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Sandor Radai and Michael v. First Transit and Firstgroup America Company

May 25, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas


IRENAS, Senior District Judge

Plaintiffs Sandor Radai and Michael O'Brien (collectively, "Plaintiffs") bring this action claiming wrongful termination by their employer, First Transit, FirstGroup America Company and FirstGroup America (collectively, "Defendants").*fn1 Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated herein, the Motion will be granted.

I. Plaintiffs were employed as mechanics at Defendants' facility in Pennsauken, New Jersey. (Compl. First Count ¶ 1) Both Plaintiffs became involved in a campaign to be represented by a labor organization for collective bargaining purposes, and signed union authorization cards on April 22, 2009. (Id.)

On May 19, 2009, Plaintiffs were filmed on security cameras dismantling a wooden pallet owned by another worker. (see Exhibit A, Report of the Independent Monitor p. 6) In addition, O'Brien was accused of stealing a cereal bar from the same employee. (Id. at 9). The managers of the plant subsequently terminated Radai on June 1, 2009 and O'Brien on June 2, 2009 because "a level of trust had been breached". (Exhibit A, Report of the Independent Monitor p. 11)

Plaintiffs filed a complaint with the Independent Monitor, an internal factfinder created by Defendants to adjudicate such disputes, alleging that management's justification for their termination was pretextual, and that Defendants terminated Plaintiffs because of their union organizing activities. (see Exhibit A, Report of the Independent Monitor pp. 1-2) On July 13, 2009, the Independent Monitor found that Defendants terminated Plaintiffs because of their union activities, and that the termination was therefore wrongful under Defendants' Freedom of Association Policy ("FOA Policy"). (Compl. First Count ¶ 4) Though a copy of the FOA Policy is not included in the pleadings, the Independent Monitor quotes portions of the policy in his report. Neither party disputes that the objective of the FOA Policy "is for the company 'to refrain from management conduct, whether written or verbal, which is intended to influence an employee's view or choice with regard to labor union representation.'" (Exhibit A, Report of the Independent Monitor p. 3). The Independent Monitor held that Plaintiffs should be reinstated with full back pay and interest to their former employment with the Defendants. (Id.) Defendants allegedly did not comply with the order of the Independent Monitor. (Compl. Second Count ¶ 2) Plaintiffs' Complaint, filed on November 12, 2010 in Camden County Superior Court, asserts that Plaintiffs were wrongfully terminated in violation of Defendants' Freedom of Association policy. (Compl. First Count ¶ 6) Plaintiffs seek to enforce the decision of the Independent Monitor. (Compl. First Count "whereas clause") Defendants timely removed the suit to this Court, and now move to dismiss the Complaint.*fn2

II. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).

While a court must accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), a court is not required to accept sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The complaint must state sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not simply possible, but plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

When evaluating a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court considers "only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum v. Bank of America, 361 F.3d 217, 221 n.3 (3d Cir. 2004). A document that forms the basis of a claim is one that is "integral to or explicitly relied upon in the complaint." Id. (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997)).

III. Defendants move to dismiss, asserting that the Plaintiffs' claims are preempted by the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169, ("NLRA" or "Act") and that this Court must therefore defer to the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB" or "Board") and dismiss the Complaint. Plaintiffs argue that their action is based on a breach of implied contract claim that is peripheral to the concerns of the NLRA and is therefore not preempted. The Court holds that Plaintiffs' claim is preempted by the NLRA, and will dismiss the Complaint.

In 1935, Congress enacted the NLRA in order to "prevent the disturbance to interstate commerce consequent upon strikes and labor disputes induced or likely to be induced because of unfair labor practices." Nat'l Labor Relations Bd. v. Fainblatt, 306 U.S. 601 (1939). Section 7 of the NLRA protects the rights of employees to participate in labor organizations and collective bargaining. 29 U.S.C. § 157. Section 8 prohibits labor practices that interfere with the rights enumerated in Section 7 and prohibits practices that encourage or discourage membership in a labor organization. 29 U.S.C. § 158.

The NLRA also created the NLRB, and gave that body jurisdiction over labor disputes. Guss v. Utah Labor Relations Bd., 353 U.S. 1, 2 (1957).

It is not always clear whether a particular activity falls under Section 7 or Section 8 of the NLRA. When such a question is involved, in order to avoid conflicts of law, the Supreme Court has ruled that "courts are not primary tribunals to adjudicate such issues. It is essential to the administration of the Act that these determinations be left in the first instance to the [NLRB]." San Diego Building Trades Council v Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 244-45 (1959). Thus, state claims arising out of labor disputes covered by the Act are preempted by the NLRA.

A claim is preempted "when it is clear or may fairly be assumed that the activities which a State purports to regulate are protected by [§] 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, or constitute an unfair labor practice under [§] 8." Garmon, 359 U.S. at 244; see also Violas v General Motors Corp., 170 F.3d 367, 378 (3d Cir. 1999)(stating that "Garmon preemption protects the exclusive jurisdiction of the NLRB over unfair labor practice proceedings; accordingly, if a cause of action implicates protected concerted activity under section 7 of the NLRA or conduct that would be prohibited as an unfair labor practice under section 8 of the ...

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