McLaughlin v. The Kroger Co. Michigan Division et al
OPINION and ORDER Denying Plaintiff's 7 Motion to Remand. Signed by District Judge Linda V. Parker. (Loury, R)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Civil Case No. 13-15214
Honorable Linda V. Parker
THE KROGER CO. MICHIGAN
DIVISION, CHRIS BUFFY, and
UFCW 876 (UNITED FOOD &
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING
PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO REMAND
On December 2, 2013, Plaintiff Lula McLaughlin (“Plaintiff”) initiated this
action against Defendants in the Circuit Court for Wayne County, Michigan. In
her five-count Complaint, Plaintiff asserts the following claims: (I) breach of
contract and wrongful discharge; (II) sex discrimination in violation of Michigan’s
Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”); (III) race discrimination in violation of
ELCRA; (IV) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (V) estoppel.
Defendants removed Plaintiff’s Complaint to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1331 and 1441 on December 23, 2013, contending that Plaintiff’s claims are
preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (or “LMRA”). The
matter initially was assigned to the Honorable Stephen J. Murphy.
Plaintiff filed a motion to remand her Complaint to state court on January 3,
2014, arguing that her state law claims are not preempted by federal law. (ECF
No. 7.) Defendants The Kroger Company Michigan Division (“Kroger”) and Chris
Buffy (“Buffy”) filed a response to the motion on January 17, 2014 (ECF No. 8);
and on the same date, Defendant UFCW 876 (“Union”) filed a response brief.
(ECF No. 9.) On May 28, 2014, the lawsuit was reassigned to the undersigned
pursuant to Administrative Order 14-AO-030. Plaintiff’s motion remained
pending at the time of the reassignment. For the reasons that follow, the Court
now denies Plaintiff’s motion.
Plaintiff’s lawsuit arises from her May 27, 2013 termination as a Kroger
employee based on the “no call-no show” rule set forth in the Kroger Employee
Handbook. (Compl. ¶ 15.) The Union represented bargaining unit employees at
Kroger and Plaintiff was a member of the Union. (Id. ¶¶ 6, 8.)
Plaintiff alleges that she was terminated because of her race (African
American) and sex (female). (Id. ¶¶ 98-107, 110-117.) She also alleges that her
manager, Buffy, and the Union failed to properly follow the grievance procedures
of the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) between Kroger and the Union
with respect to her termination and the grievance that followed. (See, e.g., id.
¶¶ 29-33, 42, 44-48.) According to Plaintiff, she was denied “fair representation”
by the Union in her challenge to Kroger’s wrongful discharge of her employment.
(Id. ¶ 51.)
“Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal
court may be removed to federal court by the defendant.” Caterpillar Inc. v.
Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Defendants removed Plaintiff’s Complaint to
federal court asserting original jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Pursuant to
§ 1331, “[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions
arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. To determine whether federal-question jurisdiction exists, courts look to
the plaintiff’s complaint:
“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 plaintiff’s properly pleaded complaint . . . The rule makes the
plaintiff the master of the claim; he or she may avoid the federal
jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law.”
Smolarek v. Chrysler Corp., 879 F.2d 1326, 1329 (6th Cir. 1989) (en banc)
(quoting Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 392). Complete preemption, however, is an
exception to the well-pleaded complaint rule. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393.
A federal statute completely preempts a state law cause of action when that
cause of action, “even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal
law.” Beneficial Nat’l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 8 (2003). Although only a
few statutes have complete preemptive force, § 301 of the LMRA is one such
statute. Banks v. Alexander, 294 F. App’x 221, 224 (2008). It is well established
that a state law claim arising from a breach of a collective bargaining agreement is
preempted by § 301 and may be removed to federal court regardless of whether the
plaintiff actually alleges federal claims on the face of his or her complaint.
Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 392 (citing Gully v. First Nat’l Bank, 299 U.S. 109,
112-13 (1936)). “While the classic § 301 preemption case arises from a state-law
breach of contract claim, ‘the pre-emptive force of § 301 extends beyond state-law
contract actions’ to some state-law tort actions by an employee against his union or
employer.” Id. (quoting United Steelworkers of Am. v. Rawson, 495 U.S. 362, 369
(1990)). Section 301, however, does not govern (and therefore preempt) claims
based on individual employment contracts, even if the plaintiff’s employment also
is government by a CBA. Madsen v. Am. Fed’n of Musicians of the U.S. & Can.,
No. 5:13-CV-2519, 2014 WL 1333199, at *4 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 1, 2014).
A court’s determination of whether a state law claim is preempted by the
LMRA focuses on whether the state law “confers nonnegotiable state-law rights on
employers or employees independent of any right established by contract, or,
instead, whether evaluation of the . . . claim is inextricably intertwined with
consideration of the terms of the labor contract.” Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck,
471 U.S. 202, 213 (1985). As the Supreme Court subsequently explained, a state
law claim is not preempted by the LMRA if “resolution of the state-law claim does
not require construing the collective-bargaining agreement.” Lingle v. Norge Div.
of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 407 (1988). The Sixth Circuit has developed a
two-prong test to determine whether a state law claim is preempted by § 301:
First, the district court must examine whether proof of the state law
claim requires interpretation of collective bargaining agreement terms.
. . . Second, the court must ascertain whether the right claimed by the
plaintiff is created by the collective bargaining agreement or by state
law. If the right both is borne of state law and does not invoke
contract interpretation, then there is no preemption. However, if
neither or only one criterion is satisfied, section 301 preemption is
DeCoe v. Gen. Motors Corp., 32 F.3d 212, 216 (6th Cir. 1994) (internal citations
omitted). Application of this test leads the Court to conclude that, at the least,
Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim (Count I) is preempted by § 301.
With respect to that claim, Plaintiff alleges that she was wrongfully
terminated and that the Union “refused to take her case to arbitration as provided in
the collective bargaining agreement” and “breach[ed] its fiduciary duty of faithful
representation regarding breaches of the collective bargaining agreement.”
(Compl. ¶¶ 79, 81, 82.) Even if interpretation of the CBA is not required to
evaluate whether Plaintiff was properly terminated by Kroger, interpretation of the
CBA clearly is needed to decide Plaintiff’s claim that the Union refused to arbitrate
her case in violation of the CBA and in breach of its duty of fair representation. In
fact Plaintiff specifically spells out the procedures in the CBA she claims the
Union failed to follow. (See, e.g., Compl. ¶ 29.) Further, the right Plaintiff is
asserting arises from the CBA.
The Court therefore concludes that Defendants properly removed Plaintiff’s
Complaint to federal court based on federal-question jurisdiction.
IT IS SO ORDERED, that Plaintiff’s Motion for Remand (ECF No. 7) is
S/ Linda V. Parker
LINDA V. PARKER
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: October 8, 2014
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was mailed to counsel of
record and/or pro se parties on this date, October 8, 2014, by electronic and/or U.S.
First Class mail.
S/ Richard Loury
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