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Smith v. American Federation of State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 12, 2017

TRACY SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO DISTRICT COUNCIL 71, Defendant.

          Alexander Wazeter, Esq. HELMER CONLEY & KASSELMAN Attorney for Plaintiff.

          David B. Beckett, Esq. LAW OFFICE OF DAVID BECKETT.

          OPINION

          JEROME B. SIMANDLE, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Tracy A. Smith (hereinafter, “Plaintiff”) brought this suit against Defendant American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO District Council 71 (“AFSCME”) (hereinafter, “Defendant”) alleging that Defendant's termination of her employment in March 2011 violated the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between Defendant and Plaintiff's union, the Association of Union Staff and Office Personnel (“AUSOP”). This matter comes before the Court upon the Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P. [Docket Item 4.] For the following reasons, the motion to dismiss will be granted.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         A. Factual Background

         Defendant is a collective bargaining organization that represents the interests of public employees in southern New Jersey. (Compl. at ¶ 2.) In 1993, Defendant hired Plaintiff as a Staff Representative. (Id. at ¶¶ 1, 3.) While employed by Defendant, Plaintiff was represented by AUSOP, a collective bargaining organization that represents the interests of the employees of Defendant. (Id. at ¶ 6.) On March 3, 2011, Plaintiff's employment was terminated by the Defendant. (Id. at ¶ 11.) Plaintiff alleges that her termination violated specific provisions, discussed infra, of the collective-bargaining agreement between AUSOP and AFSCME.

         On January 11, 2010, Defendant entered into a written collective bargaining agreement with AUSOP entitled “The Agreement Between American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO District Council 71 and the Association of Union Staff and Office Personnel” (hereinafter, “the Agreement” or “the CBA”) that provided a “number of rights” to the members of the AUSOP, including Plaintiff, with respect to their terms of employment. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8, 10.) There are four specific provisions of the Agreement that relate to Plaintiff's Complaint: a formal disciplinary procedure requiring “just and sufficient” cause for termination, an arbitration process for adjudicating grievances resulting from termination, the “last-in, first-out” policy of laying off employees based on seniority, and the policy requiring severance pay to terminated employees (Id. at ¶ 9; see also Agreement Arts. VI-VIII, XV, [Ex. A to the Complaint], at 19-21, 27.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant failed to adhere to the above provisions of the Agreement in carrying out her termination. (Compl. at ¶¶ 15-16.) Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant's actions amounted to a breach of contract (Count I), legal fraud, in misrepresenting its intent to be bound by the Agreement (Count II), promissory estoppel (Count III), and bad faith (Count V), and also advances a claim of equitable estoppel to preclude Defendant from disclaiming the validity of the Agreement (Count IV). (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 25, 29-31, 40, 45.)

         B. Procedural History

         Plaintiff initially brought the Complaint before the Superior Court of New Jersey, Cumberland County, on December 21, 2016. (Notice of Removal at 2 ¶ 1.) On February 15, 2017, Defendant timely removed the case to federal court on the basis of federal question jurisdiction. (Id. at 2 ¶ 5.) On February 22, 2017, Defendant filed an unopposed motion to dismiss the case pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed.R.Civ.P. [Docket Items 4 & 9.]

         C. Parties' Argument

         Defendant argues that all claims alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint arise from violations of the CBA between AFSCME and AUSOP, and are thus governed by the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (2012). (Def. Br. at 1, 5.) Defendant asserts that the LMRA preempts any state-law contract claims when those claims are dependent upon an analysis of an agreement between parties to a labor contract, including attendant quasi-contract claims of legal fraud as well as promissory and equitable estoppel. (Id. at 8-9.) Thus, according to the Defendant, Plaintiff's claims are all preempted by the LMRA and time-barred by the statute's six-month statute of limitations, mandating the dismissal of the Complaint. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff does not oppose Defendant's motion. [Docket Item 9.]

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Rule 8(a)(2), Fed. R. Civ. P., a complaint need only contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Specific facts are not required, and “the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted). While a complaint is not required to contain detailed factual allegations, the plaintiff must provide the “grounds” of her ...


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