United States District Court, District of Columbia
C. Lamberth, United States District Judge
its collective bargaining agreements with various local
venues, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage
Employees' Local 22 chapter runs a hiring hall for
D.C.-area stagehands, including pro se plaintiff Daren Danzy.
After union members alleged Danzy engaged in verbal,
physical, and sexual misconduct, Local 22 held a hearing and
suspended him from the hiring hall. In response, Danzy sued
the union and several of its members in D.C. Superior Court
for breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of
good faith and fair dealing, and defamation. The union and
its members removed, and now move to dismiss Danzy's
complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).
Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency
of a plaintiff s complaint." Herron v. Fannie
Mae, 861 F.3d 160, 173 (D.C. Cir. 2017). So before
proceeding further-and consistent with its obligation to
"liberally construe" pro se complaints,
Esielle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)-the Court
must figure out what Danzy's complaint actually says. His
breach of contract claim boils down to an argument that Local
22 violated its own referral rules by suspending him.
See Compl. ¶¶ 45-52, ECF No. 1-2. His
breach of good faith and fair dealing claim goes a step
further, arguing his suspension was "unreasonable,
willful, reckless[, ] and unjustified." Id. at
¶¶ 53-56. His defamation claim, by contrast,
apparently alleges Local 22's policy of informing union
members of his suspension constituted defamation.
Id. at ¶¶ 43, 57-63.
bottom, Danzy's complaint challenges Local 22's
application of its own rules and policies. Yet federal law
"allow[s] unions great latitude in resolving their own
internal controversies, and, where that fails, to utilize the
agencies of Government most familiar with union problems .. .
before resort to the courts." Calhoon v.
Harvey, 379 U.S. 134, 140 (1964). Specifically, the
Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. §§
141-197 (LMRA), precludes this Court's jurisdiction over
his challenge to Local 22's application of its own
referral rules, framed as claims for breach of contract and
breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair
dealing. The LMRA gives the National Labor Relations Board
(NLRB) exclusive jurisdiction over claims by bargaining unit
members arguably constituting challenges to a union's
application of its rules or policies. See 29 U.S.C.
§ 158(b)(1)(A) (characterizing restrictive or coercive
application of union rules as an unfair labor practice);
§ 160(a) (giving the NLRB exclusive jurisdiction over
unfair labor practices); see also San Diego Bldg. Trades
Council v. Gannon, 359 U.S. 236, 245 (1959) ("When
an activity is arguably [an unfair labor practice under the
LMRA], the States as well as the federal courts must defer to
the exclusive competence of the [NLRB]...."). In other
words, district courts have no authority to decide a
bargaining unit member's challenge to the union's
application of its own rules or policies. This is true even
if the challenge is framed under state common law: "It
is the conduct being regulated, not the formal description of
governing legal standards, that is the proper focus of
concern." Amalgamated Ass 'n of St., Elec. Ry.
& Motor Coach Emps. of Am. v. Locbidge, 403 U.S.
274, 292 (1971). So because Danzy challenges Local 22's
application of its own rules, jurisdiction for his breach of
contract and breach of good faith and fair dealing claims
rest with the NLRB-not this Court.
same is true for Danzy's defamation claim. As an initial
matter, Danzy falls short of his obligation to plead
"sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to
'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'" Ashcrofi v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (quoting Bell All Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). He never explains exactly what the
allegedly defamatory statements were; he only summarizes what
they "convey[ed] and insinuat[ed]." See
Compl. ¶ 43. And he never specifies who made the
statements; though he directly mentions the union at one
point, id. ¶ 60, he more frequently refers to
the plural "defendants" without specifying which
ones, e.g., Id. ¶ 61. Nor does he say who heard
the statements beyond gesturing to "third parties."
E.g.. id, ¶ 58. Hence his defamation claim is
precisely the kind of "unadorned,
tendering "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual
enhancement" that Rule 8 forecloses. Ashcrofi,
556 U.S. at 678 (second alteration in original) (internal
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 557). See generally Hourani v. Mirtchev, 943
F.Supp.2d 159, 169 (D.D.C. 2013) (noting "District of
Columbia law" requires a plaintiffs "factual
allegations of defamation be specific enough to allow
[d]efendants to 'form responsive pleadings'"
(quoting Hah, 977 A.2d 941, 948 (D.C. 2009))). But
more importantly, because the LMRA "encourage[s] free
debate" in the context of labor relations, it preempts
state defamation law except where actual malice is found.
Linn v. United Plant Guard Workers, 383 U.S. 53,
61-62 (1966) (noting the LMRA "tolerates intemperate,
abusive and inaccurate statements made by the union during
attempts to organize employees"). Thus-even excusing his
complaint's other deficiencies-the LMRA preempts
Danzy's defamation claim since he never alleges actual
leaves Danzy's claims against the individual union
members. Yet the LMRA specifically restricts liability for
unfair labor practices to ''only the union ...[;] the
union members [a]re not to be subject to levy."
Atkinson v. Sinclair Ref. Co., 370 U.S. 238, 247-48
(1962). Put another way, plaintiffs cannot obtain monetary
damages from individual union members under state law for the
union's alleged violation of its own rules or polices (or
for any other alleged unfair trade practice). Id.: see
also Hollie v. Smith, 813 F.Supp.2d 214, 220-21 (D.D.C.
2011'). Under the LMRA, those claims are cognizable only
against the union itself.
the Court does not have the power to decide Danzy's
claims against the union, and the LMRA bars his claims
against the individual union members. So since this Court
lacks jurisdiction, it GRANTS the