Harris v. Oak Grove Resources LLC
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge John E Ott on 7/26/2016. (KAM, )
2016 Jul-26 PM 01:14
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
OAK GROVE RESOURCES, LLC,
OAK GROVE MINE, HUEYTOWN,
Case No. 2:16-cv-00015-JEO
In this action, originally filed in Alabama state court, plaintiff Anthony
Harris seeks enforcement of an arbitration award (the “Award”) rendered under a
collective bargaining agreement between his union, the United Mine Workers of
America (the “Union”), and his employer, defendant Oak Grove Resources, LLC
(“Oak Grove”). The Award sustained the Union’s grievance over Oak Grove’s
discharge of Harris. Harris contends that Oak Grove has failed to negotiate the
amount of back pay he is entitled to receive under the Award. He seeks a
judgment against Oak Grove or, in the alternative, an order directing the parties to
engage in good faith negotiations over the amount of his back pay.
After Harris filed this action in Alabama state court, Oak Grove timely
removed the action to this court. The action is now before the court on two
motions: Oak Grove’s motion to dismiss the Complaint (Doc. 2), and Harris’s
motion to remand the action to state court (Doc. 8).1 Both motions have been fully
briefed and are ripe for decision. Upon consideration, the court concludes that
Harris’s motion to remand is due to be denied and that Oak Grove’s motion to
dismiss is due to be granted.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY 2
In May 2013, Oak Grove discharged Harris for missing work on April 5 and
6, 2012, without the consent of management.3 Harris asserted that he had been
unable to work on those two days due to a back injury, and the Union filed a
grievance on his behalf. The grievance was referred to “regular arbitration” in
accordance with the terms of the Coal Wage Agreement between the Union and
Oak Grove. The Coal Wage Agreement is a collective bargaining agreement.
The arbitration was held on June 21, 2013. The arbitrator issued his Opinion
and Award on November 15, 2013, sustaining the grievance and awarding Harris
reinstatement and restoration of his seniority. The arbitrator also awarded Harris
References herein to “Doc(s). __” are to the document numbers assigned by the Clerk of the
Court to the pleadings, motions, and other materials in the court file, as reflected on the docket
sheet in the court’s Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system.
All facts are taken from Harris’s Complaint and the Award, which is attached as an exhibit to
the Complaint. The Complaint is located at Doc. 1, pages 20-24, and the Award is located at
Doc. 1, pages 26-45.
It appears that Harris was out of work from April 5, 2012, through April 30, 2013, when he
attempted to return to work. His discharge, however, was based solely on his absences on April 5
and 6, 2012.
“all wages and monetary benefits that he would have received for the period from
May 15, 2012 [sic] to the date of his reinstatement if he had not been suspended or
discharged, in accordance with Article XXIV, Section (f)” of the Coal Wage
Agreement. 4 (Award at 20). The arbitrator directed the parties “to enter into
negotiations as soon as practicable over the amount of back pay which is due to be
paid in order to comply with this Award, and to exert their best efforts to reach an
agreement on that issue.” (Id.) The arbitrator retained jurisdiction over the matter
“for the purpose of resolving any disputes regarding the Award, including but not
limited to disputes over the amount of back pay which has been awarded, that the
parties are unable to resolve between themselves during the next ninety days (i.e.
until February 15, 2014).” (Id.)
According to Harris, he attempted to initiate negotiations with Oak Grove
regarding his back pay, but got no response from Oak Grove. Instead, on February
28, 2014 (more than 90 days after the date of the Award), Oak Grove issued him a
check in the amount of $22,544.42, with no explanation as to how the amount was
calculated. Harris accepted the check, but only as a partial payment of the amount
he claims he would have accepted following a reasonable negotiation with Oak
Article XXIV, Section (f), of the Coal Wage Agreement provides in relevant part: “In all cases
in which it is determined that just cause for discharge has not been established, the Employee
shall be reinstated and compensated for lost earnings at his applicable straight and premium time
rates prior to discharge. …” (Award at 3).
Grove. He asserts that he did not accept the check as a full payment of what he is
owed in back pay.
On December 3, 2015, Harris filed this action against Oak Grove in the
Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. He did not include the Union as a
party. In his Complaint, he alleges that he has “exhausted all reasonable means of
complying with the Award” and has “attempt[ed] to engage Oak Grove … to
negotiate, in good faith, the amount of back pay due him.” (Complaint at 4). He
requests a judgment against Oak Grove in the amount of $75,000 or, in the
alternative, an order directing the parties to engage in good faith negotiations. (Id.)
