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US Airways Master Executive, Council v. America West Master Executive Council

November 30, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge


Plaintiffs US Airways Master Executive Council, Air Line Pilots Association, International, et al., ("AAA MEC") move this Court to remand to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia ("Superior Court") plaintiffs' Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award. Defendants America West Master Executive Council, Air Line Pilots Association, International ("AWA"), et al., contend that this Court has federal question jurisdiction over the instant case, and argue that they were proper in removing it to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Specifically, defendants claim that the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 51 et seq. (1996), completely preempts plaintiffs' state law causes of action brought under D.C. Code §§ 16-4311, 4315 (2001). Defendants have also filed with this Court a Motion for Joinder of Air Line Pilots Association ("ALPA") as a Necessary and Proper Party.

Upon consideration of plaintiffs' motion to remand, response and reply thereto, supplemental briefing, and the complete record and applicable law, the Court GRANTS plaintiff's motion. This case, including defendants' motion for joinder, shall be remanded to Superior Court. Further, the Court will consider a request for payment of plaintiffs' costs and expenses as a result of the improper removal to this Court.

I. Background

The dispute in this case arises in the wake of the merger of US Airways and America West Airlines into one new successor company that retained the US Airways name. See Defs. Opp'n 2. ALPA is a national labor union and a designated employee representative of employees of air carriers, including US Airways and America West, for the purposes of collective bargaining. See Notice of Removal 2. ALPA maintains subordinate bodies, known as Master Executive Councils ("MEC"), which consist of elected pilot representatives from the particular airlines. See Pls. Mot. to Remand 2. The MEC provides day-to-day representation of the pilots under the collective bargaining agreements between ALPA and the pilots' respective airlines. Id.

ALPA maintains an internal policy known as the "Merger and Fragmentation Policy" of ALPA ("ALPA Merger Policy") to deal with the labor-relations effect of a merger transaction between two airlines, including the effect of separate groups of pilots combining into one. Id. at 3. Pilots at all ALPA-represented airlines maintain seniority lists, which record the pilots in order of their date of hire for purposes of bidding for promotions and work schedules, as well as other terms of employment. Id. The merger of an airline necessitates the integration of the pilot seniority lists for the separate airlines. Id. Under the ALPA Merger Policy, the MECs representing the two pilot groups first meet in an effort to negotiate a proposed integrated seniority list. See Defs. Opp'n 3-4. If direct negotiations between the merger committees fail, the parties select a neutral person to mediate the negotiations. See Pls. Mot 3. If mediation subsequently proves unsuccessful, the parties then participate in an arbitration proceeding before a Board of Arbitration consisting of three persons: the neutral mediator and two neutral pilots. Ultimately, the ALPA Merger Policy generates a proposed seniority list, which ALPA promises to present to the merged airlines in an effort to persuade the merged airlines to adopt the list. See Defs. Opp'n 3-4.

Because AAA MEC and AWA were unsuccessful in reaching a negotiated agreement for an integrated pilot seniority list, the parties proceeded to arbitration. On May 1, 2007, following an arbitration proceeding, the Board of Arbitration issued the arbitration award in dispute (the "Nicolau Award"), which provided for an integrated pilot seniority list. See Pls. Mot 5.

On June 26, 2007, plaintiffs filed an Application to Vacate Arbitration Award under the District of Columbia Arbitration Act ("DCAA") (D.C. Code §§ 16-4311, 4315) in Superior Court. Plaintiffs dispute the Nicolau Award with allegations that the intra-union arbitration award was inconsistent with their agreement to arbitrate and exceeded the arbitrators' powers. See Compl. 12-15.

On July 24, 2007, defendants filed a notice of removal to bring this case to federal court. As grounds for removal, the defendants argued that although plaintiffs purport to seek relief from the Nicolau Award under D.C. Code §§ 16-4311, 4315, plaintiffs are actually asserting a claim for a breach of ALPA's duty of fair representation. See Notice of Removal 4. Defendants contend that ALPA's activities in connection with collective bargaining are regulated exclusively by the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., made applicable to air carriers by 45 U.S.C. § 181, and thus federal law completely preempts plaintiffs' state causes of action. See Notice of Removal 2. Defendants contend that the "artful pleading" exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule should apply and transform plaintiffs' DCAA claims into a federal cause of action, thereby conferring on this Court federal subject-matter jurisdiction. See Notice of Removal 4.

On August 20, 2007, plaintiffs filed a motion to remand this case to Superior Court asserting that the RLA does not completely preempt their state law causes of action. See Pls. Mot. 8. Plaintiffs contend that their complaint, as filed in Superior Court, alleges only claims under the DCAA to set aside the arbitration award for failing to comply with the ALPA Merger Policy. See Pls. Mot. 1. Thus, plaintiffs submit that their claim does not arise under federal law and should be remanded to state court.

II. Standard of Review

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and therefore the law presumes that "a cause lies outside of [the court's] limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938). According to the removal statute, a defendant may properly remove to federal court an action brought in a state court when the federal court enjoys original subject matter jurisdiction, that is, a claim arising under the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)-(b); Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987); Hardin-Wright v. DC Water and Sewer Auth., 350 F. Supp. 2d 102, 104 (D.D.C. 2005) (citations omitted). "If, however, state law creates the cause of action, the court must determine whether the adjudication of those state law claims requires resolution of a substantial question of federal law, [ ] because the mere presence of a federal issue in a state cause of action does not automatically confer federal-question jurisdiction." Hardin-Wright, 350 F. Supp. 2d at 104-05 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted) (citing Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804, 813 (1986); Franchise Tax. Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 13 (1983)). "[F]ederal courts have fashioned a two-pronged test in order to determine if a state cause of action can provide the basis for federal removal jurisdiction. The removing party must show (1) that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on a question of federal law, and (2) that the question of federal law is substantial." Int'l Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers v. Ins. Co. of the W., 2005 WL 713608, at *4 (D.D.C. Mar. 30, 2005) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted); see generally Merrell Dow, 478 U.S. 804.

Courts must strictly construe removal statutes. Williams v. Howard Univ., 984 F. Supp. 27, 29 (D.D.C. 1997) (citing Shamrock Oil & Gas Corp. v. Sheets, 313 U.S. 100, 107-09 (1941)). The court must resolve any ambiguities concerning the propriety of removal in favor of remand. Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 411 (11th Cir. 1999); Nwachukwu v. Karl, 223 F. Supp. 2d 60, 66 (D.D.C. 2002). When the plaintiff files a motion to remand, the defendant bears the burden of proving federal jurisdiction. Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377; Wilson ...

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