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Mercer v. Inter-Con Sec. Sys., Inc.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

March 4, 2015


For DONALD MERCER, Plaintiff: James C. Strouse, STROUSE LEGAL SERVICES, Columbia, MD.

For INTER-CON SECURITY SYSTEMS, INC., Defendant: Denise Elizabeth Giraudo, Michael J. Murphy, LEAD ATTORNEYS, OGLETREE, DEAKINS, NASH, SMOAK & STEWART, P.C., Washington, DC.


CHRISTOPHER R. COOPER, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Donald Mercer was fired from his job as a security guard for Inter-Con Systems, Inc., a private security firm, for responding too slowly to an alarm in a State Department building. Mercer alleges that Inter-Con terminated him in violation of the company's collective bargaining agreement with his union and that the union breached its duty of fair representation by not contesting the termination through a grievance. Inter-Con moves to dismiss Mercer's suit because he did not file it within the six-month statute of limitations applicable to such " hybrid" actions by an employee against both his employer and union.[1] The Court agrees that Mercer's suit is time-barred and will grant the motion to dismiss.

I. Background

The following facts are drawn from Mercer's amended complaint and are taken as true in evaluating Inter-Con's motion. Mercer worked for Inter-Con as a Security Officer at the U.S. Department of State from 2006 until April 2013. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 5, 7, 10. Inter-Con has a collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ) with the union representing its security workers--the Security, Police, and Fire Professionals of America (" SPFPA" )--of which Mercer was a member. Id. ¶ ¶ 3, 49, 54. One day in February 2013, Mercer received a call to respond to an alarm in a building under his responsibility. Id. ¶ 12. Because Mercer did not have the building's elevator key, he contacted another officer who had one. Id. ¶ ¶ 13--14. It took Mercer approximately 30 minutes to obtain the key from his colleague--who was eating lunch at the time--and go to the alarm site. Id. ¶ ¶ 14, 16--17. After the alarm was resolved, two of Mercer's supervisors asked him to write a statement explaining the delay, which he did. Id. ¶ ¶ 18--21. Mercer then went on a previously-approved vacation. Id. ¶ 24.

When he returned to work, Mercer was escorted from the building. Id. ¶ ¶ 25, 28. One of Mercer's supervisors, Justin Beekhuis, told him he could not return to work until he agreed to meet with an investigative panel regarding his delayed response to the alarm and advised him to make an appointment with the panel immediately. Id. ¶ ¶ 26, 29. Mercer attempted, unsuccessfully, to contact Beekhuis about when the panel would meet and did not receive any communications from the panel itself. Id. ¶ 30. On April 19, 2013, Inter-Con sent Mercer a letter instructing him to contact Beekhuis. Id. ¶ 31. Mercer attempted to do so, but Beekhuis never responded. Id. On April 26, 2013, Inter-Con fired Mercer for job-abandonment. Id. ¶ 33.[2] Mercer objected to his termination, believing that Inter-Con had violated the CBA by failing to provide him with a written notification of the reason for his suspension, a disciplinary hearing, or union representation. Id. ¶ ¶ 54--55, 59--63. He urged SPFPA to file a grievance, but his union representative refused. Id. ¶ ¶ 50--55. Mercer filed this lawsuit on August 11, 2014, some 16 months after his termination.

II. Standard of Review

To overcome a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) 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. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Facial plausibility entails " factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. While the court " must take all of the factual allegations in the complaint as true," legal conclusions " couched as a factual allegation" do not warrant the same deference. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

III. Analysis

Mercer's amended complaint alleges two claims against Inter-Con: (1) a common law claim for " detrimental reliance," more commonly known as promissory estoppel, and (2) a violation of Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (" LMRA" ). The Court discusses each claim below.

A. Promissory Estoppel and Section 301 Preemption of State Law Claims

Mercer bases his promissory estoppel claim on the allegation that Inter-Con promised to convene an investigatory panel hearing before he could resume working but fired him without informing him of whether one had occurred or allowing him to appear before it. Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 36--47. Promissory estoppel is a state law claim, but section 301 of the LMRA provides federal jurisdiction over lawsuits regarding violations of CBAs. See 29 U.S.C. § 185. The Supreme Court has made clear that " the preemptive force of § 301 is so powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action 'for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization' . . . notwithstanding the fact that state law would provide a cause of action in the absence of § 301." Franchise Tax Bd. v. ...

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