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Ronald Heintzman v. Amalgamated Transit Union International

November 18, 2011

RONALD HEINTZMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMALGAMATED TRANSIT UNION INTERNATIONAL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On July 22, 2011, plaintiff Ronald Heintzman, proceeding pro se, filed a complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia against defendants Amalgamated Transit Union International ("ATU"), a labor organization, and Lawrence Hanley, in his official capacity as International President of ATU ("President"). Plaintiff's complaint asserts a breach of contract claim against defendants for violation of the ATU Constitution and General Laws ("ATU Constitution"). Plaintiff, who served as International Executive Vice President and then President of ATU from August 2009 through September 2010, alleges that defendants have unlawfully withheld vacation pay to which he is entitled under Sections 8 and 10 of the ATU Constitution, which specify the duties and benefits of the organization's executive officers. Defendants timely removed plaintiff's action to this Court, on grounds that plaintiff's vacation pay claim arises under federal law. Pending before the Court is plaintiff's motion to remand the action to Superior Court. Upon consideration of plaintiff's motion, the defendants' response thereto,*fn1 the applicable law, the entire record, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that it must DENY plaintiff's motion to remand.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant ATU is an international labor organization with its principal place of business in Washington, DC. Notice of Removal ("Not. Rem.") ¶ 3. ATU is an unincorporated membership association which exists for the purpose of representing employees in the transit industry concerning grievances, labor disputes, wages, rates of pay, hours of employment, and/or conditions of work. Not. Rem. ¶ 3. ATU oversees and directs the activities of approximately 270 local labor unions throughout the United States and Canada. Not. Rem. ¶ 4; Compl. ¶ 3. Defendant Lawrence Hanley currently serves as President of ATU and is being sued in his official capacity. Not. Rem. ¶ 1.

Plaintiff was employed as International Executive Vice President of ATU from August 1, 2009 to June 30, 2010. Compl.

¶ 2. He was appointed to the position of President of ATU by the ATU Executive Board on July 1, 2010. Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff was subsequently unseated as President by election of the ATU membership in late September 2010. Compl. ¶ 5. The successful candidate, Lawrence Hanley, took office on September 30, 2010. Compl. ¶ 5.

Section 8 of the ATU Constitution provides that the President of ATU "shall be allowed thirty (30) calendar days leave of absence to be taken wholly or in part as the [President] may elect." ATU Const. § 8; Compl. ¶ 7. Similarly, Section 10 of the Constitution provides that the International Executive Vice President "shall be allowed thirty (30) calendar days' vacation annually with full pay." ATU Const. § 10; Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiff alleges that he did not take any of the vacation days he accrued pursuant to these provisions during the year prior to his removal from office. Compl. ¶ 8. Plaintiff further alleges that, according to ATU custom, unused vacation leave has typically been paid upon termination of employment. Compl. ¶ 7. Accordingly, immediately following his removal from office, plaintiff sought recovery of his full allocation of vacation pay. Compl. ¶ 8. Despite repeated requests, plaintiff alleges, defendants have refused to authorize payment. Compl. ¶ 9.

Plaintiff initiated this action for breach of contract in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on or about July 22, 2011. Not. Rem. Ex. C, Initial Order and Addendum, Doc. No. 1. Plaintiff seeks relief in the amount of $28,271.43 with interest and costs. Compl. ¶ 12. Plaintiff also asks this Court to order defendant ATU to re-calculate plaintiff's pension to include the additional six weeks of compensation. Compl. ¶ 12. Defendants removed plaintiff's action to this Court on August 11, 2011. Plaintiff objects to removal and filed a motion to remand the action to Superior Court on August 31, 2011. See generally Plaintiff's Motion to Remand ("Pl. Mot."), Doc. No. 8. Plaintiff's motion to remand is now ripe for consideration by the Court.

II. ANALYSIS

Under 28 U.S.C. section 1441, a defendant may remove a case filed in state court to federal court only when the action could originally have been filed in federal court.*fn2 See Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Specifically, 28 U.S.C. section 1441(b) provides:

Any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction founded on a claim or right arising under the . . . laws of the United States shall be removable without regard to the citizenship or residence of the parties.

The burden of establishing federal jurisdiction is on the party seeking removal. Wilson v. Republic Iron & Steel Co., 257 U.S. 92, 97 (1921).

Defendant contends that removal of plaintiff's action to this Court is proper pursuant to Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA"), which gives the district courts of the United States jurisdiction over all "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce . . . or between any such labor organizations." 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) ("Section 301(a)"). The Supreme Court has expressly held that the constitutions of international labor organizations, such as ATU, are "contracts" within the meaning of Section 301(a) because they are contracts "between labor organizations." See Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Remand ("Def. Opp'n"), Doc. No. 10, at 3 (citing United Ass'n of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Indus. v. Local 334, 452 U.S. 615, 627 (1981)).*fn3

Accordingly, defendants conclude, because plaintiff's alleged right to vacation pay is created by the ATU Constitution itself and plaintiff is suing to enforce that right, this action falls squarely within the scope of Section 301(a) and, ...


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