Oak Grove removed the action to this court (Doc. 1) and then filed a motion
to dismiss (Doc. 2). Harris, in turn, filed a motion to remand the case to the
Jefferson County Circuit Court. (Doc. 8). Both motions are now before the court.
In its notice of removal, Oak Grove asserts that this court has federal
question jurisdiction over this action “because the collective bargaining agreement
referred to, relied upon and made the basis of [Harris’s] complaint raises a federal
question under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29
U.S.C. § 185, et seq. and/or is subject to National Labor Relations Act (the
Section 301 of the LMRA provides in relevant part:
“NLRA”)/Garmon preemption.”6 (Doc. 1 ¶ 11). Oak Grove argues that Harris’s
claim “for failure to negotiate and seeking to enforce an arbitration award issued
pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement is subject to ‘complete preemption’
under the LMRA and/or subject to NLRA/Garmon preemption.” (Id. ¶ 12). Oak
Grove then argues in its motion to dismiss that the Complaint should be dismissed
because it was filed outside the statute of limitations for actions under section 301
of the LMRA and outside the statute of limitations under the NLRA. (Doc. 2).
In his opposition to the motion to dismiss, Harris concedes that Oak Gove
would have a “valid argument” that his claim is untimely if it fell under federal
law. (Doc. 6 at 2). He argues, however, that his claim does not fall under federal
law. In both his opposition to the motion to dismiss and his motion to remand,
Harris insists that he is simply seeking to enforce an arbitration award and is not
claiming that the Award should be confirmed, vacated, or amended; not claiming
that Oak Grove (or the Union) breached the collective bargaining agreement; not
Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization
representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this
chapter … may be brought in any district court of the United States having
jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without
regard to the citizenship of the parties.
29 U.S.C. § 185(a).
San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236 (1959). In Garmon, the Supreme
Court held that “[w]hen it is clear or may fairly be assumed that the activities which a State
purports to regulate are protected by § 7 of the National Labor Relations Act, or constitute an
unfair labor practice under § 8, due regard for the federal enactment requires that state
jurisdiction must yield.” Id. at 244.
claiming that the Union breached its duty of fair representation; and not claiming
that there have been any unfair labor practices. (Docs. 6 & 8). He argues,
therefore, that his claim is not preempted by section 301 of the LMRA or by the
NLRA and that this action should be remanded for lack of subject matter
Because subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold issue, and because Harris
has effectively conceded that this action is due to be dismissed if his claim is
preempted, the court will first address Harris’s motion to remand. The court will
then consider Oak Grove’s motion to dismiss.
Motion to Remand
As noted above, Oak Grove argues that Harris’s claim for enforcement of
the Award is completely preempted by section 301 of the LMRA. In the
alternative, Oak Grove argues that the claim is subject to NLRA/Garmon
preemption. Harris argues that neither section 301 of the LMRA nor the NLRA
preempts his claim and that the case should be remanded. Having considered both
parties’ arguments and the relevant authority, the court concludes that Harris’s
claim is preempted by section 301 of the LMRA and that the court has jurisdiction
over the case.7
Because the court has determined that Harris’s claim is preempted by section 301 of the
LMRA, the court pretermits any discussion of Oak Grove’s alternative argument that the claim is
also subject to NLRB/Garmon preemption.
In a case with closely analogous facts, the Eleventh Circuit held that an
employee’s claim for enforcement of an arbitration award rendered under a
collective bargaining agreement was preempted by section 301(a) of the LMRA.
In Samples v. Ryder Truck Lines, Inc., 755 F.2d 881(11th Cir. 1985), Richard
Samples was employed by Ryder Truck Lines under a contract negotiated by his
union. Ryder terminated Samples for alleged dishonesty, and Samples filed a
grievance pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. An
arbitration panel rendered a decision that Samples claimed entitled him to
reinstatement. Ryder did not reinstate him, however, and Samples filed suit for
reinstatement in state court. Ryder removed the action to federal court on the
ground that Samples’s claim arose under the collective bargaining agreement and
was governed by section 301(a) of the LMRA. The district court agreed, took
jurisdiction of the case, and then found that the case was barred under the
applicable statute of limitations. Samples appealed.
