United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
J. PAPPERT, J.
he was terminated from his employment as a bus driver,
Christopher Lopez sued the Southeastern Pennsylvania
Transportation Authority (“SEPTA”) and
Transportation Workers Union Local 234 (“the
Union”). In Count I of his Amended Complaint, he
contends that SEPTA breached its Collective Bargaining
Agreement (“CBA”) with the Union by terminating
him without just cause and failing to produce exculpatory
evidence during his grievance proceeding. In Count II, he
alleges the Union breached its duty of fair representation by
failing to represent him adequately in the grievance process
and refusing to take his case to arbitration. In Count III,
which he brings pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1983, Lopez
claims that both SEPTA and the Union violated his procedural
due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments
by discharging him without just cause and failing to comply
with various procedural requirements contemplated by the CBA.
Both Defendants filed motions to dismiss. For the reasons
below, the motions are granted in part and denied in part.
began working for SEPTA as a bus driver in September 2008.
(Am. Compl. ¶ 10.) On July 7, 2015, he stopped his bus
at 11th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia to let passengers
board. (Id. ¶ 12.) Lopez alleges he said
“come on, if you coming” to a seemingly
intoxicated individual who was standing outside the bus, but
the individual did not move. (Id.) According to
Lopez, he closed the door and drove off without incident.
(Id.) When he reached Vine Street, a Philadelphia
police officer stopped him and asked if he was in an accident
on Walnut Street. (Id. ¶ 14.) Lopez answered
that he did not think so and had not noticed any issues with
his bus. (Id.) The police officer directed the
passengers to get on another bus. (Id. ¶ 15.)
police detectives interviewed Lopez and told him that an
individual had been run over at 11th and Walnut.
(Id. ¶ 16.) Lopez was given a drug and alcohol
test, which came back negative. (Id. ¶ 17.) He
was not charged with any crimes or issued any traffic
tickets. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) He was told by a
SEPTA supervisor to fill out an incident report and then
released to go home. (Id. ¶ 20.) Though he
continued to come into work, he was placed “on
hold” until SEPTA could hold a hearing-he came into
work every day and was in uniform but was not placed on the
street. (Id. ¶ 21.)
week later, SEPTA charged him with negligence and unsafe
driving. (Id. ¶ 23.) The CBA between SEPTA and
the Union establishes a grievance procedure consisting of
four steps: (1) an informal hearing, (2) a formal hearing,
(3) a hearing in front of SEPTA's Labor Relations
Department and, should the Union decide to proceed to the
final step, (4) binding arbitration. See (Am. Compl.
¶¶ 25, 26, 29, 63, 64, 66; SEPTA's Mot., Ex.
2015, an informal hearing was held before SEPTA's Senior
Director, Tom Ropas. At Lopez's request, he was
represented by Union Representative Andre Jones, whose
candidacy for Union Vice President Lopez had openly supported
in previous Union elections. At the hearing, Ropas
recommended discharge. (Id. ¶ 25.) Though SEPTA
allegedly had in its possession a toxicology report of the
alleged victim showing that he was intoxicated on the night
of the incident, SEPTA failed to produce it. Jones demanded
that SEPTA produce the toxicology report at the upcoming
formal hearing. (Id. ¶ 57.) Lopez contends that
SEPTA postponed the formal hearing every time Jones requested
the report and ultimately failed to produce it. (Id.
September 2015, Union officers substituted Tony
Goins for Andre Jones to represent Lopez at the
formal hearing. (Id. ¶ 58.) Goins supported
Willie Brown and Brian Pollitt, who defeated John Johnson and
Jones in a prior Union election for President and Vice
President, respectively, of the Union. Lopez opposed the
Brown and Pollitt ticket. Lopez contends “[t]his was a
deliberate move by the Union to breach its duty of fair
representation of [him] in the subsequent grievance
proceedings of SEPTA's termination of [him].”
(Id. ¶ 58.)
alleges that he attempted to call Goins to discuss his case
and have Goins request certain supporting evidence, but Goins
failed to return his calls. (Id. ¶ 59.) When he
did reach Goins, Goins was “very combative.”
(Id.) Lopez claims that he told Goins to insist that
SEPTA produce the victim's toxicological report. He also
allegedly told Goins to “bring to the hearing several
records in the Union's possession where other members had
been involved in a similar accident to the circumstances of
the one involving [Lopez], but were not terminated by SEPTA,
but [Goins] refused to obtain the information and did not
bring the records to the hearing.” (Id.)
allegedly notified Lopez about the formal hearing just one
day before it was scheduled to occur. (Id. ¶
60.) Lopez asked Goins if SEPTA had produced the
toxicological report; Goins responded that SEPTA had not but
was “antagonistic” to Lopez and stated that he
was proceeding with the hearing “with or without”
him. (Id.) Lopez contends that Goins was
“woefully unprepared” at the hearing and did not
present information regarding alleged comparators that would
have supported Lopez's case even though Lopez and Jones
had previously advised him that such information was
available and should be presented as evidence of SEPTA's
inconsistent application of its disciplinary rules.
(Id. ¶ 61.)
SEPTA denied Lopez's grievance at the formal hearing,
Lopez spoke with Pollitt, the Union's Vice President, and
requested that Jones be reassigned to represent him at the
next grievance step before SEPTA's Labor Relations
Department because Goins “was not helpful at the formal
hearing and was combative.” (Id. ¶ 62.)
Pollitt declined and “yelled at [Lopez] on the phone,
saying he would not have Andre Jones represent [him] at the
Labor Relations step without reasonable explanation.”
(Id. ¶ 63.) His “tone of voice and
language on the phone” was allegedly antagonistic.
(Id. ¶ 64.)
contends that at the Labor Relations hearing, Goins was again
unprepared and failed to obtain or present either the
toxicology report or the comparator evidence. (Id.
¶ 64.) SEPTA's Labor Relations Department denied the
grievance. (Id. ¶ 65.) Lopez thereafter met
with Union officials and asked the Union to request
arbitration. (Id. ¶ 67.) The Union, however,
informed him that it had decided not to do so. (Id.
survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint
must provide “more than labels and conclusions”
or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted). “Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above
the speculative level on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in
fact).” Id. (citation omitted). While a
complaint need not include detailed facts, it must provide
“more than an unadorned,
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Twombly and
Iqbal require the Court to take three steps to
determine whether the second amended complaint will survive
Defendants' motion to dismiss. See Connelly v. Lane
Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 787 (3d Cir. 2016). First,
it must “take note of the elements the plaintiff must
plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, it must identify the
allegations that are no more than legal conclusions and thus
“not entitled to the assumption of truth.”
Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
Finally, where the complaint includes well-pleaded factual
allegations, the Court “should assume their veracity
and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
“presumption of truth attaches only to those
allegations for which there is sufficient factual matter to
render them plausible on their face.” Schuchardt v.
President of the United States, 839 F.3d 336, 347 (3d
Cir. 2016) (internal quotation and citation omitted).
“Conclusory assertions of fact and legal conclusions
are not entitled to the same presumption.” Id.
This plausibility determination is a “context-specific
task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its
judicial experience and common sense.” Id.
(quoting Connelly, 809 F.3d at 786-87).
Count I of his Amended Complaint, Lopez claims SEPTA breached
the CBA by terminating him without just cause and failing to
provide the Union with all documents relating to the incident
for which he was charged, including ...