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COBLE v. HOWARD UNIV.

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


March 5, 1997

MARK COBLE, HAROLD HAMPTON, VELMA JACKSON, PERNELLA MAKINS, and DONALD WILLIAMS, Plaintiffs,
v.
HOWARD UNIVERSITY, HOWARD UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO DISTRICT COUNCIL 20, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO DISTRICT COUNCIL 20, LOCAL 2094, and AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, AFL-CIO INTERNATIONAL, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: HARRIS

OPINION

 This matter is before the Court on a motion for summary judgment filed jointly by defendants American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 20 (the "Council") and Local 2094 (the "Local") (collectively, "AFSCME"), plaintiffs' opposition thereto, and defendants' reply, a motion to dismiss filed by American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (the "International"), plaintiffs' opposition thereto, and the International's reply, and a motion for summary judgment filed by Howard University and Howard University Hospital (collectively, "Howard"), and plaintiffs' opposition thereto. Upon consideration of the entire record, the Court grants defendants' motions. Although "findings of fact and conclusions of law are unnecessary on decisions of motions under Rule 12 or 56," Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(a), the Court nonetheless sets forth briefly its analysis.

 Background

 This action arises out of a labor dispute. The Local and Howard are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. See AFSCME's Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. B. On January 28, 1995, Howard notified a number of employees that their positions were being abolished as part of a reduction-in-force. The positions of about 70 employees, including plaintiffs', were terminated. Thereafter, several class action grievances were filed to protest the University's actions. AFSCME and the University consolidated the grievances into a single proceeding that ultimately was submitted for final and binding arbitration in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement. AFSCME's Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A (Decl. of Lawrence N. Anderson).

 Plaintiffs filed the instant hybrid claim against their former employer (Count I) and union (Count II) alleging wrongful discharge and a breach of the duty of fair representation. *fn1" A "hybrid" claim is one in which the employees have a claim both against the employer (for breach of the collective bargaining agreement, under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185) and the union (for breach of the duty of fair representation). See DelCostello v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 163-65, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476, 103 S. Ct. 2281 (1983); see also George v. Local Union No. 639, 321 U.S. App. D.C. 394, 100 F.3d 1008, 1009 n.1 (D.C. Cir. 1996). In such a hybrid claim, "to prevail against either the company or the Union, . . . [employee-plaintiffs] must not only show that their discharge was contrary to the contract but must also carry the burden of demonstrating breach of duty by the Union." DelCostello, 462 U.S. at 165 (internal quotations omitted).

 Analysis

 I. AFSCME's Motion for Summary Judgment

 In Count II of the complaint, plaintiffs contend that the union defendants breached the duty of fair representation. *fn2" Specifically, plaintiffs contend that AFSCME breached this duty by failing to file grievances, provide information to plaintiffs, and enforce the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.

 AFSCME moves for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiffs have not established a breach of the duty of fair representation. Summary judgment may be granted against a non-moving party who "fails to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case with respect to which she has the burden of proof." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

 A claim that a union has breached its duty of fair representation is evaluated to determine whether "'a union's conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.'" Abrams v. Communications Workers of Am., 313 U.S. App. D.C. 385, 59 F.3d 1373, 1377 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 190, 17 L. Ed. 2d 842, 87 S. Ct. 903 (1967)); see also Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. O'Neill, 499 U.S. 65, 75-76, 113 L. Ed. 2d 51, 111 S. Ct. 1127 (1991); Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.S. 554, 570-71, 47 L. Ed. 2d 231, 96 S. Ct. 1048 (1976) ("To prevail against either the company or the Union, petitioners must not only show that their discharge was contrary to the contract but must also carry the burden of demonstrating breach of duty by the Union. . . . The grievance processes cannot be expected to be error-free."); Bellesfield v. RCA Communications, Inc., 675 F. Supp. 952, 955-56 (D.N.J. 1987) ("It is not enough for a member of the collective bargaining unit to show that the union committed a mistake in the prosecution of a grievance, nor is it sufficient to show negligence or poor judgment on the union's part.") (internal citations omitted). Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that AFSCME was arbitrary, discriminatory, or acted in bad faith.

 Plaintiffs contend that AFSCME acted in bad faith by not processing their grievances. As evidence, plaintiffs contend that the Official Grievance Form was not dated and signed, see Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to AFSCME's Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A., and plaintiffs were not notified about the class action grievance, asked to authorize the Union to sign it on their behalf, or given notice of meetings or copies of written replies from management. Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to AFSCME's Mot. for Summ. J. and Ex. B (affidavits of Donald Williams and Pernella Makins). These contentions, however, do not rebut defendants' contention that they processed the grievances. See AFSCME's Mot. for Summ. J. Ex. A (Decl. of Lawrence N. Anderson). Moreover, plaintiffs do not advance any law to support their contention that the alleged procedural flaws constitute a breach of the duty of fair representation. Conclusory allegations made in the complaint and in affidavits opposing a motion for summary judgment are insufficient to create a genuine issue of material fact. See, e.g., Celex Group, Inc. v. Executive Gallery, Inc., 877 F. Supp. 1114, 1126 (N.D. Ill. 1995). Thus, because plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that AFSCME breached its duty of fair representation, the Court enters summary judgment for AFSCME. *fn3"

