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HANNAH v. METRO-NORTH COMMUTER R. CO.

December 18, 1990

FRANK HANNAH, PLAINTIFF
v.
METRO-NORTH COMMUTER RAILROAD COMPANY, TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION (LOCAL 1460), AND JOHN MCGRATH, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS UNION PRESIDENT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leisure, District Judge.

OPINION AND ORDER

This is a diversity action arising out of an investigation and arrest, followed by a criminal prosecution, disciplinary proceeding and subsequent dismissal of plaintiff, Frank Hannah ("Hannah"), an employee of defendant Metro-North Commuter Railroad ("Metro-North"). Plaintiff's original complaint asserted that defendant committed various common law torts against him. Metro-North has now moved for dismissal of plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Plaintiff has cross-moved, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a), to amend the state-law tort claims in his complaint and to add civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In its papers opposing the amendment of the complaint, defendant has requested an award of attorney's fees under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11 for the costs of preparing its opposition to plaintiff's cross-motion.

BACKGROUND

The essential facts in this matter are not in dispute. On Wednesday, November 27, 1985, J.J. McMahon ("McMahon"), a Metro-North employee, noticed that his paycheck was missing. McMahon had endorsed the check upon receiving it at the Metro-North headquarters in Grand Central Terminal in Manhattan, but had not cashed it, apparently deciding to do so at a restaurant in the vicinity of Grand Central Terminal. Following the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, McMahon reported his paycheck missing. Metro-North immediately began an investigation regarding that paycheck. During the course of the investigation conducted by Detective George Coppola ("Coppola"), a member of the Metro-North Police Department, depositions were taken of McMahon and Lauren Mahoney ("Mahoney"), a Metro-North cashier. Mahoney asserted her belief that Hannah had submitted the check to her for payment, along with remittance for bar receipts that Hannah had received in connection with his position as a service attendant on the railroad. The cancelled check was recovered, showing McMahon's endorsement, along with a second, illegible endorsement, allegedly that of plaintiff.

On January 8, 1986, based on the information gathered from Mahoney and McMahon, Detective Coppola arrested Hannah for forgery, possession of a forged instrument, grand larceny, and criminal possession of stolen property. Plaintiff was then incarcerated and arraigned before a New York City Criminal Court judge. On January 10, 1986, Hannah was notified to attend a hearing to be held on January 21, 1986, in connection with an internal Metro-North investigation of the allegations against him. This hearing was postponed numerous times. Meanwhile, the criminal charges did not proceed in a timely fashion; and, on August 30, 1987, the criminal charges were dismissed for lack of speedy prosecution.

On October 9, 1987, Hannah filed this action.*fn1 Hannah's original and amended complaints named Metro-North, the TWU, and John McGrath as defendants. This action was originally assigned to the Honorable John M. Walker, Jr., prior to his elevation to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Soon after the action was filed, Judge Walker placed the case on the suspense docket of this Court pending the resolution of the compulsory arbitration provided for in the collective bargaining agreement between Metro-North and plaintiff's union. See Documents Comprising the Complaint Exhibit A, Rule 28, at 22-26. As part of the Stipulation and Order For Partial Stay, dated December 19, 1987, the parties stipulated that upon return of the case to the Court's active docket the plaintiff would file "appropriate amendments to the complaint reflecting the results of the administrative process."

On October 16, 1987, Metro-North finally held its own hearing on the allegations against Hannah. At the hearing, Hannah requested that he be represented both by counsel from his union and by his personal attorney. The Metro-North hearing officer denied these requests, but did permit John McGrath, the president of Transport Workers Union Local 1460 ("TWU"), to represent Hannah during the proceedings. On October 23, 1987, after the hearing had been completed, Hannah was notified that his employment with Metro-North had been terminated based on the charge of "stealing" that had been lodged against him.*fn2 Subsequent to that decision, Hannah availed himself of the compulsory grievance arbitration procedure mandated by the collective bargaining agreement between the TWU and Metro-North.

On February 26, 1990, Special Board of Adjustment No. 998 found in favor of plaintiff, and ordered him to be reinstated to his former position with full back pay. The arbitrators found two reasons for reinstating Hannah. First, they held that the exclusion of the TWU attorney from Hannah's disciplinary hearing was improper under the collective bargaining agreement. Second, they found that there was insufficient evidence to prove convincingly that Hannah had committed the offense charged. The arbitrators pointed to certain weaknesses in the evidence submitted during the disciplinary hearing and found it not sufficiently conclusive to justify Hannah's dismissal.

On March 2, 1990, plaintiff requested that this Court return this action to its active calendar. In addition, plaintiff informed the Court by letter that he was discontinuing all claims against the TWU and John McGrath, but that he was proceeding against Metro-North on five causes of action: unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, negligent breach of contract, libel and prima fade tort.

