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Vavrek v. International Union

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana

April 29, 2015

TERRIE VAVREK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE and AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS, UAW; and UAW LOCAL #5, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, District Judge.

The eighteen Plaintiffs in this case are suing their recognized collective bargaining representatives [collectively, the Unions], for breaching their duty of fair representation. Count I is based on the Defendants' failure to fairly represent the Plaintiffs during the negotiation of an April 2011 collective bargaining agreement. Count II alleges that the Defendants breached the duty by making false representations of fact to the Plaintiffs regarding the status of their internal union appeals. The Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on res judicata grounds. The Defendants argue that this cause of action involves the same parties, operative facts, and claims as a previously filed suit that resulted in final judgment being entered in the Defendants' favor.

BACKGROUND AND COMPLAINT ALLEGATIONS

The Plaintiffs work at AM General's Commercial Assembly Plant in Mishawaka, Indiana. At all relevant times, the Union Defendants have been the recognized collective bargaining representative for the bargaining unit of employees at the AM General Commercial Assembly Plant, which includes the Plaintiffs. In April 2011, the Defendants negotiated a six-year collective bargaining agreement with AM General for the Commercial Assembly Plant.

A. The December 2011 Litigation

In December 2011, the Plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Indiana against the Defendants alleging unfair representation, in Cause No. 3:11-CV-498-WCL-CAN. The Plaintiffs asserted that, during the negotiations for the 2011-2017 collective bargaining agreement, the Defendants negotiated favorable treatment with respect to wages and benefits for certain employees, but failed to fairly represent the Plaintiffs. According to the complaint allegations, the Plaintiffs did not receive the same favorable terms and compensation levels as these other employees, even though they share similar seniority, skills, and responsibilities.

The Defendants answered the complaint and asserted, as an affirmative defense, that the Plaintiffs' claim was barred because they failed to exhaust Union remedies prior to filing the lawsuit. The Defendants repeated these arguments as a basis for summary judgment. They argued that it was undisputed that the Plaintiff failed to exhaust remedies under the UAW Constitution, and asserted that they were entitled to summary judgment because the internal Union remedies could have resulted in complete relief for the Plaintiffs in the form of monetary damages. In response to the motion for summary judgment, the Plaintiffs requested additional time to pursue administrative appeals of their original claims of unfair representation regarding the contract negotiations, and to also pursue appeals regarding misrepresentations they alleged the Unions made to them regarding the status of their appeals. Specifically, several of the Plaintiffs presented evidence that union officials made statements that caused them to believe that all internal union remedies had been exhausted. The Plaintiffs also requested to have the matter stayed or dismissed without prejudice to allow the Plaintiffs to exhaust these appeals.

The Defendants objected to the Plaintiffs' request for an extension or stay to pursue administrative appeals. They argued that their summary judgment request was premised on the Plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their internal Union appeals prior to bringing the 2011 lawsuit, and that the filing of internal appeals in April 2013 could not cure Plaintiffs' failure to exhaust their internal appeals prior to filing the 2011 lawsuit. The Plaintiffs countered that their internal appeals could render the Defendants' summary judgment motion moot. They asked the court to grant the extension motion, or, alternatively, to dismiss the 2011 lawsuit without prejudice or stay the litigation to facilitate the internal appeal process. A magistrate judge denied the motion for an extension of time to respond to the Defendants' motion for summary judgment, stating that there was no reason to delay ruling on the summary judgment motion where the arguments in support of an extension were so closely tied to the summary judgment motion itself.

On August 13, 2013, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Defendants. The Plaintiffs were still processing their appeals through the UAW channels when summary judgment was granted. After the UAW President denied the Plaintiffs' appeals and declined to process them in accordance with the UAW bylaws, the Plaintiffs filed this Complaint alleging two counts of breach of fair representation.

B. The Current Litigation

On September 16, 2014, the Plaintiffs filed the Complaint in this cause of action against the Defendants. The allegations in paragraphs 1 through 13 of the Complaint mirror the allegations of paragraphs 1 through 13 of the 2011 complaint. Count I of the Complaint alleges that the Union breached the duty of fair representation owed to the Plaintiffs in connection with the negotiation of the 2011-2017 collective bargaining agreement.

Additionally, the Plaintiffs allege that the Defendants' representatives misled them into believing that they had exhausted the internal appeals process before they filed the 2011 lawsuit. The Plaintiffs further allege that they learned in April 2013 that the Union had not processed any internal appeals, and subsequently filed internal appeals regarding the Defendants' alleged unfair representation. These appeals were processed to completion when the President of the International Union provided correspondence denying their appeals. Based on these factual allegations, the Plaintiffs claim, in Count II, that the Defendants breached the duty of fair representation by making false representations with respect to internal appeals brought by the Plaintiffs.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

When reviewing a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must accept all of the factual allegations as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). Under the liberal notice pleading requirements of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the complaint need only contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint need not contain detailed facts, but surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion "requires more than labels and conclusions.... Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A complaint must contain sufficient factual matter to "state a claim that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the ...


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