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Eames v. Dennis

March 30, 2007

DENNIS EAMES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JERRY DENNIS, AS PRESIDENT OF LOCAL 200 UNITED, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, AND IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANT.*FN1



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, Plaintiff Dennis Eames alleges that Defendant Jerry Dennis, individually and as President of Local 210 United, violated his rights under the Labor Management Reporting and Disclosure Act*fn2 ("LMRDA"), 29 U.S.C. § 401, et seq., and defamed him in violation of New York law. Presently before this Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment.*fn3 For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion is granted as to the federal claims, and this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law defamation claims.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

1. Plaintiff's Employment with Local 200 United

The United Service Employees International Union ("SEIU"), Local 200 ("Local 200 United") and its predecessor unions employed Plaintiff in a variety of capacities between 1976 and 2003. (Plaintiff's Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Plaintiff's Statement"), ¶ 1; Eames 3/17/06 Aff., ¶ 2; Defendant's Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defendant's Statement"), ¶ 1.) He began as director of communications, and over the years held the positions of union representative, organizer, secretary and treasurer. (Eames 3/17/06 Aff., ¶ 2.) From 2001 through November 6, 2003, Plaintiff held the position of Business Representative or union representative/organizer. (Eames 3/17/06 Aff., ¶ 3; Defendant's Statement, ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Rule 56 Statement of Disputed Facts ("Plaintiff's Disputed Statement"), ¶ 1.) Plaintiff was also a member of Local 200 United. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 2; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 2.)

Defendant is and has been the President of Local 200 United since 2001. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 6.) Deana Fox was the Executive Vice President of Local 200 United. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 7.) She worked in the Buffalo office with Plaintiff and Matthew Burke. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 7; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 7.) Like Plaintiff, Fox and Burke were members of Local 200 United. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 8.)

2. The Shotgun Shell Incident

Defendant had the authority to review employees' performances and hire and fire employees on the Local 200 United staff. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 10.) During one of his visits to the Buffalo office in June of 2003, Defendant discovered a live 12-gauge shotgun shell on the windowsill in Burke's office. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 11.) Written on the shell were the names "Jerry" and "Chris," referring to Defendant and Chris Binaxas, who was then the Director of Organizing. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 11.) The shotgun shell had been on Burke's windowsill for between nine and twelve months. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 12.)

Defendant asked Plaintiff about the shotgun shell, but Plaintiff would not discuss it. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 14; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 14.) A few days later, however, Plaintiff told Defendant over the telephone that he had written the names on the shell and given it to Burke. (Defendant's Statement, ¶¶ 13, 16.) Plaintiff told Defendant that he had given the shell to Burke as a joke after Burke was criticized by a staff member at a building service meeting in Syracuse, N.Y., about his handling of the janitorial contract. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 17; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 17.) Fox, however, indicated that Plaintiff gave Burke the shotgun shell with the names on it to build camaraderie. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 21.)

Defendant maintains that Local 200 United suspended Burke's employment on June 27, 2003, because he kept the shotgun shell on his windowsill and for poor work performance. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 20.) However, at his deposition, Burke testified that Defendant suspended him because he thought that Burke, Fox and Eames made him uncomfortable and were perhaps out to get him. (Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 20.) Defendant asserts that less than one month later, Local 200 United terminated Burke's employment for keeping the shotgun shell, for poor work performance, and for threatening to punch Binaxas during a meeting. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 22.) However, Plaintiff maintains that Burke was terminated for poor work performance, not for his possession of the shotgun shell. (Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 22.) Burke resigned his union membership on November 1, 2003. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 25; Dennis Amend. Aff., Exhibit 4.)

3. Local 200 United's Investigation

On July 28, 2003, Defendant appointed an Investigatory Committee to investigate allegations of misconduct in the Buffalo office, including the shotgun shell incident. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 26; Lonigro Aff., ¶¶ 2, 3.) The Committee consisted of Michael Lonigro (Vice-President of Local 200 United), Dan Verstreate (Executive Board member) and Leo Williams, Sr. (Executive Board member). (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 26; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 26.) Local 200 United in-house counsel Melanie Wlasuk, Esq., served as the Committee's legal advisor. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 26; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 27; Wlasuk Aff., ¶ 2.) Defendant delegated his authority to evaluate, discipline, or discharge Plaintiff to the Committee and the Executive Board. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 27; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶¶ 28, 29; Lonigro Aff., ¶ 3.) The Committee was tasked with presenting a report and recommendation to the Executive Board concerning whether it should prefer Plaintiff and Fox to the International Union to face charges for conduct unbecoming a member. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 29.)

On or about July 30, 2003, Plaintiff received a copy of a memorandum Defendant had written to Fox detailing the allegations that Defendant had made to the Investigatory Committee. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 30; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 30; Lonigro Aff., Exhibit 1.) The Investigatory Committee took written statements and interviewed several officers and staff of Local 200 United. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 31; Lonigro Aff., ¶ 5.)

In a meeting with Plaintiff and Fox on September 24, 2003, the Committee discussed whether the matter could be settled. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 32; Lonigro Aff., ¶ 6.) When settlement could not be accomplished, Plaintiff declined to sit for an interview with the Committee and instead left the room. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 32; Lonigro Aff., ¶ 6.) Thereafter, the Investigatory Committee unanimously determined that Plaintiff had written Defendant and Binaxas' names on the shotgun shell, and concluded that this conduct was improper and insubordinate.*fn4 (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 33; Lonigro Aff., ¶ 7.) It further resolved to recommend to the Executive Board that Plaintiff and Fox's employment with the union be terminated, and that they be preferred to the International Union to face charges for conduct unbecoming a member. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 34; Plaintiff's Disputed Statement, ¶ 34; Lonigro Aff., ¶ 7 and Exhibit 1.) The Committee included these findings in its written report to the Executive Board. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 33; Lonigro Aff., Exhibit 1.)

4. The Memorandum of Agreement

On or about October 9, 2003, Plaintiff and Local 200 United entered a Memorandum of Agreement to resolve Plaintiff's disciplinary issues. (Eames Aff., ¶ 4; Defendant's Statement, ¶ 35; Defendant's Appendix, Exhibit 13.) Therein, Plaintiff agreed to a 1-year suspension of his union membership, and a 1-year term of probation with respect to his employment with the union. (Eames Aff., ¶ 4; Defendant's Statement, ¶ 35; Defendant's Appendix, Exhibit B.) Local 200 United agreed to retroactively restore Plaintiff's membership and all attendant membership rights upon Plaintiff's payment of back dues for his year of suspension. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 35; Defendant's Appendix, Exhibit 13.) Plaintiff, however, never paid his back dues. (Defendant's Statement, ¶ 44.) In addition, Local 200 United agreed to halt ...


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