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Ritz Hotels Services, LLC v. Brotherhood of Amalgamated Trades Local Union 514

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 27, 2019

RITZ HOTELS SERVICES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
BROTHERHOOD OF AMALGAMATED TRADES LOCAL UNION 514 and JOSHUA GOTTLIEB, individually and in his official capacity, Defendants.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court upon Defendants Brotherhood of Amalgamated Trades Local Union 514's and Joshua Gottlieb's motion to dismiss. ECF No. 12. The Court decides the matter on the papers without need for oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b); L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the reasons set forth below, the motion is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND [1]

         In motions to dismiss, the Court accepts as true all plausible allegations and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007).

         This case is about a labor dispute between Plaintiff Ritz Hotels Services, LLC (“Ritz”) and Defendants Brotherhood of Amalgamated Trades Local Union 514 (“Local 514”) and its president, Joshua Gottlieb (“Gottlieb”) (together, the “Union”). An employer, Ritz provides commercial laundry services. Compl. ¶ 6, ECF No. 1. Local 514 is a labor union representing workers. Id. ¶ 4. Gottlieb is Local 514's president. Id. ¶ 5.

         In August 2018, the Union began organizing Ritz's employees at Ritz's business to join Local 514. Id. ¶ 8. On September 11, 2018, the Union filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) seeking to represent Ritz employees. Id. ¶ 9. On September 24, 2018, the Union withdrew the petition. Id. ¶ 10.

         On or about September 21, 2018, the Union began an informational campaign informing Ritz hotel customers that “[Ritz] has committed numerous unfair labor practices in response to unionization efforts by their employees.” Union's Aff., Ex. B at I, ECF No. 14; Compl. ¶ 14. The Union publicized the labor dispute in handing out a flyer to Ritz customers and inflating a rat balloon. Union's Aff., Ex. B at 2; Compl. ¶ 17. The flyer contained language that read, “Ritz Hotel Services has committed numerous unfair labor practices against their hardworking employees!” Ibid. The flyer also contained a statement urging hotel guests to tell their hotel management they would stop doing business with them until Ritz resolved the labor dispute. Union's Aff., Ex. B at 2; Compl. ¶ 16. On October 4, 2018, the Union published the flyer on Facebook.com. Compl. ¶ 18. During protests, the Union inflated rat balloons in front of Ritz hotel customers and put up signs reading, “Ritz laundry is unfair to labor!” Id. ¶ 19. On October 19, 2018, Ritz lost one of its customers. Compl. ¶¶ 20, 39, 46. Ten days later, Ritz filed this action.

         Before and during the Union's organizing campaign, between September and December 2018, the Union filed unfair labor practice charges with the NLRB. Id. ¶ 12; Union's Aff., Ex. A (“NLRB Charges”).[2] Ritz resolved the matter when the NLRB approved both withdrawing the charges in December 2018 and entered a settlement agreement the following month. Pl.'s Cert. of Counsel, Ex. A at 2 (NLRB Withdrawal of Charges), Ex. B at 4-6 (NLRB Decision Approving Settlement), 8-9 (“Settlement Agreement”), ECF No. 15-2. The Settlement Agreement contained a “non-admissions clause” which read in full: “By entering into this Settlement Agreement, [Ritz] does not admit that it has violated the [NLRA].” Id., Ex. B at 9.

         Ritz filed this action while the NLRB Charges remained pending before the NLRB. The claims alleged in the Complaint fall into two categories. Counts I through IV contain claims of defamation, defamation per se, false light invasion of privacy, and trade libel. Compl. ¶¶ 22-41. Counts V through VII contain contains allegations grounded in tortious interference with contract, contractual relations, and prospective economic advantage. Id. ¶¶ 42-67. The Union's motion to dismiss followed. ECF No. 12.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Questions of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time in the litigation. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006). When analyzing a factual attack motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the court may look beyond the pleadings. Normally, in analyzing Rule 12(b)(1) factual attacks, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations.” Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Nw. Airlines, Inc., 673 F.2d 700, 711 (3d Cir. 1982) (citation omitted). But “[i]f the defendant raises no challenge to the facts alleged in the pleadings, the court may rule on the motion by accepting the allegations as true.” Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 177 (3d Cir. 2000), modified by Simon v. United States, 341 F.3d 193 (3d Cir. 2003) (discussing Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 673 F.2d at 711).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Union seeks dismissal of all claims on two main fronts. First, Union argues Sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA preempts Ritz's claims based on established labor law preemption doctrine set forth in San Diego Building Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 245 (1959) (“Garmon” preemption). Union's Br. 3, 7, ECF No. 13. Union further contends that, under the NLRA, Ritz cannot escape preemption on the defamation claims because it cannot show how the Union acted with malice when publishing the alleged defamatory statements. Id. at 7-11. And Union argues Garmon preemption compels dismissing the tortious interference claims because Ritz failed pleading that the Union used violence or threats of violence during its labor protest. Id. at 11-12. Ritz disagrees, arguing the NLRA and Garmon affords the Union's conduct no protection because the Union made “knowingly false statements” in its published flyer, which caused one customer to terminate its contract with Ritz. Pl.'s Opp'n Br. 8-12, ECF No. 15.

         Garmon preemption “protects the exclusive jurisdiction of the NLRB over unfair labor practice proceedings; accordingly, if a cause of action implicates protected concerted activity under section 7 of the NLRA or conduct that would be prohibited as an unfair labor practice under section 8 of the NRLA, the cause of action is preempted.” Voilas v. General Motors Corp.,170 F.3d 367, 378 (3d Cir. 1999); Garmon, 359 U.S. at 242-44; see Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. Davis, 476 U.S. 380, 395 (1986) (explaining the word “arguably” as used in ...


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