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Dawn Shanefelter v. Electronic Filing United States Steel Corporation

March 23, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David Stewart Cercone David Stewart Cercone United States District Judge


Dawn Shanefelter ("plaintiff") commenced this action in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County against United States Steel Corporation ("U.S. Steel"), United Steelworkers Union ("Union"), Local Union 2227, Edward McGough, Richard Pastore, Joseph Ballas, Ross McClellan, Jr., John Guy, David Novak and Jan Finnegan (collectively "defendants") asserting breach of contract, intentional misrepresentation, civil conspiracy, intentional interference with contractual relationship, intentional infliction of emotional distress and retaliation claims. Defendants removed on the grounds that plaintiff's claims are completely preempted by § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") and § 9(a) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"). 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1982); 29 U.S.C. § 159(a). Presently before the court are defendants‟ motion to dismiss and plaintiff's motion to remand. For the reasons set forth below, both motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

It is well-settled that in reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) A[t]he applicable standard of review requires the court to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.@ Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). Under the United States Supreme Court=s decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007), dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is proper only where the averments of the complaint plausibly fail to raise directly or inferentially the material elements necessary to obtain relief under a viable legal theory of recovery. Id. at 544. In other words, the allegations of the complaint must be grounded in enough of a factual basis to move the claim from the realm of mere possibility to one that shows entitlement by presenting Aa claim to relief that is plausible on its face.@ Ashcroft v. Iqbal, B U.S. B, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

A complaint properly may be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) on statute of limitations grounds so long as the untimeliness of the complaint can be gleaned from its face. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1385 fn.1 (1994) ("While the language of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(c) indicates that a statute of limitations defense cannot be used in the context of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, an exception is made where the complaint facially shows noncompliance with the limitations period and the affirmative defense clearly appears on the face of the pleading.").

The record as read in the light most favorable to plaintiff establishes the background set forth below. Plaintiff began her employment with U.S. Steel as a laborer on or around January 12, 1998. When plaintiff was hired, she received a Basic Labor Agreement ("BLA") that set forth the general terms and conditions of her employment as well as the discharge, notice, and grievance procedures.*fn1 On June 16, 2004, plaintiff was injured in the course of performing her duties as a crane operator. She filed a worker's compensation claim which was settled in March of 2006.

At various times following her work-related injury, plaintiff and her father met with Union representatives Richard Pastore ("Pastore"), Jan Finnegan ("Finnegan"), Joe Ballas, John Guy, David Novak, and Ross McClellan to discuss plaintiff‟s ability to return to work. Plaintiff alleges that they informed her that she could return to work after receiving her worker‟s compensation settlement for a period of five years from the date of her injury. Complaint ¶ 17 (Doc. No. 1-2) at 8.

In April of 2008, plaintiff was cleared to return to work. She met with Pastore who directed her to call and schedule a return to work physical with the company physician. Before returning home from their meeting, Pastore informed plaintiff that she had been terminated from U.S. Steel for failing to return to work after accepting the worker‟s compensation settlement, thereby breaking her continuous service. Plaintiff requested that a grievance be filed on her behalf for improper termination, but union representatives Pastore and Finnegan declined to pursue the matter. Plaintiff claims that she has never received formal notice of her termination as required under the terms of the BLA. Compl. ¶ 24 (Doc. No. 1-2) at 9.

On April 8, 2010, plaintiff filed suit in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County asserting six state-law claims for: (1) breach of contract -- wrongful discharge, (2) intentional misrepresentation, (3) civil conspiracy, (4) intentional interference with contractual relationship, (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress, and (6) retaliation. On May 24, 2010, defendants removed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and (b) and 1446(a), contending that plaintiff‟s claims are completely preempted by § 301(a) of the LMRA and § 9(a) of the NLRA. On June 30, 2010, defendants filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, asserting that plaintiff‟s state actions were displaced by federal law and thus were time-barred under the applicable limitations period. Plaintiff responded by filing a motion to remand, citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction as the legal basis for such relief.

