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James M. Lambert On Behalf of Himself and All Others Similarly Situated v. Highlands Hospital

October 5, 2012


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


Presently pending before the Court is DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT (Document No. 9). The motion has been thoroughly briefed by both sides (Document Nos. 10, 15, 16, 20) and is ripe for disposition.

Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff James Lambert, on behalf of himself and a class of others similarly situated, asserts a claim against Defendant Highlands Hospital (the Hospital) under the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act ("PMWA"), 43 P.S. § 333.101 et seq. Specifically, Lambert contends that he is entitled to overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week as a Radiologic Technologist. Lambert alleges that the Hospital implements a so-called "8/80" schedule, which allows an employer to avoid paying overtime so long as the employee does not exceed 80 combined hours in a two-week period. Lambert acknowledges that the "8/80" schedule is permissible under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), but contends that such a practice violates Pennsylvania law, as reflected in the PMWA. The Amended Complaint avers that Lambert is a member of a union, and that the union and Hospital had entered into collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") for the time periods at issue in this case.

Lambert and the Hospital are both residents of Pennsylvania and Plaintiff's claim is based on a Pennsylvania law. The case was originally filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Fayette County, Pennsylvania (the "State Court"). On June 1, 2012, the Hospital filed a timely Notice of Removal to this Court. The Hospital contends that the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441(a) because this action arises under a law of the United States. Specifically, the Hospital asserts that "Plaintiff's claim requires interpretation of the CBA and is, therefore, preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185."

Legal Analysis

As an initial matter, the Court has a non-delegable duty to confirm that it may properly exercise subject-matter jurisdiction. As the parties have not addressed this issue, other than the conclusory statement in the Notice of Removal, the Court has raised it sua sponte. The removing party bears a heavy burden to show, at all stages of the litigation, that the case is properly before the federal court. See Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993). Removal statutes are to be strictly construed, with all doubts to be resolved in favor of remand. Brown v. Jevic, 575 F.3d 322, 326 (3d Cir. 2009). See 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c) ("If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded.").

If this case could not have been filed originally in federal court, then removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441 was improper. Kline v. Security Guards, Inc., 386 F.3d 246, 251 (3d Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is generally governed by the "well-pleaded complaint rule," which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the properly pleaded complaint. Plaintiff is the master of the claim and may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law. However, there is an "independent corollary" to the well-pleaded complaint rule, which is referred to as the "complete preemption" doctrine. In Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 393 (1987), the Supreme Court articulated this doctrine as follows:

On occasion, the Court has concluded that the pre-emptive force of a statute is so "extraordinary" that it "converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule." Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. [ v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 65, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987) ]. Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law. See Franchise Tax Board, supra, 463 U.S. at 24, 103 S.Ct. at 2854 ("[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").

The federal law cited by the Hospital in this case, LMRA § 301, 29 U.S.C. § 185, has been held to be of complete preemptive force. See Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 23. The statute provides:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, 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 or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

There has been substantial jurisprudence regarding the contours of the LMRA complete preemption doctrine. "When resolution of a state-law claim is substantially dependent upon analysis of the terms of an agreement made between the parties in a labor contract, that claim must either be treated as a § 301 claim or dismissed as pre-empted by federal labor-contract law." On the other hand, "it would be inconsistent with congressional intent under [§ 301] to pre-empt state rules that proscribe conduct, or establish rights and obligations, independent of a labor contract." See Kline at 252-253 (citing Allis--Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202 (1985)). Employees have the option of vindicating their interests by means of an action brought under state law, as long as the state-law action as pleaded does not require interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement. In Lingle v. Norge Division of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 409-410 (1988), the United States Supreme Court determined whether the state law claim was preempted by examining whether the elements of the prima facie case required interpretation of the CBA and explained:

§ 301 pre-emption merely ensures that federal law will be the basis for interpreting collective-bargaining agreements, and says nothing about the substantive rights a State may provide to workers when adjudication of those rights does not depend upon the interpretation of [collective-bargaining] agreements. In other words, even if dispute resolution pursuant to a collective-bargaining agreement, on the one hand, and state law, on the other, would require addressing precisely the same set of facts, as long as the state-law claim can be resolved without interpreting the agreement itself, the claim is "independent" of the agreement for § 301 preemption purposes.

In Lividas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 122-24 (1994) (involving an employee's claim under state law for late payment of wages), the Supreme Court further clarified that state law claims are not necessarily ...

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