Defendant now moves to dismiss all claims against it pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), addressing its motion to what it has styled as "Documents Comprising the Complaint," which included the amended complaint, the agreement between Metro-North and Hannah's union and a number of other documents. Defendant's first argument is that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims, which, it argues, are preempted by 45 U.S.C. § 153, the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"). Defendant's second argument is that even if plaintiff's claim's are not preempted, his allegations fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

In response to defendant's motion, plaintiff has conceded that "since the dismissal [did] not indicate innocence, . . . he cannot maintain a cause of action for malicious prosecution." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Plain.Mem.") at 3. He has also "withdrawn those causes of action based upon breach of contract [because] these claims have been preempted by the RLA." Plain.Mem. at 5. Notwithstanding these concessions, however, plaintiff argues that his remaining tort claims are not preempted by the RLA. In addition, plaintiff has cross-moved to amend his complaint, pursuant to Rule 15(a), to supplement his claims for unlawful arrest and imprisonment, libel, and prima facie tort, and to add a claim for wrongful discharge and a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

In its papers opposing plaintiff's crossmotion, defendant asserts that because its moving papers demonstrate that plaintiff has no viable claim, "[p]laintiff's response should have been in the form of a stipulation to dismiss this action with prejudice. . . . [W]e believe Metro-North is entitled to . . . an order under Rule 11 for its attorney's fees in opposing his cross-motion." Memorandum of Law in Further Support of the Motion of Defendant Metro-North Commuter Railroad to Dismiss the Complaint and in Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion to Amend His Complaint ("Def.Reply") at 25.

DISCUSSION

The Court will first address defendant's motion to dismiss, and will then turn to plaintiff's motion to amend.

I. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss

A. Claims Discontinued by Plaintiff

In his letter to the Court of March 30, 1990, plaintiff informed the Court that he was discontinuing and withdrawing all claims against defendants Transport Workers Union (Local 1460) and John McGrath, individually and in his capacity as President of the Union, and that he was discontinuing and withdrawing his fourth, sixth, seventh, ninth, tenth, and eleventh causes of action as to all defendants, and his eighth cause of action against all defendants except Metro-North.

In his papers opposing defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiff concedes that he cannot maintain an action for malicious prosecution, his second cause of action. Plain Mem. at 3.

Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted as to these claims, which are dismissed with prejudice.

B. Defendant's 12(b)(1) Motion

Defendant asserts that plaintiff's state law claims should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), because they are preempted by the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 153 Second ("RLA").

The RLA was enacted in 1926 to promote stability in the railroad industry by encouraging labor and management to resolve their disputes peacefully. See Detroit & T. Shore Line R.R. v. UTU, 396 U.S. 142, 148, 90 S.Ct. 294, 298, 24 L.Ed.2d 325(1969). Under the current version of the statute, exclusive jurisdiction over "minor" disputes arising out of the employment relationship is vested in labormanagement boards created by statute or Public Law Boards chosen by the parties. See, e.g., Atchison, T. & Sta. F. Ry. v. Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 107 S.Ct. 1410, 94 L.Ed.2d 563(1987); Andrews v. Louisville & N R.R., 406 U.S. 320, 92 S.Ct. 1562, 32 L.Ed.2d 95(1972); Baylis v. Marriott Corp., 843 F.2d 658, 662 (2d Cir. 1988); Underwood v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 710 F. Supp. 78, 85 (S.D.N.Y. 1989). Consequently, district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over such claims. Baylis, supra, 843 F.2d at 662.

"Minor" disputes under the RLA are limited to two types of claims: (1) claims that can be resolved by interpreting and applying the terms of a collective bargaining agreement; and (2) claims that arise from situations not specifically covered by a collective bargaining agreement but incidental to the employment relationship. See Independent Union of Flight Attendants v. Pan American World Airways, 789 F.2d 139 (2d Cir. 1986) (per curiam) (citing Elgin, J. & E. Ry. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 722-723, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 1289-1290, 89 L.Ed. 1886(1945)).*fn3

Plaintiff concedes that his claims for negligent breach of contract and wrongful discharge are minor disputes under the RLA, and thus preempted. He argues, however, that his tort claims for unlawful arrest and imprisonment, prima facie tort, and libel are not minor disputes because they are not "inextricably intertwined" with either the collective bargaining agreement or the employment relationship. Rather, plaintiff argues, his remaining claims stem solely from his arrest, imprisonment and criminal prosecution, a course of action by defendant that is independent of its role as his employer, its internal disciplinary procedures, or its rights and obligations under the collective bargaining agreement. Defendant contests this characterization of the claims, arguing that the claims are not based on the criminal prosecution of the plaintiff, but rather on the manner in which defendant conducted its internal investigation prior to arresting plaintiff.

1. Unlawful Arrest and Prima Facie Tort

In Merola v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 683 F. Supp. 935 (S.D.N.Y. 1988), the Court addressed circumstances similar to those in the instant case. In Merola, an employee of the Amtrak police force was arrested, booked and retained in custody by the New York City Police on criminal charges. After an internal investigation and hearing were conducted, Merola was dismissed from his job. When the criminal charges were later dismissed, Merola sued his former employer and various co-workers for false arrest and imprisonment, malicious prosecution and illegal wiretapping.

In holding that Merola's claims were not preempted by the RLA, Judge Cedarbaum held that the claims

  [did] not arise out of the discharge itself. Rather,
  they address[ed] the entirely different question of
  whether he was unlawfully arrested, prosecuted and
  wiretapped, and the extent of the damages he suffered
  thereby.

Id. at 938.

The Court concluded that the claims did not involve questions that were "basically contractual in nature," Id. at 939, and that it therefore possessed subject matter jurisdiction over them.

Another recent case emphasized that the viability of the claims turns on the nature of the incarceration. In Feldleit v. Long Island R.R., 723 F. Supp. 892 (E.D.N Y 1989), the plaintiff was questioned in his employer's office, and then taken by LIRR police officers to a conference room where he was read his Miranda rights and asked to make a statement. When he refused, plaintiff's employer insisted that he leave the premises. Although ...


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