claim to state court for resolution.
Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff's late husband, Thomas Bergin, was an employee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and a member of Teamsters Local Union No. 77 ("the Union"). In the spring of 2005, Mr. Bergin was arrested and subsequently incarcerated for several days. He suffered a broken wrist and dislocated shoulder during his arrest. The complaint alleges that "someone" telephoned his supervisor daily to explain his absence, but he was terminated on June 3, 2005 after missing three or more consecutive days of work without leave due to this arrest and incarceration.
After his termination, Mr. Bergin filed a grievance with the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, alleging that he was terminated due to his pre-existing work-related medical condition and his political views, and not due to his arrest-related absences. This grievance was denied on July 15, 2005. Mr. Bergin then requested an arbitration hearing. However, Mr. Bergin died on October 16, 2005 before that hearing could be held. The arbitration hearing did occur, but his wife, Plaintiff in this case, was not notified of the hearing date or place, despite her many requests to attend (all apparently directed at the Union, not the employer). Plaintiff stood to benefit greatly if Mr. Bergin's termination was overturned, because she would be entitled to retirement, life insurance, and other benefits. Initially the Union told her she could attend the hearing, but later she was told she was not welcome. At the arbitration hearing, Mr. Bergin's grievance was denied.
Ms. Bergin filed a two count complaint in state court, alleging breach of the Union's duty of fair representation and denial of constitutional due process. The case was removed to federal court based on its original jurisdiction over the federal due process claim. *fn1 Defendant then filed a motion to dismiss both counts.
Standard of Review
Dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted is appropriate where a plaintiff's "plain statement" does
not possess enough substance to show that plaintiff is entitled to
relief. *fn2 In determining whether a motion
to dismiss is appropriate the court must consider those facts alleged
in the complaint, accepting the allegations as true and drawing all
logical inferences in favor of the non-moving party. *fn3
Courts are not bound to accept as true legal conclusions
couched as factual allegations. *fn4
Something more than a mere possibility of a claim
must be alleged; the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a
claim for relief that is plausible on its face." *fn5
The Complaint must set forth direct or inferential
allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain
recovery under some viable legal theory. *fn6
The court has no duty to "conjure
up unpleaded facts that might turn a frivolous action... into a
substantial one." *fn7
Plaintiff's Due Process Claim
Conduct by a private actor generally does not give rise to a claim
for violations of a plaintiff's federal constitutional right to due
process. *fn8 Ms. Bergin admits that the
Union is not a state actor, and further admits that she has not, and
cannot now plead facts necessary to raise a plausible claim that the
Union was acting under color of statelaw. *fn9
However, she seeks leave to amend her Complaint
following discovery should evidence that the Union acted
under color of state law arise through discovery.
Defendant correctly argues that such "fishing expeditions" to seek out
the facts needed to bring a legally sufficient complaint are barred by
the pleading clarifications in Iqbal and Twombly. Accordingly, because
Plaintiff's pleading is insufficient under Iqbal, and she admits that
an amendment prior to discovery would be futile, the Court must
dismiss this claim.
Duty of Fair Representation Claim
This leaves only the duty of fair representation claim. In this
case, because Mr. Bergin was an employee of the Pennsylvania Turnpike
Commission, a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, *fn10 neither the Union nor Mr.
Bergin falls within the ambit of the
federal Labor Management Relations Act. *fn11
Instead, any claim for breach of the Union's duty of fair
representation must be resolved under state law. This Court does not
have original subject matter jurisdiction over the state law claim for
breach of duty of fair representation, and, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1367(c)(3), will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over
it. *fn12 The Court remands Plaintiff's
remaining claim to the Court of Common Pleas for Delaware County for
resolution without reaching the merits of Defendant's motion to
dismiss the breach of duty of fair representation claim.