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Korthas v. Northeast Foods

February 27, 2006

PAUL KORTHAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORTHEAST FOODS, INC., AUTOMATIC ROLLS OF NEW YORK, AND ROBERT BLAUVELT, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Howard G. Munson Senior United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM - DECISION AND ORDER

Plaintiff, Paul Korthas ("Korthas"), brings this complaint seeking redress for intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, tortious interference with contract, malicious prosecution, and false imprisonment, stemming from a dispute with his former employer, defendant, Northeast Foods, Inc. ("Northeast Foods") and a coworker, defendant Robert Blauvelt ("Blauvelt"). See Dkt. No. 1, Compl.; Dkt. No. 6, Am. Compl.; Dkt. No. 7, Pl.'s Mem. of Law at 2. Plaintiff filed his complaint in the Supreme Court of the County of Cayuga, State of New York against Northeast Foods, Automatic Rolls of New York ("Automatic Rolls"), a division of Northeast Foods, and Blauvelt, a non-management employee of Automatic Rolls (collectively "defendants"). Northeast Foods and Automatic Rolls removed the action to the Northern District of New York. See Dkt. No. 1, Notice of Removal. Currently pending before the court are: (1) defendants' motion to dismiss Korthas' complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure,*fn1 see Dkt. No. 3, Notice of Mot.; and (2) Korthas' cross-motion to amend the complaint pursuant to Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and New York Civil Procedure Law and Rules Section 3025(a) and (b) or in the alternative, to remand the case to state court pursuant 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). See Dkt. No. 6, Notice for Cross Mot. For the reasons that follow below, Korthas' motion to amend his complaint is GRANTED, Korthas' motion to remand the case to state court is DENIED, and defendants' motion to dismiss Korthas' complaint, or in the alternative, for summary judgment is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Northeast Foods operated a bakery in Auburn, New York under the name Automatic Rolls, which has since been sold. Dkt. No. 5, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 1. Northeast Foods employed hourly workers at its Automatic Rolls facility in a bargaining unit represented by the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers International Union, Local 116 ("Union"), pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") effective from April 6, 1999, through April 6, 2004. Dkt. No. 5, Defs' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 2. The CBA established the terms and conditions of employment for bargaining unit employees. Id. at ¶ 3. Northeast Foods employed Korthas within the bargaining unit, and consequently, while he was employed by Northeast Foods, the CBA governed the terms of Korthas' employment. See id. at ¶¶ 4, 6. Northeast Foods discharged Korthas on March 26, 2002, after having received a report that he had threatened to physically harm certain co-workers.*fn2 See id. at ¶ 5. After he was terminated, Korthas filed a grievance with the Union. The Union, however, citing Korthas' "intimidating" and "threatening" conduct, which included, inter alia, threats to kill his supervisor and threats to stab co-workers, declined to pursue the grievance on his behalf. See id. at ¶ 7 and Ex. C. Korthas subsequently filed a Charge against Northeast Foods with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), claiming that Northeast Foods had discriminated against him on the basis of his protected union activities in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 151-169 ("NLRA"), and the CBA by calling the Auburn Police Department ("Police"), having him removed from the bakery, and terminating his employment. See id. at ¶ 8. The NLRB dismissed the Charge, finding that Northeast had acted reasonably in calling the police and in terminating Korthas' employment: "the [NLRB's] investigation disclosed that [Northeast Foods] acted out of concern for the safety and welfare of its workforce after it had received information that [Korthas had] . . . display[ed] a knife in a menacing fashion and after employees reported that you had made threatening statements to do harm to others." See id. at ¶ 9 and Ex. E. In addition, Korthas filed a Charge with the NLRB against the Union, alleging, inter alia, that the Union refused to pursue a grievance on his behalf regarding his termination. See Dkt. No. 5, Defs.' Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 10.

Defendants move for summary judgment arguing that Korthas' complaint setting forth alleged violations of various state laws is but an end-run around the grievance procedures outlined in the CBA as well as the procedural requirements of the NLRA. See Dkt. No. 4, Defs.' Mem. of Law at 2. Defendants argue that Korthas' claims must be dismissed because they are preempted and time-barred by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), and they are preempted by the NLRA. Furthermore, defendants argue that even if the state law claims are not preempted, they fail on the merits. See id. Korthas opposes defendants' motion and maintains that the LMRA does not preempt his state tort claims, and that with the absence of a federal question to adjudicate, the court should remand his case to the state court. See id. at 3.