 II. AFSCME International's Motion To Dismiss

 Plaintiffs allege that the International breached its duty of fair representation by failing to have the Local perform its duties under the contract. International unions are distinct legal entities and, absent an agency relationship, are not vicariously liable for the activities of their locals or members. See, e.g., Carbon Fuel Co. v. United Mine Workers, 444 U.S. 212, 62 L. Ed. 2d 394, 100 S. Ct. 410 (1979); American Fed'n of Gov't Employees v. Federal Labor Relations Auth., 266 U.S. App. D.C. 362, 835 F.2d 1458, 1462 (D.C. Cir. 1987). Thus, plaintiffs have the burden of establishing that the International breached an independent duty of fair representation.

 The International seeks dismissal of plaintiffs' claims against it on the ground that it had no such duty and consequently is not a proper party for a suit over the alleged breach of the collective bargaining agreement. "The complaint should not be dismissed unless plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claim which would entitle them to relief. To that end, the complaint is construed liberally in the plaintiffs' favor, and we grant plaintiffs the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged. However, the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint. Nor must the court accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." Kowal v. MCI Communications Corp., 305 U.S. App. D.C. 60, 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).

 The duty of fair representation can arise from being the exclusive bargaining representative or a party to the collective bargaining agreement. See Baker v. Newspaper & Graphic Communications Union, 202 U.S. App. D.C. 156, 628 F.2d 156, 165 (D.C. Cir. 1980). Here, the record is clear that AFSCME International was neither the exclusive bargaining representative, Compl. at 7, P 24, nor a signatory to the collective bargaining agreement. Compl. at 5, P 10.

 Plaintiffs contend, however, that a duty of fair representation arose because the International was aware of the problem and agreed to "intercede and ensure that grievances on [plaintiffs'] behalf be filed." *fn4" Compl. at paragraphs 32 & 32. Plaintiffs thus contend that "by failing to render such assistance, Defendant International supported and ratified the action of Defendant Council 20 [sic ] and Local 2094's employee/officers." Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to Defendant AFSCME's [the International's] Mot. To Dismiss at 3.

 The record does not support a finding that an agency relationship exists between the International and the Local. See, e.g., Hall v. Printing & Graphic Arts Union, 696 F.2d 494, 495 and 500 (7th Cir. 1982) (International's agreement to investigate and "attempt to get the situation corrected" did not constitute an assumption of Local's duty of fair representation), overruled on other grounds, Storck v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, Local Union No. 600, 712 F.2d 1194 (7th Cir. 1983); see also Sine v. Local 992, Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 730 F.2d 964, 966 (4th Cir. 1984) ("Assistance furnished by an employee of the [International] in prosecuting the grievances . . . did not constitute the [International] a party to the bargaining agreement amenable to suit under § 301. The lawyer simply assisted the local in the discharge of its duty of fair representation. His assistance did not create an agency relationship."). "Without evidence that [the International] instigated, supported, ratified or encouraged the Local's activities or that the Local acted pursuant to its agreement with the International, there [is] no agency relationship as a matter of law." Moore v. Local Union 569 of the Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, 989 F.2d 1534, 1543 (9th Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1117, 127 L. Ed. 2d 385, 114 S. Ct. 1066 (1994). Consequently, the Court dismisses this action as against the International.

 III. Howard's Motion for Summary Judgment

 In Count I of the complaint, plaintiffs allege that Howard violated the collective bargaining agreement. Because plaintiffs have not demonstrated a breach of the duty of fair representation by the union defendants, plaintiffs are not entitled to pursue their claim against Howard. See Vaca, 386 U.S. at 186; Fristoe v. Reynolds Metals Co., 615 F.2d 1209, 1215 (9th Cir. 1980). Plaintiffs must first exhaust the grievance procedures set out in the collective bargaining agreement. See Elkes v. B'nai B'rith Int'l, 540 F. Supp. 98, 99-100 (D.D.C. 1982), aff'd sub nom Majewski v. B'nai B'rith Int'l, 232 U.S. App. D.C. 162, 721 F.2d 823 (D.C. Cir. 1983). Consequently, the Court grants Howard's motion for summary judgment.

 Conclusion

 Accordingly, the Court grants summary judgment to AFSCME, dismisses plaintiffs' claims against the International, and grants summary judgment to Howard. An appropriate Judgment accompanies this Opinion.

 SO ORDERED.

 Stanley S. Harris

 United States District Judge

 Date: MAR 5 1997

 JUDGMENT

 For the reasons stated in the accompanying Opinion, it hereby is

 ORDERED, that AFSCME District Council 20's and Local 2094's motion for summary judgment is granted. It hereby further is

 ORDERED, that AFSCME International's motion to dismiss is granted. It hereby further is

 ORDERED, that Howard University's and Howard University Hospital's motion for summary judgment is granted.

 SO ORDERED.

 Stanley S. Harris

 United States District Judge

 Date: MAR 5 1997


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