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Digiovacchino v. Pipefitters Local Union No. 274

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 3, 2018

EUGENE DIGIOVACCHINO, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
PIPEFITTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 274, JOHN WENDE, JR., and JOHN DOE I THROUGH X fictitious parties, Defendants.

          REPORT & RECOMMENDATION

          CATHY L. WALDOR UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court by way of referral from the Honorable Madeline Cox Arleo to issue a report and recommendation regarding Plaintiff Eugene DiGiovacchino's Motion to Remand and for Attorneys' Fees (ECF No. 7) and Defendants Pipefitters Local Union No. 274 and John Wende's Opposition (ECF No. 11). The Court declined to hear oral argument pursuant to Rule 78 and as set forth more fully below, the Court recommends the Motion to Remand be GRANTED and the attendant Motion for Attorneys' Fees be DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff first filed this action in Essex County Superior Court on April 6, 2018, alleging that Defendants violated the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). (see generally Compl., ECF No. 1-1). Plaintiff was a member of Defendant Pipefitters Local Union No. 274 (“Local 274”) from 2004 through July 2016, at which point he was allegedly constructively discharged. (Compl. ¶ 7). According to Plaintiff, Defendant John Wende was Plaintiff's business agent and controlled the allocation of union pipefitting jobs for Plaintiff and other union members. (Compl. ¶ 3).

         Plaintiff alleges that over the course of twelve years, members of Defendant Local 274 created a hostile work environment by subjecting Plaintiff to pervasive verbal harassment, threats, and physical violence because of his perceived sexual orientation. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-21). Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant John Wende caused his constructive discharge. Wende allegedly “kicked [Plaintiff] out of the union because of his perception that Plaintiff was gay, ” and threatened to “bury [Plaintiff] under a pipe” if Plaintiff did not “stop paying [his] union dues and leave.” (Compl. ¶¶ 25-26). Plaintiff pleads two counts of NJLAD violations and seeks relief under NJLAD, including compensatory and punitive damages, reinstatement, and attorneys' fees. (Compl. ¶¶ 36, 49).

         On May 9, 2018, Defendants removed this action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441. (Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1). Defendants' bases for removal were the Labor Management Relations Act and National Labor Relations Act. Defendants contend that these statutes confer federal jurisdiction over Plaintiff's complaint, because his state law claims are “inextricably intertwined with [his] membership in a labor union and his employment under the terms and conditions…in collective bargaining agreements.” (Id. at 6). On June 4, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Motion to Remand and For an Award of Attorneys' Fees. (ECF No. 7). Plaintiff argues that Defendants' removal was improper because the federal labor statutes do not completely preempt his claims. Defendants filed their Opposition on July 2, 2018. (ECF No. 11). On July 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Reply. (ECF No. 14). The Court concludes that neither the LMRA nor the NLRA completely preempt Plaintiff's NJLAD claims. Consequently, there is no federal jurisdiction over this action, and its removal was improper.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The federal removal statute provides, “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed…to the district courts of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441. Federal district courts have original jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the… laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331; see also Parrish v. ARC of Morris Cty., LLC, 193 F.Supp.3d 425, 430 (D.N.J. 2016).

         The party asserting “jurisdiction bears the burden of showing at all stages of the litigation that subject matter jurisdiction is proper in the federal court.” DeJoseph v. Cont'l Airlines, Inc., 18 F.Supp.3d 595, 597 (D.N.J. 2014). The federal removal statute should be “strictly construed against removal…[and] all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand.” Id. There is a “presum[ption] that federal courts lack jurisdiction unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record.” Id. at 598 (quoting Renne v. Geary, 501 U.S. 312, 316 (1991)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. PREEMPTION UNDER THE LMRA

         Under the well-pleaded complaint rule, “federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). A complaint that “facially asserts only state law causes of action against the Defendants…[o]rdinarily would present an easy case for remand.” DeJoseph, 18 F.Supp.3d at 599.

         The complete preemption doctrine is an exception to this rule, and Defendants argue that this exception applies to the Complaint here. (Def.'s Opp., ECF No. 11 at 4). There are areas where the “the preemptive force of a statute is so extraordinary that it converts an ordinary state common- law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.” Caterpillar Inc., 482 U.S. at 393 (internal quotations omitted). The Supreme Court has held that Section 301 of the LMRA possesses this preemptive force. Id. Section 301 provides: “Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter… may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.” 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

         However, Section 301 of the LMRA does not apply here. As the Third Circuit explained, “claims based squarely on a collective bargaining agreement or requiring analysis of its terms are pre-empted by section 301 and are removable to the federal courts, ” while claims “that are independent of a collective bargaining agreement” are not. Antol v. Esposto, 100 F.3d 1111, 1117 (3d Cir. 1996) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff's NJLAD claims belong in the latter category. “[I]t is now well settled law that…a claim asserted under the NJLAD” is not completely preempted by the LMRA, because “both the existence and the scope of plaintiff's state law discrimination claims under the NJLAD are derived independently from state law, and not from the obligations assumed by the parties under [a CBA].” Boone v. Local Union 475 Pipefitters/Steamfitters, No. CV 16-5482 (JLL), 2016 WL 7325472, at *2 (D.N.J. Dec. 16, 2016) (quoting Carrington v. RCA Global Commc'ns, Inc., 762 F.Supp. 632, 641 (D.N.J. ...


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