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's Cross-Motion to Amend the Complaint

Rule 15(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "[a] party may amend the party's pleading once as a matter of course at any time before a responsive pleading is served . . . . Otherwise a party may amend the party's pleading by leave of the court . . . and leave shall be freely given when justice so requires." FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a). Rule 15(a) affords the court discretion to grant or deny a motion to amend a complaint, see New York State Nat'l Org. for Women v. Cuomo, 182 F.R.D. 30, 36 (S.D.N.Y.1998), but "there must be good reason to deny the motion." Acito v. Imcera Group, Inc., 47 F.3d 47, 55 (2d Cir.1995) (citation omitted).

Here, defendants appear to direct their opposition not toward Korthas' motion to amend his complaint, but rather toward Korthas' request to remand the case to state court. In Korthas' amended complaint, the court observed only minor modifications to the original complaint, and the court can detect no undue prejudice to defendants by permitting Korthas to amend his complaint. Based upon these considerations, the court GRANTS Korthas' cross-motion to amend his complaint.

II. Motion to Dismiss

When matters outside the pleadings are presented in connection with a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the court must, with the exception of certain narrowly-defined materials, either exclude the additional material and decide the motion on the complaint alone, or convert the motion to one for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and afford all parties a "reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56." FED.R.CIV. P. 12(b); see also Friedl v. City of New York, 210 F. 3d 79, 83 (2d Cir. 2000). The Second Circuit strictly enforces "the conversion requirement of Rule 12(b)(6) where there is a legitimate possibility that the district court relied on inappropriate material in granting the motion." Amaker v. Weiner, 179 F.3d 48, 50 (2d Cir. 1999). The conversion requirement's purpose is to ensure that "courts will refrain from engaging in fact-finding when considering a motion to dismiss, and also that plaintiffs are given a fair chance to contest defendants' evidentiary assertions." Amaker, 179 F.3d at 50.

It appears that defendants drafted their motion as one seeking summary judgment, including various materials outside the complaint, and that plaintiff tailored his opposition to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Accordingly, the court will analyze defendants' motion as one seeking summary judgment.

III. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard for summary judgment is familiar and well-settled. Rule 56 allows for summary judgment where the evidence demonstrates that "there is no genuine issue of any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Summary judgment is properly regarded as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed "to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 326, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1991) (quoting FED.R.CIV.P. 1). A court may grant a motion for summary judgment when the moving party carries its burden of showing that no triable issues of fact exist. See Thompson v. Gjivoje, 896 F.2d 716, 720 (2d Cir.1990). In light of this burden, any inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Thompson, 896 at 720; United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655, 82 S.Ct. 993, 994, 8 L.Ed. 2d 176 (1962) (per curiam). If the moving party meets its burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to come forward with "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." FED.R.CIV.P. 56(e). The role of the court on a motion for summary judgment is not to try issues of fact but only to determine whether there are issues of fact to be tried. See, e.g., Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255, 106 S.Ct. at 2513; Gallo v. Prudential Residential Services, Limited Partnership, 22 F.3d 1219, 1223-24 (2d Cir.1994); Donahue v. Windsor Locks Board of Fire Commissioners, 834 F.2d 54, 58 (2d Cir.1987). The drawing of inferences and the assessment of the credibility of the witnesses remain within the province of the finders of fact. To defeat a motion for summary judgment, however, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 89 L.Ed. 2d 538 (1986). A dispute regarding a material fact is genuine "if evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. When reasonable minds could not differ as to the import of the evidence, then summary judgment is proper. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-251, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

