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Muhammad v. Smart/United Transportation Union Local 759

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 28, 2018

KALEEM MUHAMMAD, Plaintiff,
v.
SMART/UNITED TRANSPORTATION UNION LOCAL 759, et al, Defendants.

          OPINION

          JOSE L. LINARES CHIEF JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendants International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Smart-Transportation Division ("International"), John Previsich, Smart/United Transportation Union Local 759 ("Local 759"), and Calvin Studivant's (collectively referred to as "Union Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (ECF No. 45). Plaintiff has submitted Opposition to said Motion (ECF No. 48), to which Union Defendants have replied. (ECF No. 52). The Court decides this matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the Motion to Dismiss.

         I.BACKGROUND[1]

         A. The Parties

         Plaintiff, who is a New Jersey resident, brings this action against his union, Defendant Local 759, as well as Defendant International. (See generally Plaintiffs Third Amended Complaint, ECF No. 33 ("TAC") ¶¶ 8-9). Defendant John Previsich is the President of Defendant International, and Defendant Studivant is the Vice President of the Bus Department of Defendant Local 759. (TAC ¶¶ 10-11).

         B. Pertinent Facts

         Plaintiff was employed by now-dismissed Defendant Community Coach, Inc. ("Community") for 18 years and has 25 years of bus driver experience. (TAC ¶ 12). On July 18, 2015, Plaintiff was driving a bus from North Carolina to New Jersey. (TAC ¶ 13). While driving through Maryland, he was pulled over for failing to stop at a weigh station. (Id.). Plaintiff was cited for that violation as well as driving while fatigued. (Id.). The summons for driving while fatigued was dismissed, and the weigh station violation resulted in a fine. (Id.). Plaintiff presented the summonses to his employer, as was required by "Part I Attachment, Section 11, Article 1 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement" ("CBA"). (TAC ¶ 14).

         On August 13, 2015, Plaintiff appeared for a disciplinary hearing where Defendant Studivant, as well as Stanley Fairconnetue, who is a hearing officer and assistant manager with Community, attended. (TAC ¶ 15). The purpose of the hearing was to determine the ultimate discipline Plaintiff should receive for his traffic violations, with termination of employment possible. (Id.). Stanley Fairconnetue determined that the appropriate discipline for Plaintiff was to complete one hour of computer based training. (TAC ¶ 17). Union Defendants objected to the discipline claiming that Community did not comply with Article 24 of the CBA. (TAC ¶ 18). On or about August 18, 2015, Community's manager Newel Scoon and Defendant Studivant engaged in a conversation regarding whether Plaintiff would be required to perform the training. (TAC ¶ 19). Union Defendants took the position that Community failed to meet the time limits for such a hearing under the CBA. (Id.). According to Plaintiff, Union Defendants never consulted with him regarding the discipline decision. (TAC ¶ 60).

         Thereafter, Plaintiff was terminated by way of a "Hearing Decision letter" on August 20, 2015, which was five business days after the completion of the hearing, despite the fact that the CBA required said letter to be issued within two business days after the completion of the hearing. (TAC ¶¶ 20-22). The "hearing was held prior to the determination of the District Court of Maryland for Cecil County ... as to the guilt or innocence of Plaintiff regarding the two citations he received." (TAC ¶ 24). This fact, Plaintiff avers, was "in violation of the CBA" because Plaintiffs employer did not have all the necessary information to ascertain whether termination was appropriate. (TAC ¶¶ 25-26).

         Plaintiff appealed the termination, through Union Defendants, on August 21, 2015. (TAC ¶ 27). On September 3, 2015, Community's General Counsel Jazmine Estacio heard the appeal. (TAC ¶ 28). Plaintiff claims that the citations were minor infractions, and the citation for driving while fatigued was based on his own statement to the police officers and not any observations by the police. (TAC ¶¶ 29-31). On September 13, 2015, Community provided Newel Scoon and Defendant Studivant with a draft letter of reinstatement, which converted Plaintiffs termination to a suspension and final warning. (TAC ¶ 34). It further noted that Plaintiff would receive back pay if the pending motor vehicle charges against him were dismissed, and also required him to complete the aforementioned computer training. (TAC ¶ 34). In exchange, Plaintiff had to agree that if he violated any company policies for one year he would be immediately terminated. (TAC ¶ 35). The agreement was never signed because Union Defendants and Plaintiff felt that the agreement was a violation of Plaintiff s due process rights. (TAC ¶ 36).

         Plaintiff, through Union Defendants, requested that this issue be arbitrated. (TAC ¶ 38). Prior to arbitration, Plaintiff requested that Union Defendants provide him with an attorney experienced in union grievances. (TAC ¶ 39). Defendant Studivant told Plaintiff "that he 'didn't think it was a big deal' and he 'would handle it himself" (Id.). The matter proceeded to arbitration on November 17, 2015, where Defendant Studivant, rather than counsel, represented Plaintiff. (TAC ¶ 40). Plaintiff generally claims Defendant Studivant, lacked the requisite skills to properly represent him, but, once again, does not provide any additional allegations to support this contention. (TAC¶41). On January 11, 2016, Plaintiff received the arbitration opinion which found that he was discharged for just cause and denied his grievance. (Id.).

         Thereafter, Defendant Studivant advised Plaintiff that Union Defendants, by way of their Cleveland, Ohio office, had already filed an appeal of the arbitration award with the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division. (TAC ¶ 42). When Plaintiff requested a copy of the appeal, Defendant Studivant advised Plaintiff that the Cleveland office of the Union Defendants was supposed to file it but never did, and that Defendant Studivant was aware that the appeal had not been filed when he told Plaintiff that the appeal was going to be filed. (TAC ¶¶ 43-44). Defendant Studivant then told Plaintiff he would have to handle the appeal pro se if he wanted to pursue same. (TAC ¶46).

         Union Defendants provided Plaintiff with a letter dated March 3, 2016 in response to Defendant Studivant's request to Union Defendants to review Plaintiffs case to see if there was a basis to set the arbitration award aside. (TAC ¶ 45).[2] On March 27, 2016, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant Previsich regarding Union Defendants' assistance in appealing the award. (TAC ¶ 47). Thereafter, Union Defendants gave Plaintiff $250.00 to cover the cost of the appeal, and instructed him, once again, to proceed pro se. (TAC ΒΆ 48). On March 30, 2016, Plaintiff attempted to file an appeal, but it was ...


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