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Kerry Shea v. Washington Metropolitan Area

April 12, 2012


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia CAB9208-09 (Hon. Judith N. Macaluso, Trial Judge)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thompson, Associate Judge:

(Argued March 22, 2012

Before FISHER and THOMPSON, Associate Judges, and SCHWELB, Senior Judge.

On December 10, 2009, Kerry Shea Price filed a pro se complaint against the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ("WMATA") and its former General Manager John Catoe (together, "the WMATA 2 defendants") and against Local 689, Amalgamated Transit Union ("the Union" or "Local 689") and Union President Warren George (together, the "Union defendants"), alleging that WMATA wrongfully discharged him and that the Union arbitrarily refused to take his grievance against WMATA to arbitration.*fn1 Both sets of defendants filed dispositive motions. Construing Price‟s complaint as setting out a hybrid employer breach of collective bargaining agreement/union breach of duty of fair representation claim (a "hybrid CBA/fair representation claim"), the trial court granted the WMATA defendants‟ motion to dismiss and the Union defendants‟ motion for summary judgment. The court‟s principal reasoning in each of the orders was that Price‟s claims were time-barred because they were filed beyond the six-month limitations period described in section 10

(b) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 160 (b), which the Supreme Court has held applicable to such hybrid claims. In this appeal, Price challenges the trial court‟s rulings, arguing primarily that the six-month limitations period is inapplicable to his claims involving WMATA and a union of its workers, because, as a political subdivision,*fn2 WMATA falls outside the NLRA definition of "employer"*fn3 and thus "is not subject to the [NLRA]." We affirm the judgment of the trial court.


Price was employed by WMATA as a Metrobus operator. WMATA terminated him on January 24, 2008, after learning that he had failed to disclose a felony conviction on his job application and in the wake of a bus passenger‟s having made a complaint that Price harassed her (a charge of which Price was cleared). Price filed a grievance, and the matter eventually was put to a vote of Union members on the question whether the Union should take Price‟s grievance to arbitration. On August 6, 2008, the Union members (having been informed of the felony that Price committed) voted not to send his grievance to arbitration.

Price filed a pro se complaint against WMATA, the Union, and some Union officials on November 7, 2008, but the trial court dismissed that complaint without prejudice as to all defendants. Appellant filed his largely identical complaint in the instant case on December 10, 2009. On April 19, 2010, the trial court dismissed the claims against the WMATA defendants, finding that any liability lay with WMATA, rather than with Catoe individually, and that the claim against WMATA "f[ell] beyond the applicable six-month statute of limitations." On April 8, 2011, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Union defendants, ruling that the claim against them likewise "f[ell] beyond the applicable six-month statute of limitations."

This appeal followed. Price‟s primary argument on appeal is that the trial court erred in applying the six-month limitations period instead of the District of Columbia‟s three-year limitations period applicable to claims for breach of contract and other claims (such as malpractice) for which a limitations period is not specifically prescribed.*fn4 He also argues that his complaint raised a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which the court failed to consider.*fn5


In holding that Price‟s suit against WMATA and the Union was time-barred, the trial court relied on DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151 (1983), in which the Supreme Court held that hybrid CBA/fair representation suits are subject to the six-month statute of limitations "borrowed" from § 10 (b) of the NLRA. 462 U.S. at 163.*fn6

Price does not specifically disagree with the characterization of his complaint as presenting a hybrid CBA/fair representation claim, but argues that, because WMATA is not an "employer" for purposes of the NLRA, the holding of DelCostello does not govern his suit against WMATA or the Union.*fn7 Price‟s contention is not frivolous; a number of courts considering what limitations period should apply to hybrid CBA/fair representation claims brought against entities that are exempt from the NLRA definition of "employer," have concluded that a state statute of limitations, rather than the six-month limitations period held applicable in DelCostello, applied.*fn8 However, for the reasons explained below, we reject Price‟s argument.

WMATA is a creature of the "Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Compact" (the "Compact‟), an interstate agreement between the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the State of Maryland that was authorized by Congress. See Office & Prof'l Employees Int'l Union, Local 2 v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 724 F.2d 133, 135 (D.C. Cir. 1983). The Compact, which is codified at D.C. Code § 9-1107.01 (2001), "incorporates by reference the NLRA‟s definition of employee as set forth at 29 U.S.C. § 152." Office & Prof'l Employees, 724 F.2d at 140. Specifically, paragraph 66 (b) of the Compact provides that WMATA "shall deal with and enter written contracts with employees as defined in section 152 of Title 29, United States Code, through accredited representatives of such employees or representatives of any labor organization authorized to act for such employees concerning wages, salaries, hours. . . ." D.C. Code § 9-1107.01, Art. XIV ("Labor Policy"), ¶ 66 (b). The Compact thus mandates collective bargaining between WMATA and its employees, and it"ties the NLRA definition of employee to the designation of that party with whom the Authority must bargain." Office & Pro'l Employees, 724 F.2d at 140. For that reason, even though "the Compact, not the . . . National Labor Relations Act, governs WMATA‟s collective-bargaining relationship with its employees and their representatives," Hill v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 309 F. Supp. 2d 63, 66 (D.D.C. 2004), courts - including this court - have looked to NLRA case law to derive principles applicable to disputes involving the WMATA collective bargaining agreement and Local 689 representation issues. See, e.g,. Jordan v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 548 A.2d 792, 796-97 (D.C. 1988) (relying on Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177 (1967) (which applied the "well established" statutory duty of fair representation, that was developed in cases involving unions certified as exclusive bargaining representatives under the NLRA), for the conclusion that "[a]s the exclusive agent of the employees in a bargaining unit, [Local 689] union owes to those employees a duty to represent them fairly, both in its collective bargaining with the employer and in its enforcement of the resulting collective bargaining agreement").*fn9

We discern no unfairness in applying the NLRA case law, particularly DelCostello, in addressing the specific issue presented here (an issue of first impression in this court), since, in bringing his lawsuit, Price has invoked Local 689‟s duty of fair representation ...

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