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Jackson v. Us Steel Corp.

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

April 24, 2018

U.S. STEEL CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.



         This case is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Doc. # 11) and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 4). The parties have fully briefed both the Motion to Remand (Docs. # 11, 21, 27) and the Motion to Dismiss (Docs. # 4, 29, 30). For the reasons outlined below, the court concludes the Motion to Remand (Doc. # 11) is due to be denied and the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. # 4) is due to be granted.

         I. Background and Relevant Facts

         Plaintiff William Jackson (“Jackson” or “Plaintiff”) initiated this lawsuit against Defendants U.S. Steel Corporation (“U.S. Steel”), United States Steelworkers Union (“Union”), [1]Tom Conway (“Conway”), Michael Fields (“Fields”), Raymond D. League (“League”), James P. Thomas (“Thomas”), Nicole L. Demao (“Demao”), Thomas Hanson (“Hanson”), Karl G. Kocsis (“Kocsis”), Donald J. Payne (“Payne”), and Christiana Johnston (“Johnston” and collectively “Defendants”) on October 13, 2017 in the Circuit Court of Jefferson County, Alabama. (Doc. # 1-1). In the Complaint, Plaintiff asserts seven state law claims against Defendants: (1) defamation/libel (conspiracy), (2) defamation/libel, (3) defamation per se/libel per se, (4) wantonness, (5) negligence and gross negligence, (6) invasion of privacy, and (7) intentional infliction of emotional distress. (Doc. # 1-1). On November 22, 2017, Defendants removed this action based on the complete preemption of § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”). (Doc. # 1). Defendants next filed a Motion to Dismiss on December 8, 2017. (Doc. # 4). On December 19, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Remand. (Doc. # 11). In the Notice of Removal, Defendants attempt to provide background to Plaintiff's terse Complaint by providing documents involved in Jackson's grievance and arbitration proceedings. (Docs. # 1-3, 1-4, 1-5, 1-6). The allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. # 1-1 at p. 2-13) and the factual allegations contained in Defendants' Notice of Removal (Doc. # 1) and Opposition to the Motion to Remand (Doc. # 21) are discussed below.

         A. Facts Alleged in the Complaint

         U.S. Steel employed Jackson for several years. (Doc. # 1-1 at p. 4). While employed, Jackson[2] served as the Grievance Chairman of a Grievance Committee on behalf of his local Union members. (Id.). Plaintiff alleges that Fields “lied and claimed that William Jackson was engaging in criminal action in his representation of union employees.” (Id. at p. 2). He further alleges that U.S. Steel and the Union hid Fields' slanderous statements and conspired to defame Jackson. (Id.). Plaintiff advances the general contention that Defendants published a “false and defamatory email with the intent to harm plaintiff's reputation so that the arbitrator would be less likely to believe his claims and statements during his arbitration.” (Id. at p. 3). Somewhat more specifically, Jackson alleges that, from October 11, 2015[3] through his arbitration date, Defendants conspired to (and did) defame him by publishing the following statements: “[Jackson] is using the position for his benefits; He has wrongly used his position to influence a company employee to usurp a position for his benefit; He committed a crime in his representing of union members and arguing that he and other grievance committeemen were entitled to super seniority; and He should be in jail for his criminal actions.” (Id. at p. 5, 6).

         B. Additional Facts Alleged by Defendants[4]

         In Fall 2015, U.S. Steel was going through lay-offs. (Docs. # 1-4 at p. 7; 21 at p. 3). The Basic Labor Agreement (“BLA”), which is the collective bargaining agreement that governs the relationship between Plaintiff, U.S. Steel, and the Union, contains a superseniority provision that, in some instances, allows for an employee to avoid being laid off by “bumping” into a new job classification. (Docs. # 1-3 at p. 46-51; 21 at p. 3). Jackson attempted to avoid being laid off by exercising this superseniority provision; however, despite this attempt, he was laid off. (Docs. # 1-4 at p. 7-8; 21 at p. 3).