Defendants maintain that all of plaintiff‟s state-law claims stem from the rights, duties, and obligations created by the BLA. They argue that plaintiff‟s claims are either founded directly on the collective bargaining agreement or substantially dependent on its analysis. Consequently, defendants assert that removal was proper as all of plaintiff‟s claims fall within the preemptive scope of § 301 and thus are federal in nature. Accordingly, defendants contend that plaintiff‟s claims are time-barred under the applicable limitations period for § 301 claims and therefore should be dismissed.*fn2

Plaintiff asserts that this action improperly was removed as the matters she asserted in her complaint do not constitute a claim arising under federal law. Plaintiff disputes that her state-law claims implicate the BLA to a degree sufficient to trigger the preemptive power of § 301. Plaintiff further reasons that remand is appropriate because the BLA is ancillary to the crux of the complaint, which focuses on the purportedly unlawful representations and actions taken by defendants.

The record as well as the applicable law demonstrate that removal was proper and §301(a) of the LMRA completely preempts all but one of plaintiff‟s state-law claims.*fn3 Removal of a state action to federal court is proper only if the action "originally could have been filed in federal court." Caterpillar v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1441.*fn4 Absent diversity of citizenship, federal-question jurisdiction is required to support removal. Id. at 392.

It is well-established that "a case is not removable to federal court simply because . . . the defendant raises federal preemption as a defense." Trans Penn Wax Corp. v. McCandless, 50 F.3d 217, 228 (3d Cir. 1995); see also Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393 ("[I]t is now settled law that a case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of preemption, even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff‟s complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue.").

The question of whether federal question jurisdiction exists is determined by the "well-pleaded complaint rule," which requires that a federal question be "presented on the face of the plaintiff‟s properly pleaded complaint." Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392; see also Trans Penn, 50 F.3d at 228. Generally, the well-pleaded complaint rule "makes the plaintiff the master of the claim." Id. at 392; see also Trans Penn, 50 F.3d at 228 (same). The rule permits the plaintiff to "avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law." Id. at 392. The well-pleaded complaint rule is not absolute, however, because under the appropriate circumstances "a defendant may be able to remove a case notwithstanding a complaint‟s apparent grounding in state law." Trans Penn, 50 F.3d at 228. The doctrine of complete preemption presents one such circumstance. Id.; see also Berda v. CBS, 881 F.2d 20, 22 fn.1 (3d Cir. 1989) (discussing how complete preemption operates to permit removal despite the fact that the claim was pled as a state claim because "the claim is actually considered to arise under the federal law that displaces the state law.").

Under the doctrine of complete preemption, the preemptive force of federal law is "so powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 23 (1983). The Supreme Court has explained that complete preemption operates to "convert[] an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Taylor, 481, U.S. 58, 65 (1987). Thus, when a federal statute is found to preempt an area of state law completely, "any claim purportedly based on that preempted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law." Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393; see also Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 24 ("[I]f a federal cause of action completely pre-empts a state cause of action any complaint that comes within the scope of the federal cause of action necessarily "arises under‟ federal law").

One such instance of complete preemption occurs in the context of § 301(a) of the LMRA, which provides in pertinent part:

Suits for violations 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 over the parties.

29 U.S.C. § 185 (a). The Supreme Court has held that "§ 301(a) is more than jurisdictional-[] it authorizes federal courts to fashion a body of federal law for the enforcement of these collective bargaining agreements." Textile Workers Union of Am. V. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 48, 450-51 (1957). It reasoned that "the subject matter of § 301(a) is peculiarly one that calls for uniform law" because:

The possibility that individual contract terms might have different meanings under state and federal law would inevitably exert a disruptive influence upon both the negotiation and administration of collective agreements. Because neither party could be certain of the rights which it had obtained or conceded, the process of negotiating an agreement would be made immeasurably more difficult by the necessity of trying to formulate contract provisions in such a way as to contain the same meaning under two or more systems of law which might someday be invoked in enforcing the contract.

Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103 (1962); see also Berda, 881 F.2d at 22 ("The purpose of preempting state [] law with a uniform federal law is to allow parties to collective bargaining agreements to have some ...

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