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Frimpong v. 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East

August 18, 2008

WILLIAM FRIMPONG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
1199SEIU UNITED HEALTHCARE WORKERS EAST, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John G. Koeltl, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

The plaintiff, William Frimpong, filed this action asserting breach of the duty of fair representation and breach of contract against the defendant, 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East ("1199SEIU" or the "Union"). The action was originally filed in New York State Supreme Court, Bronx County, no earlier than July 20, 2007, the date of the Summons and Verified Complaint. The defendant removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441 because the dispute arises under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185. The defendant now moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or alternatively for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on the grounds that the duty of fair representation claim is time-barred and the breach of contract claim fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons stated below, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

I.

Both parties have submitted affidavits and the motion plainly placed the plaintiff on notice that the defendant sought summary judgment as an alternative to a motion to dismiss. Because both parties have submitted affidavits, and the Court has considered them, this Court will treat the motion as a motion for summary judgment. See Rutigliano v. City of New York, No. 07 Civ. 4614, 2008 WL 110946, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 2, 2008) ("[T]he essential inquiry [in converting a motion to dismiss to a summary judgment] is whether the non-movant should reasonably have recognized the possibility that the motion might be converted into one for summary judgment . . . . ") (quoting Krijn v. Pogue Simone Real Estate Co., 896 F.2d 687, 689 (2d Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Summary judgment may not be granted unless "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Matican v. City of New York, 524 F.3d 151, 154 (2d Cir. 2008). "[T]he trial court's task at the summary judgment motion stage of the litigation is carefully limited to discerning whether there are any genuine issues of material fact to be tried, not to deciding them." Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., Ltd., 22 F.3d 1219, 1224 (2d Cir. 1994). In determining whether summary judgment is appropriate, a court must resolve all ambiguities and draw all reasonable inferences against the moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (internal citation omitted); Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1223; see also Cardona v. Vidal, No. 06 Civ. 13680, 2008 WL 2856455, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 24, 2008).

II.

The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted. The plaintiff was an employee of the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital (the "Hospital") from 1989 up to December 8, 2003. (Compl. ¶¶ 5; Morales Aff. ¶ 2.) The plaintiff alleges that he has been a member in good standing of the defendant Union since 1989. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) In November 2003, the plaintiff was suspended from his position on the housekeeping staff at the Hospital as a result of an altercation with another employee and was ultimately terminated. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 8; Morales Aff. ¶ 3.) With the assistance of the Union the plaintiff appealed his dismissal and a grievance hearing, at which he was represented by the Union, was held on March 10, 2004. (Compl. ¶ 13; Morales Aff. ¶¶ 4-6 and Ex. B.) On March 11, 2004, the Union received a letter from the Hospital denying the plaintiff's grievance and stating that it would not reinstate the plaintiff. (Morales Aff. ¶ 6 and Ex. B.) The plaintiff subsequently requested, and the Union declined, to take the matter to arbitration. (Compl. ¶ 14; Morales Aff. ¶ 7.) Pursuant to the Union Constitution, the plaintiff appealed the Union's decision not to arbitrate his claim to the Chapter Hearings and Appeals Board ("Chapter Board"), which affirmed the Union's decision. (Compl. ¶ 14; Morales Aff. ¶¶ 8-11 and Ex. D.) The plaintiff then appealed the Chapter Board's decision to the Union Division Hearings and Appeals Board ("Division Board"), which has final authority to determine whether the Union must take a grievance to arbitration. (Compl. ¶ 14; Morales Aff. ¶ 13.) Following a hearing, the Division Board affirmed the Chapter Board's decision. (Compl. ¶ 14; Morales Aff. ¶¶ 16-17.) The plaintiff was notified of the final decision of the Union not to arbitrate by a letter dated June 16, 2005, which stated:

After reviewing all information presented by you, it is concluded that there is virtually no likelihood of succeeding at arbitration. . . . [T]he decision in this matter is final. . . . We hope you understand that the union cannot effectively pursue the many meritorious grievances that arise if it is unduly burdened with cases that have no realistic prospect of success. (Compl. ¶ 14; Morales Aff. Ex. F.)

The plaintiff asserts that, in October 2004, he was hired by Crowne Plaza Hotel in Manhattan, which is under the auspices of Union Local 6. (Compl. ¶ 20.) During the eleven-month period in which he was unemployed, the plaintiff alleges that he went to the Union office several times in search of job placement assistance, but that the Union's representatives informed him that they would not help him obtain other employment. (Compl. ¶¶ 2, 15-16.) The plaintiff claims that while he was unemployed the Union did not pay him benefits, offer him job counseling or training, or inform him of entities that performed these functions. (Id. ¶ 17.)

By a summons and verified complaint dated July 20, 2007, the plaintiff sued the Union in New York State Supreme Court, Bronx County. Liberally construed, the verified complaint alleged that the Union breached its duty of fair representation by failing to arbitrate the plaintiff's grievance and that the Union breached its contract with the plaintiff by failing to provide job counseling, assistance, and training, or notice of such services, as required by the "Union Manual Rules." (Compl. ¶¶ 14, 15-22.)

III.

The plaintiff's first claim is that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. The duty of fair representation is a duty implied in the structure of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"). DelCostello v. Int'l Broth. Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 (1983). A union breaches its duty of fair representation only when its conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith. Air Line Pilots Ass'n Int'l v. O'Neill, 499 U.S. 65, 76 (1991); see also Barr v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 868 F.2d 36, 43 (2d Cir. 1989); Gorham v. Transit Workers Union of America Local 100, No. 98 CIV. 313, 1999 WL 163567, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 24, 1999). The statute of limitations for a duty of fair representation claim is six months. See DelCostello, 462 U.S. at 169-172 (1983); see also White v. White Rose Food, 128 F.3d 110, 114 (2d Cir. 1997); Joseph v. Terrence Cardinal Cooke Health Care Center, No. 07 Civ. 9325, 2008 WL 892508, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 2, 2008). It is well settled that the "the cause of action accrue[s] no later than the time when [the union members] knew or reasonably should have known that . . . a breach ha[s] occurred." Ramey v. Dist. 141, Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, 378 F.3d 269, 278 (2d Cir. 2004) (alterations in original) (quoting Santos v. Dist. Council of New York City, 619 F.2d 963, 969 (2d Cir. 1980)).

The plaintiff's claim that the Union breached its duty of fair representation by failing to take his claim to arbitration is plainly time barred. On June 16, 2005, the Union informed the plaintiff that the decision not to arbitrate his grievance was final and therefore no further action would be taken with respect to his termination. At that time, the plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known that the Union had allegedly breached its duty of fair representation by refusing to arbitrate his grievance. The plaintiff did not file this action until July 2007, twenty-five months later, which is outside the six-month statute of limitations. The claim for a breach ...


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