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Kaminski v. State of New Jersey Department of Military and Veterens Affairs

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 13, 2018




         Plaintiff Tanya Kaminski ("Kaminski") brings suit against three groups of defendants:

1. the State of New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs ("DMVA"), Susan Sweeney, and Robert Hoyd (collectively, the "State Defendants"),
2. Communications Workers of America Local 1038 (“CWA Local 1038"), Communications Workers of America International Union ("CWA International Union"), and Michelle Franklin (collectively, the "CWA Defendants");
3. Samuel Hayes, Victoria Ragucci, and Tyeka Knight (the "Individuals").[1]

         Her Complaint asserts nine causes of action, including a claim of conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") against all defendants. The State Defendants removed this action from state court, citing this Court's federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         Now before the Court are Kaminski's motion to remand the action to state court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447, and for reimbursement of just costs and fees, as well as separate motions of the State Defendants, the CWA Defendants, and the Individuals to dismiss this removed action for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         For the reasons stated below, I will deny Kaminski's motion to remand. I will partially grant the motions of the State Defendants, CWA Defendants, and Individuals to dismiss the complaint. Finally, I will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Kaminski's remaining state law claims.

         I. Background[2]

         A. The Complaint

         On November 22, 2017, Kaminski filed a civil complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County against the State Defendants, CWA Defendants, and Individuals. It alleges as follows:

         The plaintiff, Tanya Kaminski, was employed by the DMVA and the Youth Challenge Academy ("Academy") as a teacher. (Compl. ¶¶ 1-2). The Academy is a school located in Fort Dix, New Jersey, which is operated by the DMVA. (Id. at ¶ 2). Kaminski worked at the Academy for eight years until she was terminated. (Id. at ¶ 1).

         On October 28, 2015, Kaminski "learned that she was pregnant and reported it to her employer at the Academy." (Id. at ¶ 15). According to Kaminski, upon learning of her pregnancy, the "Defendants . . . with discriminatory intent, embarked upon a plan to deprive [Kaminski] of her rights and to terminate her employment in violation of her rights" to employment and maternity leave. (Id. at ¶¶ 17, 19). Part of that plan, says Kaminski, included "Defendants using their positions of power to influence students to file false complaints as a ploy and pretext to unlawfully terminate" her. (Id. at ¶ 19). She alleges that Defendants urged students to complain about her in writing, "reviewed and edited their writings" (id. at ¶ 20), and "met with students on multiple occasions to make sure that their statements met with their narrative" (id. at ¶ 22).

         Kaminski was a member of CWA International Union, specifically CWA Local 1038. Pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with DMVA, (id. at ¶ 3), she filed a grievance in connection with her termination. The union represented Kaminksi against the DMVA during the grievance and arbitration process. (Id. at ¶ 3-5). Kaminski alleges that at her arbitration proceeding, the CWA Defendants "failed to advance the argument that the purpose of the termination was to deprive [Kaminski] of her rights, allowing improper matters to be considered, failing to call material witnesses, and did not adequately and fairly represent [Kaminski] during the proceedings." (Id. at ¶ 23).

         That Complaint asserts nine claims, only one of which (the Fifth) invokes federal law:

Count 1: Breach of the duty of fair representation under the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-5.3
Count 2: Vacatur of an arbitration award under N.J.S.A. 2A:24-8(a), (b)
Count 3: Violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq. - wrongful termination
Count 4: Violation of the NJLAD - hostile work environment
Count 5: Conspiracy to deprive Kaminski of rights, privileges, and immunities secured by the United States Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983")[3]
Count 6: Breach of contract
Count 7: Negligence
Count 8: Unlawful interference with contractual relations
Count 9: Unlawful interference with prospective economic advantage

         (Compl. ¶¶ 29-81 (emphasis added)).[4]

         The Complaint seeks the entry of an Order declaring the opinion and award of the arbitrator vacated, damages for lost front and back pay, punitive damages, damages for pain and suffering, attorney's fees, costs of suit, and "[s]uch other relief as this Court may deem equitable and just."

         B. Removal and Motions at Issue

         On January 2, 2018, a copy of the Complaint and Summons was served upon the State Defendants. (Notice of Removal ¶ 3) (citing Exhs. B, C, and D). On February 1, 2018, the State Defendants filed a Notice of Removal based on this court's federal question jurisdiction over the § 1983 claim. (Id. at ¶ 2 (citing Compl. ¶¶ 21, 22, 25-27, 30)). See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction). The CWA Defendants consented to the removal of the action. (Id. at ¶ 6).[5]

         One week later, on February 8, 2018, the State Defendants and the CWA Defendants filed separate motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the Complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim. (ECF Nos. 2, 3). On March 2, 2018, Kaminski filed her opposition to the defendants' motions to dismiss, (ECF No. 6), slightly out of time. (The untimeliness is excused on the grounds stated in the accompanying letter. (ECF No. 6-2).)[6] On March 5, 2018, the CWA Defendants filed a reply to Kaminski's opposition to its motion to dismiss, (ECF No. 8), which is now fully briefed and ripe for decision. On April 2, 2018, Defendants Ragucci, Hayes and Knight joined the State Defendants' motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 13).

         Meanwhile, on February 27, 2018, Kaminski filed a motion to remand the case to state court and award just costs and fees incurred as a result of the improper removal. (ECF No. 4). The Complaint, she says, must be remanded because the Eleventh Amendment bars this court from hearing claims against the State, (id. at 2-5); because the State is not a "person" amendable to suit under § 1983, (id. at 8); and because this Court should abstain under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) (id. at 6-7). The State Defendants and CWA Defendants oppose Kaminski's motion to remand. (ECF Nos. 9, 10).

         II. ...

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