plaintiff's federal and state claims were not preempted by the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"); and (2) plaintiff had failed to state a cause of action under § 1983 because the speech in question was not a matter of public concern, as is required for public employees under the law of this Circuit. Shannon v. MTA, 915 F. Supp. 591 (S.D.N.Y. 1996). Judge Duffy refused to exercise jurisdiction over the pendent state law claims and dismissed the case entirely. Id.
Plaintiff amended his complaint to remove any references to § 1983 (although the references to the First Amendment remain), and added a claim for tortious interference with contractual relations. He then filed his case in New York Supreme Court and defendants removed the case to this court. Plaintiff then filed this motion to remand.
Plaintiff argues that this court has no subject matter jurisdiction because no federal question is raised in the complaint. Defendants' papers raise two points in opposition
, (1) that there is indeed a federal question raised in the complaint and that the action is removable under the "well-pleaded complaint" rule, and (2) that the state law claims have been preempted by the RLA and thereby converted into federal claims. As will be seen shortly, both of these points are without merit.
A. Federal Claims Raised Under the "Well-Pleaded Complaint" Rule
According to the Second Circuit, "a defendant in an action filed in state court may remove that claim to federal court . . . if the plaintiff's 'well-pleaded complaint' includes a federal cause of action." Shafii v. British Airways, PLC, 83 F.3d 566, 569 (2d. Cir. 1996) (holding that a wrongful discharge claim and a breach of mediation agreement claim between an airline and an employee are not removable to federal court). See also Smith v. Dunham Bush Inc., 959 F.2d 6, 8 (2d Cir. 1992)("Federal question jurisdiction generally exists only when a well-pleaded complaint raises issues of federal law on its face.") Defendants argue that plaintiff's repeated references in the complaint to the First Amendment
raise federal questions that make the case removable. This is not the case.
Though the complaint makes repeated references to the First Amendment, plaintiff has conceded in his moving papers that he does not and cannot (given this court's earlier ruling) seek relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the statute upon which plaintiff would have to rely to recover damages stemming from his alleged First Amendment violation. In fact, § 1983 is not mentioned once in the complaint, nor is it stated anywhere that an alleged violation of plaintiff's alleged First Amendment rights entitles him to damages. In short, no issue of federal law is raised. All of the causes of action listed in the complaint are grounded in state tort law, and plaintiff's alleged First Amendment right is not relevant to whether or not defendants are liable under these causes of action. If defendants did indeed commit the torts he mentions (namely, if they engaged in outrageous conduct, defamed him, and tortiously interfered with his contractual relations), then defendants are liable irrespective of whether plaintiff's First Amendment rights were violated or not. Thus, the references to the First Amendment are entirely superfluous. While it would have been wiser for plaintiff to have stricken all references to the First Amendment from his complaint, it would be improper for this court to attempt to retain jurisdiction on this basis.
It is very clear from the case law that the state law claims raised here are not preempted by the RLA. As a preliminary matter, it should be noted that Judge Duffy held that the state law claims in this very case were not preempted by the RLA and then declined to exercise jurisdiction over them. Shannon, 915 F. Supp. at 593. ("Under the current state of the law, the . . . state law claims alleged by Shannon . . . are not preempted by the RLA.")
Furthermore, the case law on this subject leads to the unmistakable conclusion that preemption does not apply in this situation. Reference need be made to only three cases, all decided within the past three years.
The first case, Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 114 S. Ct. 2239, 129 L. Ed. 2d 203 (1994), is a Supreme Court decision dealing with preemption under the RLA. In that case, plaintiff was a mechanic employed by defendant who allegedly reported to the FAA a particular problem with the manner in which defendant was servicing its airplanes and was discharged as a result. After seeking relief in the grievance board, plaintiff sued under the Hawaii Whistleblower Protection Act and the state tort of wrongful discharge. Defendant attempted to remove the action, but the District Court remanded the case to a state court in Hawaii. Defendant appealed and the case ultimately reached the Hawaiian Supreme Court, which held that the RLA did not preempt state wrongful discharge law or the Whistleblower Protection Act. In affirming the Hawaiian Supreme Court, the United States Supreme Court created a simple test to determine whether or not a state cause of action was preempted by the RLA. Essentially, if the state law cause of action requires an interpretation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"), then it is preempted; if no such interpretation is necessary, then there is no preemption. Id. 114 S. Ct. at 2247-49. The Court held that a wrongful discharge did not require an interpretation of the CBA, since the elements of the wrongful discharge claim, which have to do with the motive of the employer for firing an employee, are determined by state law and bear no relation to the terms of the particular contract breached. Id. at 2251
The Second Circuit applied this test in the case of Gay v. Carlson, 60 F.3d 83 (2d Cir. 1995) to determine that the state law claims of defamation, prima facie tort, and conspiracy are not preempted by the RLA. The court noted that its own precedents (copiously cited by defendants in this case) gave preemption a much broader scope but indicated that this view has been significantly narrowed by the Supreme Court in the Hawaiian Airlines case. Id. at 87-88.
The Second Circuit has also held in the case of Shafii v. British Airways, PLC, 83 F.3d 566 (2d Cir. 1996) that a plaintiff's state law claim of breach of a mediation agreement signed between himself and a defendant was not preempted by the RLA because the agreement, once again, would not have to be interpreted to adjudicate those claims.
It is clear from these cases that in the case at bar, preemption cannot be applied. As regards plaintiff's defamation claim, it is almost identical to the one noted in Gay and is not preempted since no interpretation of the CBA is required to make out the elements of a defamation claim.
Furthermore, a intentional infliction of emotional distress claim does not require any interpretation of the CBA, and the court cannot anticipate any serious argument that one needs to interpret a collective bargaining agreement in order to determine whether particular conduct is extreme and outrageous.
Finally, even tortious interference with contractual relations does not require an interpretation of the CBA. To show a tortious interference with contractual relations, plaintiff must demonstrate (1) that a valid contract exists, (2) that a third party had knowledge of the contract, (3) that the third party intentionally and improperly procured the breach of the contract, and (4) that the breach resulted in damage to plaintiff. Finley v. Giacobbe, 79 F.3d 1285, 1294 (2d Cir. 1996). Element (1) is uncontested; clearly there was an agreement. Elements (2) and (3) inquire into the motives of the individual defendants and have nothing to do with the terms of the contract, and element (4) only examines damages that plaintiff has suffered. While it could be argued that any determination of damages necessarily involves an interpretation of the CBA, the Second Circuit clearly held in Gay that "looking to the agreement to assess damages is not the type of interpretation that Norris [Hawaiian Airlines ] contemplated as a ground for preemption." Gay, 60 F.3d at 89.
Thus, for all the reasons stated above, this case should be remanded to state court.
Dated: January 17, 1997
New York, New York
Constance Baker Motley
United States District Judge