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Miller v. King

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

February 17, 2015

JESSIE J. MILLER, Plaintiff;


L. SCOTT COOGLER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Jessie J. Miller ("Miller") brought this action pro se in an effort to recover benefits owed under a strike settlement agreement. Miller argues that United Automobile, Aerospace, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("UAW") failed to adequately represent Miller in his efforts to obtain pension benefits pursuant to the agreement.[1] Miller also seeks to recover unidentified additional benefits, as well as funds that were "misappropriated" by UAW. Before this Court is UAW's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 15.) UAW asserts that federal labor law preempts Miller's claim for "unfair representation, " and that the claim is barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The issues have been fully briefed and are ripe for review. For the reasons discussed below, UAW's motion for summary judgment is due to be granted.

I. Background

In November 1979, Miller was hired as a maintenance and production worker at the Elastic Stop Nut Division ("ESND") plant in Union, New Jersey. The plant was operated by Amerace Corporation ("Amerace") and manufactured specialized metal fastening devices.

While employed at the ENSD plant, Miller was a member of UAW Local 726, the exclusive bargaining agent for all workers at the ESND plant. In 1985, Harvard Industries ("Harvard") purchased the ESND plant from Amerace and attempted to operate the plant on a non-union basis. This prompted UAW workers, including Miller, to go on strike on April 14, 1985. UAW proceeded to file a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board, arguing that Harvard violated the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., when it refused to negotiate with UAW representatives.[2] In March 1991, UAW and Harvard reached a settlement agreement that ended both the six-year-long strike at the ESND plant and the related litigation. The settlement agreement required Harvard to provide enhanced pension benefits to certain ESND workers.

In 1988, Miller became disabled due to a back condition and began receiving social security benefits. Miller therefore did not return to work at the ESND plant once the strike ended in 1991. In December 1992 and January 1993, Miller received letters from Harvard informing him of the new pension benefits available to ESND plant employees as a result of the settlement. Miller called Harvard upon receipt of one of these letters and had a telephone conversation with a Harvard representative who informed Miller that he would potentially be eligible for benefits once he reached age 55.

In 2002, Harvard declared bankruptcy, and the ESND pension plan was taken over by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation ("PBGC").[3] In 2009, Miller turned 55 years old and sought his pension. He contacted former UAW officials, who informed Miller that he should apply with PBGC for a pension. However, PBGC told Miller that he was not included on the list of individuals entitled to a pension. Miller contacted the UAW research department in June 2012, and was provided a copy of the settlement agreement between Harvard and UAW. Miller filed this action in state court in on April 4, 2014. The action was removed to this Court on May 9, 2014. UAW argues that removal jurisdiction is proper because Miller's claims are preempted by § 9(a) of the NLRA and § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"). See 29 U.S.C. § 159(a); 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

Since filing this action, Miller has started receiving pension benefits, as he states in his response to UAW's motion for summary judgment that "[s]tarting the pension has been resolved due to documents submitted by the Plaintiff." See Doc. 18, at 3. However, Miller still argues that he is entitled to unspecified additional benefits under the settlement agreement. According to Miller, an employee in the UAW research department told him of a "well-protected employee handbook" distributed to all members of the Local 726 once the strike ended. This handbook supposedly lists additional benefits resulting from the settlement agreement. The handbook is not before this Court. UAW has continuously stated that it is not in possession of the handbook and, to UAW's knowledge, the handbook does not exist. Finally, Miller argues that UAW has "misappropriated" settlement funds. Miller does not identify specific funds, nor does he state how these funds were misappropriated.

II. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A fact is "material" if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510 (1986); see also Avenue CLO Fund, Ltd. v. Bank of Am., NA, 723 F.3d 1287, 1294 (11th Cir. 2013). There is a "genuine dispute" as to a material fact "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. at 2510. The trial judge should not weigh the evidence but must simply determine whether there are any genuine issues that should be resolved at trial. Id. at 249, 106 S.Ct. at 2511.

In considering a motion for summary judgment, trial courts must give deference to the non-moving party by "considering all of the evidence and the inferences it may yield in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." McGee v. Sentinel Offender Servs., LLC, 719 F.3d 1236, 1242 (11th Cir. 2013) (citing Ellis v. England, 432 F.3d 1321, 1325 (11th Cir. 2005)). However, "unsubstantiated assertions alone are not enough to withstand a motion for summary judgment." Rollins v. TechSouth, Inc., 833 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1987). In making a motion for summary judgment, "the moving party has the burden of either negating an essential element of the nonmoving party's case or showing that there is no evidence to prove a fact necessary to the nonmoving party's case." Id. Although the trial courts must use caution when granting motions for summary judgment, "[s]ummary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavored procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2555 (1986).

III. Discussion

A. Sources of Preemption

Miller alleges that UAW failed to adequately represent him in efforts to obtain benefits owed under a settlement plan. UAW cites two potential sources of preemption for this claim: (1) the federal duty of fair representation, implied under sections 8(b) and 9(a) of the NLRA; and (2) section 301(a) of the LMRA, which confers federal jurisdiction over the interpretation and enforcement of collective bargaining agreements. See 29 U.S.C. § 158(b)-159(a); 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). Section 9(a) of the NLRA grants unions the exclusive authority to bargain on behalf of all employees in a unit. See 29 U.S.C. § 159(a) (stating that "[r]epresentatives designated or selected for the purposes of collective bargaining by a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for such purposes, shall be the exclusive representatives of all the employees... for the purposes of collective bargaining"). Because unions are the exclusive representatives of the employees in a unit, the NLRA imposes a "statutory obligation to serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination to any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. ...

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