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Pursell v. Spence-Brown

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 1, 2013

DIANNE SPENCE-BROWN, et al., Defendants.


FREDA L. WOLFSON, District Judge.

Pro se plaintiffs, Robert W. Pursell ("Pursell") and Sandra M. Coia ("Coia") (collectively "Plaintiffs"), initiated the instant suit against multiple defendants, [1] alleging that they violated various state and federal labor and employment laws, including the Labor Management Relations Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), involving a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"). In the instant matter, both Defendants International Brotherhood of Teamsters ("IBT") and Communications Workers of America Savings and Retirement Trust ("Trust") (collectively, "Defendants") move separately to dismiss the Complaint. On its motion, IBT contends that it does not owe Plaintiffs any contractual or other union related duties because it is not the union with which Plaintiffs contracted. In the same vein, the Trust argues that it is also not a proper defendant because it owes no duties to Plaintiff as a fiduciary. For the following reasons, Defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED.


Plaintiff Pursell was a member of the Communications Workers of America ("CWA") for thirty-three years.[2] Pl.'s Compl., ¶ 6. On April 1, 2009, Pursell began his employment with Local 1033, a local subchapter of CWA, as a Staff Representative. Id. At the time of the Complaint, he had been terminated from Local 1033. Id. Plaintiff Coia previously worked for the New Jersey Department of Education for eighteen years. Id. at ¶ 7. In August 2004, Coia was hired by Local 1033 as an Education Planner, but she also performed the duties of a Staff Representative. Id. Currently, Coia is on medical leave from Local 1033. Id.

During their employment, Plaintiffs entered into a CBA with Teamsters 115, which represented employees of Local 1033. Id. at ¶ 16. IBT, an international labor union located in Washington, D.C., is the "parent" organization of Teamsters 115. Id. at ¶ 13. The Trust is an employee pension benefit plan under the CBA. Id. at ¶ 15. Both Plaintiffs were participants in the Trust. Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.

The issues underlying this suit arose from certain employment disputes between Plaintiffs and both Local 1033 and Teamsters 115. Plaintiffs allege in their Complaint that "[t]his is a hybrid Section 301 suit under the LMRA charging the Union, Teamsters Local 115 with a breach of the duty of fair representation and a breach of contract and violation of the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement by Employer, CWA Local 1033." Id. at ¶ 1. In a relevant provision of the CBA at issue, "Teamsters Local 115 is the sole and exclusive representative of all full and part-time non-managerial, non-officer employees of CWA Local 1033." Id. at ¶ 17. Plaintiffs concede that they are both full-time non-managerial, non-officer employees, represented by Teamsters 115. Id. at ¶ 18.

Plaintiffs aver numerous grievances - which are not pertinent to the instant motion - directed against Local 1033 and Teamsters 115. See e.g., ¶¶ 16-115. However, the Complaint alleges very little, if any, wrongdoing by IBT and the Trust. Regarding the actions of IBT, Plaintiffs allege, in a conclusory manner, that IBT breached its duty of fair representation and contractual obligations. See Id. at ¶¶ 6-7. Plaintiffs alleges that "Pursell sent a certified, return receipt request, letter to James P. Hoffa, General President of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters" that requested IBT's intervention for certain alleged wrongdoings committed by Local 1033 and Teamster 115. Id. at ¶ 73. Plaintiffs further allege that they "have attempted to obtain internal remedies with both defendants Teamsters Local 115 and [IBT] to no avail." Id. at ¶ 114. And, "Defendant [IBT] and Teamsters Local 115's misleading conduct rose to the level of fraudulent concealment." Id.

As to the actions of the Trust, Plaintiffs aver that the Trust has violated its responsibility under ERISA and the CBA by failing to operate the 401(k) Plan prudently and for the exclusive benefit of the participants. Id. at ¶¶ 133-34. Specifically, Plaintiffs allege that the Trust "continually made delinquent deposits of elective deferral deposits and employer contributions, failed to segregate and place contributions in trust for the sole benefit of plan participants." Id. at ¶ 134. Further, Plaintiffs allege that they "were discriminated and retaliated against by [the Trust]... for exercising rights which they were entitled under the provisions of their employee benefit plan." Id. at ¶ 135. In addition to the ERISA claims, Plaintiffs assert a claim for tortious interference with a contractual right against the Trust. Id. at ¶ 137. In that claim, Plaintiffs allege in a broad brush fashion that because of the above actions related to Plaintiffs' 401(k), all "[d]efendants interfered with the attainment of rights to which plaintiffs were entitled under the plan." Id. at ¶ 135.

Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint against Defendants on May 14, 2013, including IBT and the Trust. In the instant motions, IBT and the Trust separately move to dismiss the Complaint. Although these motions were filed separately, this Court addresses both motions in tandem in this Opinion.


I. Standard of Review

Under Rule 12(b)(6), "courts are required to accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and to draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party." Phillips v. Cnty. Of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props. Secs. Litig., 311 F.3d 198, 215-16 (3d Cir. 2002)). However, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The pleading must contain more than "labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action...." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Thus, a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains "sufficient factual matter, as accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570) (internal citations and quotations omitted). "A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.


IBT contends that it has no contractual relationship with Plaintiffs and, although is the "parent" organization for Teamsters 115, it is a separate legal entity. In that regard, IBT maintains that it does not have any contractual obligations to Plaintiffs, nor does it owe Plaintiffs a duty of fair representation. On the other hand, Plaintiffs argue that IBT is not a separate entity, but rather Teamsters 115 is a subordinate organization to IBT. Because of that ...

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