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Brown v. Potomac Electric Power Co.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2018

GAMAL BROWN, Plaintiff,



         Before the Court are Plaintiff Gamal Brown's Motion to Remand or Amend his Complaint, ECF No. 7, and Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 5. For the reasons set forth below, Brown's motion is (1) denied as to remand, and (2) denied without prejudice as to the amendment of his complaint. The Court will order Brown to file a motion to amend that complies with the Local Rules within 30 days. As a result, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is denied as moot.

         I. Factual Background

         For purposes of these motions, the Court assumes the truth of the facts set forth in Brown's complaint. On June 1, 2015, Brown was hired by the Defendant Potomac Electric Power Company (“Pepco”) as a Substation Technician Trainee. ECF No. 1 (“Removal Not.”), Ex. A (“Compl.”) ¶ 4. This position required Brown to hold a valid driver's license. Compl. ¶ 33. The position was also covered by a collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”), and by virtue of his being hired, Brown became a member of a union. See Id. ¶¶ 22, 24-25, 32, 34-35; Removal Not., Ex. E (“Davis Decl.”), Ex. 1 (CBA). The CBA regulated the bargaining, CBA § 2.01, promotion, id. at § 8.09, and discharge, id. at §§ 16.01-16.05, of covered employees.

         On August 4, 2016, Brown applied for a promotion to the position of “Helper-Transformer Tester NERC, ” another position covered by the CBA. Davis Decl. ¶ 7; CBA at 85. He was given a conditional offer for that position on October 3, 2016. Compl. ¶¶ 5-6. One of the conditions of Brown's promotion was that he obtain a Department of Transportation (“DOT”) medical card within six months. Id. ¶ 7. Obtaining this card required passing a DOT physical, including a drug test. Id. ¶¶ 7-10.

         On October 14, 2016, Brown appeared for his drug test, provided a urine sample which was insufficient to enable the full range of tests to be completed, and left the testing site before providing a second sample. Id. ¶¶ 7, 10-12. Around 3:30 p.m. that same day, Brown was advised by Pepco's Senior Recruiter to return to the testing site and complete the test. Id. ¶ 14.

         Brown returned to the testing site later that day and entered a bathroom stall with a male observer to provide the urine sample. Id. ¶ 17. The observer used “vulgar terms” to communicate that he needed to observe the urine leave Brown's body and enter the receptacle. Id. Brown then exited the stall and left the testing site, telling a Pepco representative that he felt “sexually harassed” and offering to redo the sample at a later date. Id. ¶ 18. Around 5:00 p.m., Pepco advised Brown that because he had failed to complete the drug test, he would be ineligible for the promotion. Id. ¶ 21.

         On October 27, 2016, Brown, after a meeting with representatives of Pepco and his union, was placed on “Crisis Suspension, ” a disciplinary procedure outlined in Article 16 of the CBA, as a result of the incomplete drug test. Compl. ¶ 22. During the course of this suspension, Pepco discovered that Brown had not held a valid driver's license since January 2016, and was therefore placed on “Decision Making Leave, ” the final disciplinary step before discharge pursuant to CBA Article 16. Compl. ¶ 33. After failing to negotiate the terms of a voluntary resignation, Brown was discharged on March 28, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 35-37.

         On April 28, 2017, Brown filed this action in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia, alleging a violation of the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401.0 et seq., and a common law breach of contract claim. See Compl. ¶¶ 38-48. The breach of contract claim asserts that Pepco had a contractual duty to promote Brown if he possessed a valid driver's license and obtained a DOT medical card within six months of his hire date. Id. ¶¶ 40-48. It goes on to allege that Pepco breached this purported contract in a number of ways, including by failing to give Brown the agreed-upon six months to obtain his DOT medical card and failing to treat Brown's departure from the drug testing center as a cancellation, which would have permitted him to take the test again. Id. ¶¶ 42-47. The complaint also alleges that Pepco breached its contract by relying on Brown's “Decision Making Leave” status “as the basis for . . . any action . . . relating to [Brown] and his promotion and/or retention” because that status “was limited by it[s] terms to issues related to timely arrival at work.” Id. ¶ 48.

         On June 9, 2017, Pepco removed the case to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446 on the ground that Brown's breach of contract claim arises under federal law. Removal Not. at 1-2. Specifically, Pepco argued that the claim is preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq., which courts have held has such preemptive force that it converts certain state-law claims into ones arising under federal law. Removal Not. at 2. Pepco then moved to dismiss the complaint, ECF No. 5 (“Def.'s MTD”), while Brown moved to remand the case back to Superior Court or, in the alternative, to amend his complaint, ECF No. 7 (“Remand Mot.”); see also ECF No. 11 (“Remand Opp.”).

         II. Legal Standard

         A. Removal

         “A defendant may remove a state court action to federal court only if the action could have been filed in federal court in the first instance.” Dist. No. 1, Pac. Coast Dist., Marine Eng'rs Beneficial Ass'n v. Am. Mar. Officers, 75 F.Supp.3d 294, 300 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)). “Courts must strictly construe removal statutes, resolving any ambiguities regarding the existence of removal jurisdiction in favor of remand.” Id. at 300-01 (quoting Busby v. Capital One, N.A., 932 F.Supp.2d 114, 127 (D.D.C. 2013)). “The party seeking removal of an action bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction exists in federal court.” Animal Legal Def. Fund v. Hormel Foods Corp., 249 F.Supp.3d 53, 56 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Downey v. Ambassador Dev., LLC, 568 F.Supp.2d 28, 30 (D.D.C. 2008)).[1]

         Absent diversity of citizenship, federal question jurisdiction is required to establish that a case could have originally been filed in federal court. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams,482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). “The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule, ' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the ...

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