Samples argued that he had a “simple state law claim” and that his action
could be viewed either as an attempt to “‘enforce the written contract of
employment with his former employer’” or as a “‘straightforward state court action
to enforce an arbitration award.’” Id. at 884. The Eleventh Circuit held that
Samples’s characterizations of his claim were precluded by “a long line of
Supreme Court cases” establishing that “where an otherwise valid state law
overlaps with section 301(a), the state law is usually preempted.” Id. The Eleventh
The Supreme Court has observed that “the subject matter of § 301(a)
‘is peculiarly one that calls for uniform law.’ ... The possibility that
individual contract terms may have different meanings under state and
federal law would inevitably exert a disruptive influence upon both
the negotiation and administration of collective agreements.” Local
174, Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen & Helpers v. Lucas Flour
Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103, 82 S. Ct. 571, 576–77, 7 L.Ed.2d 593
(1962) (citations omitted) (quoting Pennsylvania Railroad Co. v.
Public Service Commission, 250 U.S. 566, 569, 40 S. Ct. 36, 37, 64 L.
Ed. 1142 (1919)). See also Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S.
650, 653, 85 S. Ct. 614, 616, 13 L.Ed.2d 580 (1965). The Court most
recently restated the scope of preemption under the NLRA in Local
926, International Union of Operating Engineers v. Jones, 460 U.S.
669, 674–78, 103 S. Ct. 1453, 1458–59, 75 L. Ed. 2d 368 (1983),
where it noted that if the conduct at issue “is actually or arguably
protected or prohibited by the NLRA ... state law and procedures are
ordinarily preempted.” The Court added that exceptions are proper
only where the issue “is only a peripheral concern of the Act or
touches on interests so deeply rooted in local feeling and
responsibility that, in the absence of compelling congressional
direction, it could not be inferred that Congress intended to deprive
the state of the power to act.” Id. at 676, 103 S. Ct. at 1459.
Samples, 755 F.2d at 844. The Eleventh Circuit then held:
Jones requires a finding of preemption here. First, as this circuit
has already held in Diaz v. Schwerman Trucking Co., 709 F.2d 1371
(11th Cir.1983), a suit to enforce a favorable arbitration award is a
section 301 claim. The character of such a claim further compels a
finding that only federal law should apply. The danger that
incompatible state law may disrupt the collective bargaining process
is no less likely for suits to enforce arbitration than for any other
attempt to force compliance with the terms of the collectively
bargained grievance procedure. In addition, there is little likelihood
that federal preemption will constitute undue interference with rights
“rooted in local feeling.” Samples’ claim owes its existence not to the
workings of state contract or arbitration law, but rather to the
workings of the complex regulatory scheme embodied in the
NLRA. For these reasons, we find that Samples’ potential state law
claims have been preempted by section 301(a) of the LMRA.
Samples, 755 F.2d at 844-45 (emphasis added).
After determining that Samples’s action was governed by section 301 of the
LMRA, the Eleventh Circuit then analyzed whether the action was “(1) a
‘straightforward’ section 301 claim, which Samples can assert directly in his
capacity as an individual employee harmed by his employer’s breach of the
collective bargaining agreement …; or (2) a ‘hybrid section 301/fair representation
claim,’ which he can only assert individually if he alleges additionally that his
union breached its duty of fair representation in failing to prosecute his claim ….”
Id. at 845. The Eleventh Circuit determined that “where a collective bargaining
agreement specifies an arbitration procedure in which the union functions as the
individual’s exclusive representative, the individual’s potential right of action to
enforce the arbitration award under section 301 is presumed to have been delegated
to the union ….” Id. at 886-87. The court concluded that Samples’s right to bring
such a “hybrid” claim was “contingent on a showing that his union’s failure to do
so amounted to inadequate representation ….” Id. at 887. The court expressly
noted, however, that “[t]his does not mean that Samples would be required to sue
his union; he need only allege, and eventually show, inadequate representation.”
Id. at 887 n.5.