         On October 30, 2015, Local Union No. 2122 (“Local 2122”) filed a grievance on Jackson's behalf. (Docs. # 1-4 at p. 2-3; 21 at p. 3). While the grievance was being processed, Jackson, in his capacity as Grievance Chair, filed unfair labor practice charges against U.S. Steel with the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”). (Docs. # 1-4 at p. 5-6; 21 at p. 4). The NLRB dismissed two of these charges and deferred the remaining charges to arbitration. (Id.). In January and February 2016, Jackson's grievance went through a Step 2 meeting and a Step 3 meeting, and, on February 19, 2016, the Union appealed Jackson's grievance to arbitration. (Docs. # 1-4 at p. 3; 21 at p. 4). Ultimately, the arbitrator found the grievance and the deferred NLRB charges meritless and issued a decision denying both on June 8, 2016. (Docs. # 1-4; 21 at p. 4).

         On June 17, 2016, Jackson filed an unfair labor practice charge against the Union with the NLRB, alleging that the Union failed to properly represent him during arbitration. (Docs. # 1-5 at p. 7; 21 at p. 5). The NLRB Regional Director refused to issue a complaint on this charge. (Doc. # 1-6 at p. 4). Jackson appealed. (Id. at p. 2). On November 9, 2016, the General Counsel for the NLRB denied Jackson's appeal and found that “there was insufficient evidence to establish that the Union failed to properly represent you.” (Id.). The General Counsel also found that “there was insufficient evidence to substantiate [Jackson's] claim” that the Union and U.S. Steel “acted in cohort to get [him] removed from [his] position” and that “there was insufficient evidence to connect” allegedly defamatory emails regarding Jackson to the arbitrator's decision to deny Jackson's layoff grievance. (Id.).

         C. Consideration of Defendants' Attached Documents

         The general rule is that a district court “must convert a motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment if it considers materials outside the complaint.” Day v. Taylor, 400 F.3d 1272, 1275-76 (11th Cir. 2005) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)). However, a “court may consider a document attached to a motion to dismiss without converting the motion into one for summary judgment if the attached document is (1) central to the plaintiff's claim and (2) undisputed.” Id. at 1276. After careful review, and for at least two reasons, the court concludes both of these elements are met here.

         First, Plaintiff's claims center on his allegation that Defendants “published the false and defamatory email with the intent to harm plaintiff's reputation so that the arbitrator would be less likely to believe his claims and statements during arbitration.” (Doc. # 1-1 at p. 3). Defendants' attached documents are “at the very heart of” Plaintiff's claims because they include the arbitration decision and Plaintiff's subsequent charge with the NLRB regarding this allegedly defamatory email. See Taylor, 400 F.3d at 1276. Second, Plaintiff does not dispute the authenticity of the Defendants' attached documents, making these documents undisputed. See Id. (noting that an attached document is “undisputed” if “the authenticity of the document is not challenged”). As such, the court may consider these appendixes without converting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss into a motion for summary judgment. See Id. at 1275.

         II. Motion to Remand

         After careful review, the court concludes Plaintiff's Motion to Remand is due to be denied.

         A. Standard of Review

         It has long been recognized that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co., 31 F.3d 1092, 1095 (11th Cir. 1994). Indeed, federal courts may only exercise jurisdiction conferred upon them by Congress. Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., 517 U.S. 706, 716 (1996). Anytime a “federal court acts outside its statutory subject matter jurisdiction, it violates the fundamental constitutional precept of limited federal power.” Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409 (11th Cir. 1999) (quoting Victory Carriers, Inc. v. Law, 404 U.S. 202, 212 (1971)).

         Generally, any action filed in state court, over which a district court would have original jurisdiction, “may be removed by the defendant or defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction for the purpose of a valid removal to this court is squarely on the removing party. Friedman v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 410 F.3d 1350, 1353 (11th Cir. 2005). Federal courts strictly construe removal statutes and resolve all doubts in favor of remand. Miedema v. Maytag Corp., 450 F.3d 1322, 1328-30 (11th Cir. 2006).

         B. ...

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