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Ferguson v. Local 689

June 19, 2009

MICHELLE FERGUSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOCAL 689, AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John D. Bates United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Michelle Ferguson brings this action against defendants Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") and Local 689, Amalgamated Transit Union and three of its employees, sued in their official capacities only (together "Local 689"). WMATA discharged Ferguson from her position as a bus driver after her bus hit and killed a pedestrian. Ferguson alleges that WMATA discharged her without sufficient cause, in violation of its collective bargaining agreement with Local 689. She further alleges that Local 689 breached its duty of fair representation under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, by handling the grievance proceedings following her discharge in an arbitrary and perfunctory manner. Ferguson also asserts claims against the defendants for intentional infliction of emotional distress ("IIED"). Currently before the Court are motions to dismiss from WMATA and Local 689. For the reasons discussed below, WMATA's motion to dismiss will be granted and Local 689's motion to dismiss will be denied.*fn1

BACKGROUND

WMATA employed Ferguson as a bus driver from September 6, 2002 until June 29, 2006. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 10. During this time, Ferguson was covered by the terms of the collective bargaining agreement between WMATA and Local 689. Id. ¶ 7. On June 8, 2006, Ferguson's bus hit a pedestrian, who later died from injuries sustained in the collision. Id. ¶ 9. Soon thereafter, WMATA discharged Ferguson after determining that the accident was "major" and "preventable," and that the accident resulted from her gross negligence, reckless conduct, and disregard for the basic principles of bus safety. Id. ¶¶ 10-11. Ferguson contends that WMATA knew that the allegations against her were false and conspired with Local 689 to prevent her from adequately defending herself against these allegations. Id. ¶¶ 25-26.

On July 10, 2006, Ferguson filed a grievance protesting her discharge. Id. ¶ 14. WMATA subsequently denied Ferguson's grievance at each of the four required administrative steps. Id. ¶ 16. At all times during the grievance proceedings, defendant Wayne Garland, an employee of Local 689, represented Ferguson. Id. ¶¶ 3, 15. On February 9, 2007, after the 60-day window within which to file an arbitration request had lapsed, Local 689 requested arbitration of Ferguson's grievance. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. On November 6, 2007, the Board of Arbitration declined to hear the merits of Ferguson's grievance because Local 689 filed the request in an untimely manner. Id. ¶ 20.

Ferguson alleges that until about August 23, 2008, she believed that she would return to work for WMATA. Ferguson Aff. ¶ 3. She identified three occasions on which she asked WMATA attorneys when she would be able to return to work. Id. ¶¶ 8, 10, 12. First, a WMATA attorney told Ferguson that WMATA was "going to do one thing at a time," indicating that WMATA would address Ferguson's unemployment benefits before determining whether Ferguson would return to work. Id. ¶ 8. Next, WMATA attorneys told Ferguson that WMATA "wanted to get everything proven first and . . . get things on paper," which Ferguson took to mean resolving the underlying lawsuit brought by the pedestrian's family before addressing her inquiry. Id. ¶ 10. Finally, after WMATA failed to return several of Ferguson's phone calls, a WMATA attorney told Ferguson that she should "contact the union." Id. ¶ 12. After her discharge, Ferguson claims that she was initially unable to receive unemployment benefits because of WMATA's determination that her gross negligence contributed to the bus accident. Id. ¶ 4. Later, Ferguson says that a WMATA attorney told her that WMATA was "tired of fighting" and would grant her unemployment benefits. Id. ¶ 8.

Ferguson filed a pro se complaint against Local 689 in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on May 5, 2008 and Local 689 removed the case to this Court soon thereafter. On December 1, 2008, Ferguson, with the help of counsel, filed a motion for leave to amend the complaint to add WMATA as a defendant. That motion was granted on December 17, 2008. WMATA then filed a motion to dismiss on January 9, 2009. WMATA argues, primarily, that the claims against it should be dismissed because it was added to the suit after the applicable statute of limitations had run. WMATA Mot. Dismiss at 1. Local 689 filed a motion to dismiss on January 15, 2009 in which it contends that the claims against it should be dismissed because Ferguson fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Local 689 Answer & Mot. Dismiss at 8.

LEGAL STANDARD

All that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require of a complaint is that it contain "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, to provide the "grounds" of "entitle[ment] to relief," a plaintiff must furnish "more than labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56; see also Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of the Mayor, --- F.3d ---, 2009 WL 1515373, at *6 (D.C. Cir. 2009). A complaint is plausible on its face "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. This amounts to a "two-pronged approach" under which a court first identifies the factual allegations entitled to an assumption of truth and then determines "whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950-51.

The notice pleading rules are not meant to impose a great burden on a plaintiff. Dura Pharm., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005); see also Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512-13 (2002). When the sufficiency of a complaint is challenged by a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff's factual allegations must be presumed true and should be liberally construed in his or her favor. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993); Phillips v. Bureau of Prisons, 591 F.2d 966, 968 (D.C. Cir. 1979); see also Erickson, 127 S.Ct. at 2200 (citing Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965)). The plaintiff must be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from the allegations of fact. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113 (D.C. Cir. 2000). However, "the court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiffs if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint." Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994). Nor does the court accept "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," or "naked assertions [of unlawful misconduct] devoid of further factual enhancement." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Aktieselskabet AF 21. November 21 v. Fame Jeans Inc., 525 F.3d 8, 17 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (explaining that the court has "never accepted legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations").

ANALYSIS

I. WMATA's Motion to Dismiss

With respect to WMATA, the core of Count I is a claim for breach of a collective bargaining agreement. Am. Compl. ¶ 10. This claim is brought pursuant to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, which governs suits for the violation of contracts between employers and labor unions. 29 U.S.C. § 185. Count I also contains a claim against Local 689 for breach of its duty of fair representation -- a type of claim "which is implied under the scheme of the National Labor Relations Act." DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 (1983). Together, then, Count I raises a "hybrid § 301/fair representation claim," which is subject to the six-month statute of limitations set forth in section 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 160(b). DelCostello, 462 U.S. at 154-55, 165; Simmons v. Howard Univ., 157 F.3d 914, 916 (D.C. Cir. 1998). Section 10(b)'s statute of limitations begins to run when the claimant discovers or should have discovered the acts constituting the alleged violation. Simmons, 157 F.3d at 916. Neither party disputes that Ferguson added WMATA as a defendant more than six months after the date on which the statute of limitations began to run -- i.e., when the Board of Arbitration denied her request for arbitration in November 2007. WMATA Reply at 2. WMATA argues, therefore, that because it was made a party after the statute of limitations had run, the hybrid claim (Count I) is time-barred as to WMATA and must be dismissed. Id. at 1. It also asserts that Ferguson's IIED claim (Count II) must be dismissed because WMATA is immune from this type of tort claim. Id. ...


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