Other Eleventh Circuit decisions have also confirmed that suits to enforce
arbitration awards rendered under collective bargaining agreements are governed
by section 301 of the LMRA. See Bakery, Confectionary and Tobacco Workers
Local Union No. 362-T, AFL-CIO-CLC v. Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corp.,
971 F.2d 652, 654 (11th Cir. 1992) (holding that a union’s suit to enforce an
arbitration award was properly filed under section 301 of the LMRA); United
Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Mfg., Energy, Allied Indus. and Service
Workers Int’l Union AFL-CIO-CLC, 642 F.3d 1344, 1349 (11th Cir. 2011) (“An
arbitration award pursuant to an arbitration provision in a collective bargaining
agreement is treated as one that can be enforced through a § 301 lawsuit.”).
Here, as in Samples, Harris is seeking to enforce the terms of a favorable
arbitration award rendered pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between
his union and his employer. As a consequence, his suit is governed by section 301
of the LMRA and his state law claim is completely preempted.
In an effort to avoid section 301 preemption, Harris cites Lingle v. Norge
Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 413 (1988), in which the Supreme Court
held that “an application of state law is pre-empted by § 301 of the Labor
Management Relations Act of 1947 only if such application requires the
interpretation of a collective-bargaining agreement.” Harris argues that his state
law claim for enforcement of the Award is not preempted because this court “has
no need to consult the collective bargaining agreement nor construct any of its
terms or the terms of the … Award in order for the parties to enter into
negotiations.” (Doc. 8 at 5). The court disagrees.
The court first notes that Lingle did not involve the enforcement of an
arbitration award. In Lingle, an employee was discharged for allegedly filing a
false claim under the workers’ compensation laws of Illinois. The employee’s
union filed a grievance pursuant to the governing collective bargaining agreement,
and an arbitrator ultimately ruled in the employee’s favor and ordered her
reinstatement. Meanwhile, the employee filed a separate state court action alleging
that she had been discharged for exercising her workers’ compensation rights.
Lingle, 486 U.S. at 401-402. The Supreme Court held that “the state-law remedy
in this case is ‘independent’ of the collective-bargaining agreement” and that the
employee’s retaliatory discharge claim was not preempted by § 301of the LMRA.
Id. at 410. Enforcement of the arbitration award was not at issue.
Here, in contrast, Harris is not seeking to pursue a state law remedy that is
independent from the collective bargaining agreement. Rather, he is seeking to
enforce an arbitration award that was issued pursuant to—and dependent upon—
the collective bargaining agreement. Harris’s grievance was filed pursuant to the
collective bargaining agreement between Oak Grove and the Union; the grievance
was referred to arbitration pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement; the
arbitrator’s decision was based on his interpretation of the collective bargaining
agreement; and the award of back pay was expressly issued “in accordance with
Article XXIV, Section (f)” of the collective bargaining agreement. Eleventh
Circuit precedent is clear: a claim to enforce such an award is a section 301 claim.
While Harris is correct that his claim for enforcement of the Award may not
require construction of any of the specific terms of the collective bargaining
agreement (at least not at this time), it does require construction of the terms of the
Award, specifically the provision of the Award directing the parties to negotiate
the back pay he is entitled to receive under the collective bargaining agreement.
Moreover, the collective bargaining agreement gave rise to the Union’s challenge
to Harris’s discharge and established the framework for resolving his grievance.
As the Sixth Circuit explained in a case involving a state law claim for breach of a
settlement agreement reached during a grievance procedure:
We are faced with a state law claim for breach of a settlement
agreement. This agreement was arrived at by virtue of a grievance
process established by a collective bargaining agreement, signed only
by the parties engaged in collective bargaining, and promised
reinstatement to a job whose terms and conditions are created by and
subject to a collective bargaining agreement. The resolution of this
claim will not involve the direct interpretation of a precise term of the
CBA, but it will require a court to address relationships that have been
created through the collective bargaining process and to mediate a
dispute founded upon rights created by a CBA. Does this process
require an “interpretation of the terms” of a CBA triggering § 301 preemption? The district court answered this question in the affirmative,
and we agree.
Jones v. General Motors Corp., 939 F.2d 380, 382-83 (6th Cir. 1991). The same
rationale applies here.
