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Giraud v. MTA Metro-North Railroad Co.

March 16, 2010

WAYNE GIRAUD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MTA METRO-NORTH RAILROAD COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul G. Gardephe, U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Wayne Giraud filed this action on March 10, 2009, alleging that Defendant wrongfully terminated his employment in violation of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA") and seeking reinstatement and money damages under 45 U.S.C. § 153 (q). (Cmplt. ¶ 1) The Complaint seeks to vacate the award of Special Adjustment Board No. 959, which upheld Plaintiff's termination. On August 6, 2009, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (b)(6). (Docket No. 8) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion to dismiss will be GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff joined Metro-North in 1994 as an electrician, became a conductor in 1996, and was promoted to passenger engineer in 1998. (Cmplt. ¶ 3) On August 13, 2004, a Metro-North train operated by Plaintiff overran the platform at Grand Central and hit the bumping block for Track 109. Three passengers were injured and the train and tracks sustained $55,000 in damage. (Id. ¶ 5; Singh Aff. Ex. J at 2, 5-6) After the incident, Plaintiff was taken to Bellevue Hospital Center, where tests were administered that revealed nothing unusual. (Cmplt. ¶ 9)

The collective bargaining agreement between Defendant and the Association of Commuter Rail Employees ("ACRE") -- which represents Plaintiff -- provides for a three-step disciplinary procedure. (Singh Aff. ¶¶ 1-3, Ex. A) The process begins with investigation and disciplinary proceedings within Defendant's Operations Services Department; the decision made by that body may be appealed through arbitration before a special adjustment board. (Id. Ex. J at 5) Each adjustment board has three members -- a union member, a carrier member, and a Chairman, who is a neutral party. (Id. at 12)

On August 19, 2004, Defendant notified Plaintiff of a disciplinary investigation involving a charge that he had improperly failed to control the speed of the train involved in the August 13 collision. (Singh Aff. ¶ 6, Exs. B-C) Plaintiff was directed to attend an investigative hearing, which was conducted on September 9, 2004. (Id.) On September 15, 2004, Plaintiff was notified that he had violated a number of Operating Department Rules and that his employment was terminated effective immediately. (Cmplt. ¶ 4; Singh Aff., Ex. E)

Plaintiff, represented by ACRE, appealed his dismissal through arbitration before the Special Board of Adjustment No. 959 ("the Board"). (Cmplt. ¶ 7) The Board held a hearing on January 28, 2008. At that hearing, ACRE argued that Plaintiff had suffered a loss of consciousness immediately before the accident. Plaintiff contended that he had experienced an episode of syncope, a medical condition that occurs "when blood vessels in the legs dilate, causing a large proportion of a person's blood volume to pool in the legs. As a result the blood pressure drops [and] the brain suddenly is not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen." (Cmplt. ¶ 9 (citing ACRE's brief to the Board); see also Singh Aff., Ex. J) The Board considered the entire investigative hearing transcript and medical records offered by Plaintiff. (Singh Aff., Ex. J at 10-11) The Board refused to adjourn the proceedings, however, to await the outcome of ongoing neurological testing for syncope, which eventually led to a diagnosis of syncope. (Id. Ex. J; Giraud Aff. ¶ 17)

On March 30, 2008, the Board issued a decision upholding Plaintiff's dismissal, finding that "the medical documentation submitted by Claimant failed to establish a medical condition which would have predisposed Claimant to black out and lose control of his train." (Singh Aff. Ex. J at 10; Cmplt. ¶ 11) The Board also found that Giraud had not offered credible testimony supporting his syncope theory. (Id.)

DISCUSSION

I. LEGAL STANDARD

"To survive a motion to dismiss," a claim "must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). In making this determination, a Court must be mindful of two corollary rules. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. In other words, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id. at 1950 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The Supreme Court has stated that "[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. (citation omitted).

"When determining the sufficiency of plaintiffs' claim for Rule 12(b)(6) purposes, consideration is limited to the factual allegations in plaintiffs' . . . complaint, . . . to documents attached to the complaint as an exhibit or incorporated in it by reference, to matters of which judicial notice may be taken, or to documents either in plaintiffs' possession or of which plaintiffs had knowledge and relied on in bringing suit." Brass v. Am. Film Techs., Inc., 987 F.2d 142, 150 (2d Cir. 1993). The following documents are properly before the Court because they were incorporated by reference in the Complaint or otherwise relied on by Plaintiff in bringing his suit: (1) the collective bargaining agreement between Plaintiff's union and Defendant (Singh Aff., Ex. A); (2) the August 19 and 24, 2004 letters from Defendant notifying Plaintiff of the disciplinary investigation (id. Ex. B & C); (3) the transcript of Plaintiff's investigative hearing (id. Ex. D); (4) the Operations Service Department Notice of Discipline terminating Plaintiff's employment (id. Ex. E); (5) ACRE's submission to the Special Board of Adjustment No. 959 (id. Ex. H); and (6) the Adjustment Board's decision upholding Plaintiff's termination (id. Ex. J).

II. STATUTORY BACKGROUND

"The Railroad Labor Act was passed in 1926 to encourage collective bargaining by railroads and their employees in order to prevent . . . wasteful strikes and interruptions of interstate commerce." Detroit & T.S.L.R. Co. v. United Transp. Union, 396 U.S. 142, 148 (1969). The RLA created local boards to settle disputes associated with major company agreements and policies and with workers' employment. See Ollman v. Special Bd. of Adjustment No. 1063, 527 F.3d 239, 245 (2d Cir. 2008). In 1934, the RLA was amended to create the National Railroad Adjustment Board ("NRAB"), which was given responsibility for resolving grievances "between employees, unions, and carriers." Id.; see 45 U.S.C. ยง 153 First (a) ("disputes may be ...


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