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Asala v. United Water Resources

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


July 25, 2008

RALPH ASALA, MASTER PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED WATER RESOURCES, INC., DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

HON. WILLIAM J. MARTINI

OPINION

Defendant, who is Plaintiff's employer, has filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. The complaint seeks to vacate an arbitration award rendered in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff's union on the grounds that the union failed to properly represent Plaintiff. Defendant primarily argues that if Plaintiff has any claim, it is against Plaintiff's union, not Defendant. The Court agrees. Accordingly, Defendant's motion todismiss is GRANTED.

I. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS*fn1

This litigation stems from an arbitration over Plaintiff's discharge from his employment with Defendant. Plaintiff was an employee of Defendant. (Compl. ¶ 1.) In this capacity, he was also a member of an employee bargaining unit represented by a union. (Compl. ¶ 3.) Defendant terminated Plaintiff for reasons not relevant to this appeal. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff then challenged this termination pursuant to the grievance procedure contained in a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between the union and Defendant. (Compl. ¶¶ 3--5.) As per the CBA, the challenge resulted in arbitration of the dispute, at which the union selected and paid an attorney to represent Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 4.) The arbitrator found Defendant had terminated Plaintiff for just cause. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff now files this complaint against Defendant seeking to vacate the arbitration decision. (Compl.) Plaintiff alleges that the attorney his union selected did not properly represent him at the arbitration. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the attorney withheld arguments that might benefit him but hurt other union members in the future. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Plaintiff asserts that the attorney did so to ensure that the union would continue to select him for future disputes. (Compl. ¶ 5.)

Defendant now moves to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Mem. of Law in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss.) Primarily, Defendant argues that if Plaintiff has any claim, it is only against Plaintiff's union. (Mem. 6--8.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court should dismiss a claim if the pleadings fail to state a cause of action. To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the pleadings must set forth factual allegations sufficient to raise the probability of a right to relief above pure speculation. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964--65 (2007). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the Court will draw "all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's complaint fails to name an appropriate defendant. Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185, provides the closest vehicle for Plaintiff's requested relief.*fn2 That section allows employees to vacate arbitrations between their union and their employer where the union breaches its duty of fair representation to the employee.*fn3 See Chauffeurs, Local No. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 564 (1990); Vosch v. Werner Continental, Inc., 734 F.2d 149, 154 (3d Cir. 1984). Naturally, the proper defendant in such a case is the union. See Vosch, 734 F.2d at 154--55. Here, Plaintiff's complaint appears to assert a claim against the union that it breached its duty of fair representation. Indeed, Plaintiff now appears to concede that this is the gravamen of his complaint.*fn4 But Plaintiff named only his employer as a defendant-not his union. Accordingly, the Court must dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.

Plaintiff requests to amend his complaint to add the union as a Defendant, but the Court denies this request as futile. See Winer Family Trust v. Queen, 503 F.3d 319, 330--31 (3d Cir. 2007) (holding that although district courts should freely grant leave to amend, leave is unnecessary if amendment would be futile). The District of New Jersey has held that to establish a fair representation claim, a plaintiff must allege two elements: "(1) that the union acted in an arbitrary, discriminatory, or bad faith manner, and (2) such conduct seriously undermined the arbitration process."*fn5 Morales v. P.F. Labs., Inc., No. 00-150, 2000 WL 33678049, at *2 (D.N.J. Aug. 3, 2000). The Third Circuit has further held that to violate the duty of fair representation, "it is necessary that the union act with a bad faith motive." Medlin v. Boeing Vertol Co., 620 F.2d 957, 961 (3d Cir. 1980).

Here, Plaintiff has not alleged that his union acted with bad faith (or in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner), so his complaint does not state a section 301 claim even against his union. Plaintiff's only allegation is against his attorney for failing to raise his strongest argument at the arbitration. (Compl. ¶ 5.) Although Plaintiff argues that counsel was "unduly influenced by the union," there is no allegation that the union acted knowingly or in concert with counsel. (Opp'n 18.) There is certainly no indication that the union acted in any manner that was arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Accordingly, the Court denies Plaintiff's request to add the union as a defendant.

IV. CONCLUSION

Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Accordingly, Defendant's motion is GRANTED, and Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. An Order accompanies this Opinion.

William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.


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