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Crispin v. Newark Morning Ledger Co.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 11, 2017



          PETER G. SHERIDAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Newark Morning Ledger Company's (hereinafter, “Star Ledger”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Lester D. Crispin's Complaint, pursuant Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (ECF No. 9). In a prior decision, this Court granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss without prejudice. (ECF No. 32, 14-cv-2621). Plaintiff asserts claims under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12, et seq. (ECF No. 1, “Complaint”).


         Plaintiff Lester Crispin's present cause of action stems from an employment dispute between him and his employer, the Star Ledger. Plaintiff was a truck driver for the Star Ledger and was a member of the Newspaper and Mail Delivers' Union of New York and Vicinity, [1] which had a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Star Ledger that extended through March 30, 2015. (Complaint at ¶¶ 3-4). On December 29, 2009, while on duty, Plaintiff was involved in a car accident and charged with driving while intoxicated, operating a commercial vehicle while intoxicated, and reckless driving. (Id. at ¶ 7). Later that same day, Plaintiff was advised that he would be suspended indefinitely, without pay, for having violated the Star Ledger's policy under the CBA. (Id. at ¶ 8).

         More than four years later, on May 8, 2013, Plaintiff was acquitted of driving while intoxicated, but convicted of reckless driving. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13). Thereafter, as part of the CBA's grievance process, a Joint Standing Committee reviewed Plaintiff's request for reinstatement. (ECF No. 1-4, “Exhibit E”). As part of its resolution, the Committee required, among other things, that Plaintiff participate in any recommended Employee Assistance Programs and complete a drug and alcohol abuse evaluation. (Id.). The resolution also disentitled Plaintiff to any backpay for the period from December 29, 2009 to his return to work. (Id.). Plaintiff refused to accept the forfeiture of backpay and, thereafter, failed to pursue subsequent grievance proceedings provided under the CBA.

         Instead, on March 5, 2014, Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Star Ledger in New Jersey Superior Court, which was later removed to this Court based on federal question jurisdiction under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185. (ECF No. 1-1, in 14-cv-2621). This Court later dismissed Plaintiff's complaint, without prejudice, for failing to exhaust all remedies under the parties' CBA on June 19, 2015. (Complaint at ¶ 42). Three weeks later, on July 7, 2015, Plaintiff wrote to his union, seeking an expedited appeal of the Joint Committee's resolution, to be heard no later than no later than July 19, 2015. (ECF No. 1-12, “Exhibit K”). However, according to the Complaint, Plaintiff never received a response from the union. (Complaint at ¶¶ 43-44).

         On September 13, 2017, more than two years after this Court's prior dismissal, Plaintiff filed this present six-count complaint. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges: (1) breach of contract; (2) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; (3) violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“LAD”); (4) equitable estoppel; (5) theft by deception; and (6) equitable fraud. Defendant seeks dismissal of these claims since Plaintiff's failed to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60 and his claims are time barred under Section 301 of the LMRA.

         Legal Standard

         On a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court is required to accept as true all allegations in the Complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and to view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, (2007)). While a court will accept well-pleaded allegations as true for the purposes of the motion, it will not accept bald assertions, unsupported conclusions, unwarranted inferences, or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; see also Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A complaint should be dismissed only if the well-pleaded alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. See In re Warfarin Sodium Antitrust Litig., 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). The question is whether the claimant can prove any set of facts consistent with his or her allegations that will entitle him or her to relief, not whether that person will ultimately prevail. Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). “The pleader is required to ‘set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that these elements exist.'” Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting 5A Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1357, at 340 (2d 3d. 1990)). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotation marks and citations 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. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).


         I. LMRA Claims[2]

         The Star Ledger seeks dismissal of Counts I, II, IV, V, and VI on the basis that they are time-barred by the six-month statute of limitations for claims brought under Section 301 of the LMRA. Neither party disputes that Plaintiff's claims are based on the CBA and are preempted by the LMRA. See Johnson v. NBC Universal, Inc., 409 F. App'x 529, 531 (3d Cir. 2010) (“State law claims are completely preempted by the LMRA when the claims are ‘substantially dependent upon analysis of the terms of an agreement made between the parties in a labor contract . . . .'” (quoting Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 220 (1985))); see also Pilvalis v. Lockheed Martin Corp., No. 12-1354, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38211, at *26 (D.N.J. Mar. 20, 2013) (“It is well-established that suits alleging a breach of contract based on a collective bargaining agreement are preempted by § 301 of the LMRA, and are thus governed by federal law”). Here, the Court is tasked with determining whether Plaintiffs claims are time-barred by Section 10(b) of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 160.

         In making this determination, the Court must first determine whether Plaintiff has alleged a “pure” or “hybrid” Section 301 claim. See Pivalis, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38211, at *27 (citing DelCostello v. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164-65 (1983)). “‘Pure' claims are standard § 301 actions in which a union brings suit against an employer on behalf of an injured employee, ” these claims follow the analogous state statute of limitations. Id. at *27-28 (citing Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Local 36 v. City Cleaning Co., 982 F.2d 89, 94-96 (3d Cir. 1992)). However, “hybrid” claims “are suits brought by an employee against both his employer and union, ” and “are subject to the six-month federal limitations period of the LMRA.” Id. In this instance, Plaintiff is seeking relief against the employer without any claim against the union. The case does not precisely fit within the definition of puree or hybrid. Id.; see also Porter v. Sunbelt Rentals, Inc., No. 13-6901, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 78513, at *13 (D.N.J. June 10, 2014). Where, as here, the plaintiff only asserts claims against his employer for breach of the CBA, such claims are still treated as hybrid. Id. at *28-29 (citing cases). This being said, contrary to Plaintiff's assertion, even though a plaintiff may have only asserted claims against his employer, he must nevertheless “‘allege, and eventually prove, that the union breached its duty of fair representation' in order to successfully and completely establish a viable hybrid claim.” Id. at *30 (quoting Swayne v. Mount Joy Wire Corp., No. 10-3969, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 46236, at *22 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 29, 2012)).

         With these principles in mind, the Court finds several reasons for dismissing Plaintiff's claims. First, Plaintiff's Complaint presents no claims against the union, nor does the record suggest that the union has breached its duty of fair representation or has otherwise acted in bad faith. Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to properly state a Section 301 hybrid claim. See Pilvalis, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 38211, at *31; see also Swayne, 2012 U.S. Dist. 46236, at *28 (“plaintiff's allegations fail to state a section 301 claim because they do not plausibly suggest that the Union violated its duty of fair representation”). Second, even assuming that Plaintiff asserted a proper Section 301 hybrid claim, his claims would nevertheless be time-barred. As noted above, “[a] section 301 claim must ordinarily be filed within six months from the date of accrual.” Vadino v. A. Valey Engineers, 903 F.2d 253, 260 (3d Cir. 1990). “The six-month period commences when the claimant discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the acts constituting the alleged violation.” Id. (internal quotation ...

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