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Jackson v. Teamsters Local Union 922

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 12, 2014

RALPH JACKSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION 922, et al., Defendants

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For TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION 922, Defendant: Diana M. Bardes, Richard C. Welch, LEAD ATTORNEYS, MOONEY, GREEN, SAINDON, MURPHY & WELCH, P.C., Washington, DC.


For GIANT FOOD LLC, Defendant: Amanda C. Dupree, Jonathan C. Fritts, LEAD ATTORNEYS, MORGAN, LEWIS & BOCKIUS LLP, Washington, DC.


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JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs are former employees of Giant Food, LLC, who lost their jobs in June 2012. They have filed suit against Giant as well as the two unions that represented them -- Warehouse Employees Union Local 922 and Teamsters Local 730 -- alleging that the three entities conspired to misrepresent the reasons for their termination and to induce them to sign disadvantageous severance agreements. All three Defendants now separately seek to dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. They argue that Plaintiffs' causes of action are either preempted by federal labor law, waived by their severance agreements, or lacking in sufficient factual development. While several claims are indeed preempted, the Court finds that the severance agreements must be considered unenforceable at this stage of the proceedings and that Plaintiffs have provided enough facts to otherwise survive a motion to dismiss. The Court will therefore grant in part and deny in part Giant's Motion and deny the Unions'.

I. Background

On June 30, 2012, Giant laid off 19 of its employees. See Am. Compl., ¶ 35. Among them were Plaintiffs, men and women who worked as senior staff at the company's Jessup warehouse. See id., ¶ ¶ 2-10, 14-15. On these points, all the parties are in agreement. The rest of the facts in this case, however, are hotly disputed, and at this stage of the proceedings the Court must take Plaintiffs' version of the events as true. See Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113, 342 U.S.App. D.C. 268 (D.C. Cir. 2000). That is what follows.

Several weeks before the layoffs, Giant and the Unions warned Plaintiffs that work at their warehouse was slowing down and that layoffs were on the horizon. See Am. Compl., ¶ 27. According to Plaintiffs, the first half of that statement was a lie and Defendants knew it. See id., ¶ ¶ 30, 35. Meanwhile, Giant and the Unions were meeting in secret to coordinate the execution of the layoffs. See id., ¶ 34. A business agent for Local 730, moreover, met in secret with four male union members who were scheduled for termination and cautioned them not to sign any severance agreements because in fact work at the warehouse had not slowed down and there would eventually be a recall of laid-off employees. See id., ¶ 37. Local 730 conveyed no such message to the female union members scheduled for termination. See id., ¶ 39.

When Giant fired Plaintiffs, it presented them with a severance agreement that it had previously negotiated with the Unions. See id., ¶ 36. Giant and the Unions assured Plaintiffs that Giant would not recall any laid-off employees, whether or not they signed the agreement. See id. In reality, Giant and the Unions all knew that

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there would be a recall and had already begun recruiting new personnel to replace the fired employees. See id., ¶ ¶ 44-48. Based on Defendants' representations to the contrary, however, Plaintiffs signed the severance agreements. See id., ¶ 45.

Sure enough, work at the warehouse never slowed down and in fact picked up after Plaintiffs were fired. See id., ¶ ¶ 48-52. Giant thus issued a recall for its laid-off workers -- including the four male Local 730 members who had been warned not to sign the severance agreements -- but refused to extend that invitation to Plaintiffs, although Plaintiffs deny that their severance agreements waived their recall rights. See id., ¶ ¶ 40, 43. Plaintiffs filed grievances with their Unions and were met with silence. See id., ¶ ¶ 57-59. They also filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, which investigated and ultimately dismissed their case as meritless. See id., ¶ ¶ 60-62.

Plaintiffs subsequently filed this Amended Complaint, alleging that the Unions had breached their duties of fair representation to them, see id., ¶ ¶ 63-102, 128-153, and that Giant had both breached its collective-bargaining agreement and also committed several state-law torts -- namely, misrepresentation, fraud, constructive fraud, detrimental reliance, and retaliation. See id., ¶ ¶ 176-238. Giant and Local 922 have each filed separate Motions to Dismiss. See ECF Nos. 40, 42. Local 730 has filed a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment. See ECF No. 41.

II. Legal Standard

As mentioned a moment ago, Giant and Local 922 have moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint, while Local 730 has moved to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment. In response to Local 730's Motion, Plaintiffs claim that summary judgment would be premature at this point in the proceedings without further discovery.

Technically, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) requires Plaintiffs to submit an " affidavit or declaration" to support this position. See Cannon v. District of Columbia, 717 F.3d 200, 208, 405 U.S.App. D.C. 141 (D.C. Cir. 2013). Plaintiffs have not done so, although their Opposition does refer to Rule 56(d) and also makes clear their need for additional discovery. See Opp. to Local 730 at 17-18, 22. At the same time, Local 730's Reply never objects to Plaintiffs' failure to comply with Rule 56(d), nor does the Union's own chief Motion include a statement of undisputed material facts, as required by Local Civil Rule 7(h)(1). Neither party, then, is in a position to insist on flawless adherence to the rules of procedure. Given that Plaintiffs make multiple allegations regarding secret meetings and back-room dealing, moreover, this is clearly a situation where further discovery would be appropriate. Under the " generous approach" used to decide a Rule 56(d) motion for additional discovery, the Court concludes that summary judgment would be premature at this juncture and will analyze all Defendants' pleadings under the motion-to-dismiss standard. Convertino v. DOJ, 684 F.3d 93, 102, 401 U.S.App. D.C. 297 (D.C. Cir. 2012); see also id. at 99 ( " Consistent with the salutary purposes underlying Rule [56(d)], district courts should construe motions that invoke the rule generously, holding parties to the rule's spirit rather than its letter." ) (quoting Resolution Trust Corp. v. N. Bridge Assocs., 22 F.3d 1198, 1203 (1st Cir.1994)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of an action where a complaint fails " to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In evaluating Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, the Court must " treat the [C]omplaint's

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factual allegations as true . . . and must grant Plaintiffs 'the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged.'" Sparrow v. United Air Lines, Inc., 216 F.3d 1111, 1113, 342 U.S.App. D.C. 268 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (quoting Schuler v. United States, 617 F.2d 605, 608, 199 U.S.App. D.C. 23 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal citation omitted); see also Jerome Stevens Pharms., Inc. v. FDA, 402 F.3d 1249, 1253, 365 U.S.App. D.C. 270 (D.C. Cir. 2005). The notice-pleading rules are " not meant to impose a great burden upon a plaintiff," Dura Pharms., Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347, 125 S.Ct. 1627, 161 L.Ed.2d 577 (2005), and Plaintiffs must thus be given every favorable inference that may be drawn from their allegations of fact. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 584, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).

Although " detailed factual allegations" are not necessary to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, id. at 555, " 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. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Plaintiffs must put forth " factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant[s] [are] liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The Court need not accept as true " a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation," nor an inference unsupported by the facts set forth in the Complaint. Trudeau v. Fed. Trade Comm'n, 456 F.3d 178, 193, 372 U.S.App. D.C. 335 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted)). Though a plaintiff may survive a 12(b)(6) motion even if " recovery is very remote and unlikely," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 ...

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