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Coppinger v. Metro-North Commuter Railroad

decided: November 3, 1988.

RONALD COPPINGER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE



Appeal from a judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Duffy, J.) on March 25, 1987 dismissing an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Ronald Coppinger against Metro-North Commuter Railroad. Reversed and remanded.

Cardamone and Pratt, Circuit Judges and Tenney, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Cardamone

CARDAMONE, Circuit Judge:

This appeal from a dismissal of plaintiff's complaint presents the single legal issue of whether a district court has jurisdiction to hear a discharged employee's claim for damages and equitable relief in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, even though the discharge has been upheld in compulsory and binding arbitration pursuant to the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 et seq. (1982) (RLA).

FACTS

On August 22, 1985 appellant Ronald Coppinger was employed by Metro-North Commuter Railroad (Metro-North) as a trackman. During appellant's lunchbreak in the company locker room at Grand Central Station in New York City, several supervisors entered the area where he and other Metro-North employees were seated and eating, and there observed bottles of liquor in some of the employee lockers and cups on the table at which the employees were seated. Suspecting that Metro-North rules had been violated, the supervisors sent the lunch group to the company medical department where blood and urine samples were taken in the presence of a registered nurse. Although the blood test indicated that appellant had not consumed alcohol, a "confirmed" urinalysis tested positive for the presence of cocaine metabolites, opiates, and THC (marijuana).

As a result, Coppinger was fired. Subsequently, he sought to have his dismissal vacated through arbitration proceedings brought under the RLA. On January 29, 1987 the Public Law Board (Board) upheld Coppinger's dismissal. He then instituted the instant civil rights action in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Duffy, J.) under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982). In his complaint Coppinger alleges that extracting blood and urine infringed on his Fourth Amendment right to be free from an unreasonable search and seizure. The complaint also asserts claims under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and under Article I, §§ 6 and 12 of the New York Constitution. In essence, Coppinger contends that the procedures and techniques used by Metro-North to perform the tests denied him due process of law.

Metro-North moved to dismiss the complaint or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. Appellant cross-moved for summary judgment. The district court granted Metro-North's motion and dismissed appellant's complaint, holding that it lacked jurisdiction over the § 1983 claims. It ruled that Coppinger's claims fell within the exclusive and primary jurisdiction of the Public Law Board, and that he had failed to establish facts sufficient to warrant judicial review of that Board's decision. The district judge also stated that appellant had failed to allege a valid independent basis for it to assume jurisdiction over his § 1983 civil rights cause of action.

We agree with the district court's ruling that appellant had not alleged sufficient facts to justify review of the Board's decision, but cannot agree that appellant's separate and independent constitutional claims cognizable under § 1983 were properly dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.

Discussion

A. Colorable Fourth Amendment Violation Alleged

Because it dismissed plaintiff's complaint, the district court made no findings and did not rule on the legality of Metro-North's blood and urine tests of Coppinger. Appellant challenges those tests in two ways. First, he argues that they were an unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and under Article I, Section 12 of the New York Constitution. Second, he contends that the tests denied him due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and under Article I, Section 6 of the New York Constitution. In view of the fact that an arguable Fourth Amendment claim has been stated, discussion is limited to "search and seizure," and the due process argument is not addressed.

A number of our sister circuits have held that compulsory urinalysis of public employees qualifies as a "search and seizure" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. See National Fed'n of Fed. Employees v. Weinberger, 260 U.S. App. D.C. 286, 818 F.2d 935, 942 (D.C. Cir. 1987); National Treasury Employees Union v. Von Raab, 816 F.2d 170, 176 (5th Cir. 1987), cert. granted, 485 U.S. 903, 108 S. Ct. 1072, 99 L. Ed. 2d 232 (1988); McDonell v. Hunter, 809 F.2d 1302, 1307 (8th Cir. 1987); Division 241 Amalgamated Transit Union v. Suscy, 538 F.2d 1264, 1265 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1029, 50 L. Ed. 2d 632, 97 S. Ct. 653 (1976). Finding that a "search" has occurred is the starting point for "the inquiry into the standards governing such searches." New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325, 337, 83 L. Ed. 2d 720, 105 S. Ct. 733 (1985). Determining whether a given search has been "unreasonable" requires a court to "balance the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion." United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703, 77 L. Ed. 2d 110, 103 S. Ct. 2637 (1983); see also O'Connor v. Ortega, 480 U.S. 709, 107 S. Ct. 1492, 94 L. Ed. 2d 714 (1987).

A search may be "unreasonable" when an employer's suspicion of wrongdoing is not supported by objective facts and those rational inferences that may be drawn from them. See Security & Law Enforcement Employees v. Carey, 737 F.2d 187, 205 (2d Cir. 1984) (applying the "reasonable suspicion" test to strip searches of prison guards); see also McDonell, 809 F.2d ...


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