IV. Federal Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Preemption

A. Well-Pleaded Complaint

Korthas raised only state law claims in both his state court and amended complaints. As a general rule, a suit seeking recovery under state law is not transformed into a suit "arising under" federal law merely because, to resolve it, the court may need to interpret federal law. See Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 2429-30, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987) (explaining that in the context of removal, only state court actions that could have been filed in federal court in the first instance may be removed to federal court); Gully v. First Nat'l Bank, 299 U.S. 109, 115, 57 S.Ct. 96, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936) ("Not every question of federal law emerging in a suit is proof that a federal law is the basis of the suit."). This principle informs the "well-pleaded-complaint rule," which prescribes that federal subject-matter jurisdiction can be founded only on those allegations in a complaint that are "well pleaded." Sullivan v. American Airlines, Inc., 424 F.3d 267, 271 (2d 2005) (citing Rivet v. Regions Bank of La., 522 U.S. 470, 475, 118 S.Ct. 921, 139 L.Ed.2d 912 (1998)); Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425. Under the "well-pleaded complaint rule," the plaintiff is the "master of the claim," in that he or she may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law in drafting his or her claims. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425; see also Merrell Dow Pharms., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 809, n. 6, 106 S.Ct. 3229, 3233, 92 L.Ed.2d 650 (1986) ("Jurisdiction may not be sustained on a theory that the plaintiff has not advanced."). While federal preemption may be raised as a defense to allegations set forth in a plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint, Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, it is well settled that "[a] case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a defense of federal preemption, even if the defense is anticipated in the complaint, and even if preemption is the only issue in the case." Foy v. Pratt & Whitney Group, 127 F.3d 229, 232 (2d Cir.1997) (citation omitted). "The well-pleaded-complaint rule mandates that in assessing subject-matter jurisdiction, a federal court must disregard allegations that a well-pleaded complaint would not include--e.g., allegations about anticipated defenses." Sullivan, 424 F.3d at 271 (citing Rivet, 522 U.S. at 475, 118 S.Ct. 921 ("A defense is not part of a plaintiff's properly pleaded statement of his or her claim.")). Therefore, a plaintiff's complaint's mere allegation that the defendant's (anticipated) federal defense should fail is insufficient to create federal subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. (citing Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 14, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983)).

B. Artful Pleading

"While the well-pleaded-complaint rule directs federal courts to disregard certain elements of a complaint in assessing federal subject-matter jurisdiction, federal courts sometimes do the inverse: read into a complaint elements that the plaintiff omitted." Id. "The artful-pleading doctrine, a corollary to the well-pleaded-complaint rule, rests on the principle that a plaintiff may not defeat federal subject-matter jurisdiction by 'artfully pleading' his complaint as if it arises under state law where the plaintiff's suit is, in essence, based on federal law." Id. (citations omitted). When confronted with such an artfully (i.e., misleadingly) pleaded complaint, the court may construe the complaint as if it raised the federal claim that actually underlies the plaintiff's suit. Id. (citing Rivet, 522 U.S. at 475, 118 S.Ct. 921).

The artful-pleading doctrine includes within it the doctrine of complete preemption. Id. (citing Rivet, 522 U.S. at 475, 118 S.Ct. 921 ("The artful pleading doctrine allows removal where federal law completely preempts a plaintiff's state-law claim.")). Where the preemptive force of a federal statute is so extraordinary that it effectively "converts an ordinary state law common law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule," Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425, a removing party may invoke the complete preemption doctrine. "When a plaintiff raises such a completely preempted state-law claim in his complaint, a court is obligated to construe the complaint as raising a federal claim and therefore 'arising under' federal law." Sullivan, 424 F.3d 272 (footnote omitted). The Supreme Court has found that only three statutes have the requisite extraordinary preemptive force to support complete preemption, including § 301 of the LMRA. See Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8, 123 S.Ct. 2058, 2063, 156 L.Ed.2d 1 (2003); Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393-94, 107 S.Ct. 2425; Avco Corp. v. Aero Lodge No. 735, 390 U.S. 557, 558-62, 88 S.Ct. 1235, 20 L.Ed.2d 126 (1968).

C. Preemption under Section 301 of the LMRA

Section 301 of the LMRA provides: "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties." 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). Reasoning that "'[s]tate law does not exist as an independent source of private rights to enforce collective bargaining contracts,'" the Supreme Court has recognized that where a clause in the CBA lies at the "heart of the state-law complaint," that complaint arises under federal law. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394 (quoting Avco Corp. v. Machinists, 376 F.2d 337, 340 (6th Cir.1967). "If even one claim is subject to the complete preemption doctrine, then federal jurisdiction exists over that claim, supplemental jurisdiction exists over the others (unless those claims 'substantially predominate over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction,' 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(2)), and the case may remain in federal court." Meier v. Premier Wine & Spirits, Inc., 371 F.Supp.2d 239, 245-46 (E.D.N.Y. 2005).

Section 301 preemptively governs claims "founded directly on rights created by [CBAs], and also claims 'substantially dependent on analysis of a collective-bargaining agreement.'" Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394 (quoting Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 220, 105 S.Ct. 1904, 1916, 85 L.Ed.2d 206 (1985)); Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 405- 06, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 1881, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988) ("[I]f the resolution of a state-law claim depends upon the meaning of a [CBA], the application of state law . . . is pre-empted . . . ."). Section 301 preempts a plaintiff's state-law claims where ...


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