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CESPUGLIO v. WARD

May 12, 2004.

THOMAS CESPUGLIO, Plaintiff, -against- PETER WARD, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SHIRA SCHEINDLIN, District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Thomas Cespuglio, an employee of the New York Hotel Trades Council Associated Benefit Funds, is suing Peter Ward, a trustee and co-chair of the Funds, for tortious interference with contract. The contract in question is a collective bargaining agreement between the Funds and Cespuglio's union, the Office and Professional Employee International Union Local 153. Ward now moves to dismiss the complaint, arguing that Cespuglio's tort claim is preempted by the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA)*fn1, and that Cespuglio has failed to exhaust his remedies as required by that Act. Cespuglio cross-moves for remand back to the New York state court. II. BACKGROUND

  A. Procedural History

  Cespuglio filed this suit on October 10, 2003, in New York State Supreme Court, New York County. The original complaint named three defendants: Ward, the "Hotel Association of New York City, Inc.,"*fn2 and Local 153. It alleged that the Hotel Association breached its employment contract with Cespuglio, that Ward induced the breach, and that Local 153 failed to adequately represent Cespuglio in his grievance against the Hotel Association. (Cespuglio had contacted his union delegate to grieve the suspension as early as June 2003).

  On October 31, 2003, Ward (joined by the other defendants) removed the action to federal court, asserting preemption under the LMRA. At the initial conference before this court, Cespuglio stated that he wished to discontinue the action against Local 153 and the Hotel Association; an order was entered to that effect on December 17, 2003. I also granted leave for Cespuglio to file an amended complaint. B. The Complaint

  On December 31, 2003, Cespuglio filed his amended complaint. It reads, in its entirety, as follows:
1. Jurisdiction of this Court is pursuant to a notice of removal, dated October 31, 2003, by the attorneys for defendant Peter Ward, a copy of which (without attachments) is attached as Exhibit A and incorporated herein.
2. At all times referred to herein the defendant was an officer of the New York Hotel Trade Council and Association Benefit Funds, referred to herein as "Funds".
3. At all times referred to herein the plaintiff was a member of the Office of [sic] Professional Employees International Union, Local 153, AFL-CIO, referred to herein as "Local 153".
4. At all times referred to herein there was a contract between Funds and Local 153, referred to herein as "the contract".
5. On or about the 12th day of June, 2003, Funds did breach the contract by suspending plaintiff from his employment and relocating plaintiff to a substantially worse location and position for his employment, notwithstanding plaintiff's seniority.
6. Defendant Peter Ward was fully aware of the contract.
7. Defendant Peter Ward did intentionally procure the breach [of] the contract as alleged in paragraph 5 hereof.
8. Such inducement of breach by Peter Ward was an abuse of his authority, and of his position of trust.
9. The actions of Peter Ward in inducing said breach of contract were malicious, and were motivated by animosity towards the plaintiff, and were such as to justify the award of punitive damages.
WHEREFORE, plaintiff requests judgment against defendant for $250,000.00 compensatory damages and $1,000,000.00 punitive damages together with interest, costs and disbursements thereon, and any other relief which the Court may find to be fair, just and equitable.
Cespuglio alleges in his brief that Ward had him transferred from Brooklyn to a less desirable post in upper Manhattan because Cespuglio refused to give enough playing time to Ward's nephew, who was on a baseball team coached by Cespuglio.

 III. LEGAL STANDARD

  A. Removal and Remand

  When a party files a motion to remand challenging the removal of an action from state court, "the burden falls squarely upon the removing party to establish its right to a federal forum by `competent proof.'"*fn3 "Out of respect for the independence of state courts, and in order to control the federal docket, `federal courts construe the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubts against removability.'"*fn4 If the removing party cannot demonstrate federal jurisdiction by "competent proof," the removal was in error and the district court must remand the case to the court in which it was filed.*fn5

  It is well-established that "[t]o determine whether the claim arises under federal law, [courts] examine the Well pleaded' allegations of the complaint and ignore potential defenses: a suit arises under the Constitution and laws of the United States only when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon those laws or that Constitution.'"*fn6 "As a general rule, absent diversity jurisdiction, a case will not be removable if the complaint does not affirmatively allege a federal claim."*fn7

  There are, however, two exceptions to the general rule.*fn8 First, a state law claim may be removed to federal court when the claim is completely preempted by federal law. "When the federal statute completely pre-empts the state-law cause of action, a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law. This claim is then removable under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1441(b), which authorizes any claim that `arises under' federal law to be removed to federal court."*fn9 The Supreme Court has found "complete preemption" in only two types of cases: certain causes of action under the LMRA and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.*fn10 Recently, the Second Circuit found complete preemption in a third category of cases: those arising under the Securities Litigation Uniform Standards Act.*fn11 In so finding, the Court of Appeals emphasized that "the complete preemption doctrine must be applied sparingly and with great restraint."*fn12

  Second, an action may be removed to federal court where Congress so provides. Thus, where a statute specifically gives federal courts jurisdiction over a particular subject matter, and states that actions involving that subject matter may be removed to federal court despite the absence of federal claims, removal is proper even where the "well-pleaded complaint" rule is not satisfied.*fn13 B. Motion to Dismiss

  "Given the Federal Rules' simplified standard for pleading, `[a] court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.'"*fn14 Thus, a plaintiff need only plead "`a short and plain statement of the claim' that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and ...


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