Harris also argues that section 301 of the LMRA does not apply because he
has not alleged that Oak Grove breached the collective bargaining agreement and
has not alleged that the Union breached its duty of fair representation. He thus
argues that his claim cannot be considered either a “straightforward” LMRA claim
or a “hybrid” LMRA claim. (Doc. 8 at 2-4). This very issue, however, was
resolved by the Eleventh Circuit in Samples. As discussed above, the Eleventh
Circuit held that where, as here, a collective bargaining agreement specifies an
arbitration procedure for resolving grievances, the job of asserting an action to
enforce an arbitration award is presumed to have been delegated to the union, and
an employee’s right to bring such an action on his own is contingent on a showing
that the union’s failure to prosecute the action amounted to inadequate
representation. Samples, 755 F.2d at 886-87. The Eleventh Circuit noted that an
employee bringing such a “hybrid” claim is not required to sue his union, but must
simply allege, and ultimately show, inadequate representation. Id. at 887 n.5. The
Eleventh Circuit then proceeded to analyze whether Samples’s claim was barred by
the statute of limitations governing LMRA suits, even though Samples had not
sued his union or alleged any breach of the union’s duty of fair representation. The
court explained that it was reaching the statute of limitations issue because, on
remand, Samples would be able to amend his complaint to make the “necessary
allegations as to his union’s breach of its duty of fair representation.” Id. at 887
Here, similarly, Harris has not sued the Union or alleged that the Union
breached its duty of fair representation by failing to prosecute his claim for
enforcement of the Award. Nonetheless, as the Eleventh Circuit held in Samples,
his claim for enforcement of the Award is a hybrid section 301 claim; he was not
required to sue the Union, and he could (if given leave) amend his complaint to
make the necessary allegations regarding the Union’s breach of its duty of fair
Based on the foregoing, the court concludes that Harris’s claim for
enforcement of the Award is governed by section 301 of the LMRA and that his
state law claim is preempted by the LMRA. Accordingly, Oak Grove properly
removed the action to this court, and Harris’s motion to remand is due to be
Motion to Dismiss
Having determined that Harris’s claim is governed by section 301 of the
LMRA, the court turns to Oak Grove’s argument that the claim is barred by the
statute of limitations for LMRA claims. In DelCostello v. Int’l Brotherhood of
Teamsters, 462 U.S.C. 151, 169-72 (1983), the Supreme Court held that the six14
month limitation period in section 10(b) of the NLRA applies to “hybrid” claims
under section 301 of the LMRA. Relying on DelCostello, the Eleventh Circuit
held in Samples that an employee has six months from the time a hybrid section
301 claim accrues to assert the claim. Samples, 755 F.2d at 887. The Eleventh
Circuit further held that “the employee’s cause of action accrues at the latest when
his union’s time for asserting the claim has run out” and that “the union’s cause of
action would be characterized as a straightforward section 301 claim.” Id. at 88788. “Under Alabama law the statute of limitations for a straightforward § 301 suit
… is six months.” Aluminum Brick and Glass Workers Int’l Union v. AAA
Plumbing Pottery Corp., 991 F.2d 1545, 1548 (11th Cir. 1993) (citing Int’l Ass’n
of Machinists and Aerospace Workers v. Allied Products Corp., 786 F.2d 1561,
1564 (11th Cir. 1986)).
Here, the arbitrator entered his Opinion and Award on Harris’s grievance on
November 15, 2013, and retained jurisdiction over any disputes regarding the
amount of Harris’s back pay until February 15, 2014. According to Harris, Oak
Grove failed to respond to his requests that the parties enter into negotiations to
determine the amount of his back pay, but instead unilaterally issued him a check
on February 28, 2014, in an amount he claims is less than what he is owed.
However, neither the Union nor Harris asserted a claim against Oak Grove until
Harris filed his state court action for enforcement of the Award on December 3,
2015, well more than six months after the Union’s “straightforward” section 301
claim would have accrued and well more than six months after Harris’s “hybrid”
claim accrued. Harris’s claim, therefore, is barred by the statute of limitations and
is due to be dismissed. See Samples, 755 F.2d at 888 (dismissing Samples’s claim
because it was filed more than two years after the arbitration panel rendered its
decision). Indeed, as previously noted, Harris has conceded that if his claim for
enforcement of the Award is preempted by section 301 of the LMRA, as the court
has already determined, then Oak Grove’s argument that the claim is time-barred is
“valid.” (Doc. 6 at 2).
For the reasons set forth above, the court concludes that Harris’s motion to
remand (doc. 8) is due to be denied and that Oak Grove’s motion to dismiss (doc.
2) is due to be granted. A separate order consistent with this opinion will be
DATED this 26th day of July, 2016.
JOHN E. OTT
Chief United States Magistrate Judge
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