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Ciarla v. United Government Security Officers of America

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 20, 2019


         Not for Publication


          John Michael Vazquez., U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiff Attilio Ciarla sues United Government Security Officers of America, International Union ("International Union") and United Government Security Officers of America, Local 315 ("Local 315") (collectively, "Defendants" or "Union")[1] for breach of the duty of fair representation. Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint. D.E. 8. The Court reviewed the parties' submissions[2] and decided the motion without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b) and L. Civ. R. 78.1(b). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND [3]

         The following facts are taken from Plaintiffs Complaint, D.E. 1 ("Complaint" or "Compl."). In September 2009, Plaintiff became employed as a detention officer for CoreCivic, Inc. ("CoreCivic")[4] at the Elizabeth Detention Center. Compl. ¶ 2. International Union and Local 315, collectively, constituted the Union for employees of CoreCivic. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff was a member of the Union. Id, ¶2. In March 2017, the Union entered into a collective bargaining agreement with CoreCivic on behalf of CoreCivic's employees, including Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 3; Ex. A.

         During his employment from September 2009 to May 2018, Plaintiff received three disciplinary notices, called "Problem Solving Notices" ("PSN"). Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiffs first PSN occurred in June 2012, whereby Plaintiff was suspended by CoreCivic for five days after inmates became ill while playing card games during Plaintiffs shift. Id. ¶ 8; Ex. B. Thereafter, Plaintiff was involved in a mediation with a female detention officer, O.M. Id. ¶ 10. The mediation was conducted at the request of Local 315. Id. It was determined that over a course of six months, Plaintiff had provided O.M. with gifts while at work, including "lotion at Christmas, [] cookies and candy from the venting [sic] machine and a dozen roses close to or on Valentine's Day." Id. Local 315 and O.M. indicated that these gifts were unwanted, but Plaintiff contends that he "gratuitously and generously in a non-harassing matter, gifted these items" to O.M. Id. After the mediation, Plaintiff agreed to cease his gift-giving to O.M., and thereafter they "avoided contact and conversation." Id. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiffs second PSN occurred in April 2018, after Plaintiff spoke to O.M. concerning an incident where she had knocked on "the dorm window where [Plaintiff] was positioned" and waved to a detainee. Id. ¶ 13. Plaintiff explained to O.M. the risks associated with her actions and "instructed her to never do that again." Id. ¶ 14. As a result of this encounter, O.M. reported Plaintiff for harassment, supporting her position with written statements by visitors who allegedly witnessed the exchange. Id. Consequently, Plaintiffs second PSN was for violation of CoreCivic's Code of Ethics and Business Conduct and Workplace Harassment Policy. Id. ¶ 15; Ex. C. Plaintiff received a notice of termination for his second PSN. Id.

         Plaintiffs third PSN occurred in May 2018 because Plaintiff was sleeping on duty. Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff received a separate, additional notice of termination for his third PSN. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff was informed that he should no longer report to work. Id. ¶ 17. Plaintiff then contacted his union representative, Andre Rogers, [5] to inquire about filing a grievance and to request the evidence CoreCivic used in its determination to terminate Plaintiffs employment. Id. On June 19, 2018, Local 315 filed its grievance on behalf of Plaintiff contesting his termination. Id. ¶ 18; Ex. E. The Union's grievance and request for Plaintiffs reinstatement was denied by CoreCivic on July 5, 2018. Ex. F. On August 13, 2018, the Union notified Plaintiff that it had reviewed the facts and accompanying documents concerning his grievance, and in turn, made the decision "to not proceed to [arbitration with [Plaintiffs] case." Ex. G, The Union informed Plaintiff that the reason for not proceeding to arbitration was threefold: (1) "[t]he discipline taken by [CoreCivic] was for just cause according to company policy"; (2) "[t]he [investigation satisfied the burden of proof and [Plaintiffs] termination was [for] [j]ust [c]ause"; and (3) Plaintiffs "[v]iolation of Workplace Harassment Policy." Id. Plaintiff contends that he "was subjected to an unfair labor practice during his grievance [process] and was not properly represented by [the Union]." Compl. ¶ 22. As a result, Plaintiff claims that the Union breached its duty of fair representation.

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on November 7, 2018, claiming that Defendants breached the duty of fair representation. D.E. 1. On December 20, 2018, the Union moved to dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint, with prejudice. D.E. 8. Plaintiff filed opposition, D.E. 14, to which the Union replied, II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a motion to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]" For a complaint to survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), it must contain sufficient factual matter to state a claim that is plausible on its face.[6] Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is facially plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. Further, a plaintiff must "allege sufficient facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will uncover proof of her claims." Connelly v. Lane Const. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 789 (3d Cir. 2016). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, district courts must separate the factual and legal elements. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-211 (3d Cir. 2009). Restatements of the elements of a claim are legal conclusions, and therefore, not entitled to a presumption of truth. Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 224 (3d Cir. 2011). The Court, however, "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true." Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210. Even if plausibly pled, however, a complaint will not withstand a motion to dismiss if the facts alleged do not state "a legally cognizable cause of action." Turner v. J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., No. 14-7148, 2015 WL 12826480, at *2 (D.N.J. Jan. 23, 2015).


         "The duty of fair representation is inferred from unions' exclusive authority under the National Labor Relations Act... to represent all employees in a bargaining unit." Chauffeurs, Teamsters & Helpers, Local No. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 563 (1990) (citing Vaca v Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177 (1967)). The duty operates "as abulwark to prevent arbitrary union conduct against individuals stripped of traditional forms of redress by the provisions of federal labor law." DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 n.14 (1983) (quoting Vaca, 386 U.S. at 182) (internal quotation marks omitted). The duty mandates that a union "serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." Vaca, 386 U.S. at 177. The duty applies to the bargaining process between the union and employer, as well as the subsequent enforcement of the collective bargaining agreement. Chauffeurs, Teamsters & Helpers, Local No. 391, 494 U.S. at 563. Accordingly, the union is "required to pursue [its members'] grievances in a manner consistent with the principles of fair representation." Id.

         Importantly, however, the duty of fair representation "does not confer on an employee an absolute right to force [the union] to press [the employee's] complaint all the way to the very end of the grievance procedures made possible by the collective bargaining agreement." Bazarte v. United Transp. Union, 429 F.2d 868, 872 (3d Cir. 1970). As the Third Circuit explained in Bazarte:

The union has an obligation in exercising its power as bargaining agent to act fairly under the collective bargaining agreement and not to assert or press grievances which it believes in good faith do not warrant such action. An employee, therefore, is subject to the union's discretionary power to settle or even to abandon a grievance, so long as it does not act arbitrarily, and this is true even if it can later be demonstrated that the employee's claim was meritorious. It is therefore essential to [a] plaintiffs claim that there [be] proof of "arbitrary or bad-faith conduct on the part of the [u]nion in processing [the employee's] grievance." It ...

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