United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
JOHN J. COOMES, Plaintiff,
REPUBLIC AIRLINE, INC., Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE
Plaintiff John Coomes, pro se, brought two claims alleging
breach of contract by his employer, Defendant, Republic
Airline, Inc. (See ECF No. 1-3, Compl.) Defendant,
by counsel, moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) and the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151,
et seq. (hereinafter RLA). (See ECF No. 6,
Def.'s Mot. Dismiss.) The Court, having considered said
Motion, now finds that the Motion should be GRANTED with
leave for Plaintiff to amend.
works for Defendant as a pilot. (See ECF No. 1-3,
Compl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff is a member of Defendant's
pilots' union, International Brotherhood of Teamsters,
Airline Division, Local 357 (“the
Union”). (See ECF No. 7, Def.'s Br.
Supp. Mot. Dismiss (hereinafter Def.'s Br.) ¶¶
1-2.) Defendant and the Union entered into a Collective
Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”), which establishes
compensation for Defendant's pilots. (See Id.
¶¶ 3-4; ECF No. 1-3, Compl., Ex. 5, Art. 3 at
90-103.) “In compliance with Section 204, Title
II” of the RLA, Article 18-F of the CBA establishes
“a System Board of Adjustment for the purpose of
adjusting and deciding disputes which may arise under the
terms of the [CBA] . . . .” (Id., Ex. 5, Art.
18-F, at 304.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant failed to pay both
a bonus (Claim 1) and adequate rate of pay (Claim 2) due
under the terms of the CBA. (See Id. ¶¶
1-7, 9-21.) The Union did not pursue either of Plaintiffs
claims in arbitration “due to cost
considerations.” (Id. ¶¶ 1, 9.)
Defendant now moves to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction pursuant to the mandatory arbitration provisions
of the RLA that govern the CBA. (See ECF No. 6,
Def.'s Mot. Dismiss; RLA § 151 et seq.)
moved to dismiss Plaintiffs claims for a withheld bonus and
inadequate rate of pay for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure. When challenged, the party invoking the
court's subject-matter jurisdiction bears the burden of
establishing it. See Thomson v. Gaskill, 315 U.S.
442, 446 (1942). That party “must establish the
district court's jurisdiction over each of their claims
independently.” Rifkin v. Bear Stearns &
Co., 248 F.3d 628, 634 (7th Cir. 2001). When ruling on a
Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a “district court must accept the
complaint's well-pleaded factual allegations as true and
draw reasonable inferences from those allegations in the
plaintiff's favor.” Reuth v. EPA, 13 F.3d
227, 229 (7th Cir. 1993). Attacks on a court's
jurisdiction must be considered and resolved before
addressing other motions that implicate a claim's merits.
See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't,
523 U.S. 83, 101 (1998). Unless subject matter jurisdiction
cannot be truthfully averred, a court should permit leave to
amend defective allegations. See Leaf v. Supreme Court of
State of Wis., 979 F.2d 589, 595 (7th Cir. 1992).
Plaintiff's Claims Are Preempted by the RLA
alleges that Plaintiff's contractual claims are preempted
by the RLA. Whether federal law pre-empts a state law
establishing a cause of action “is a question of
congressional intent.” Hawaiian Airlines, Inc. v.
Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 252 (1994) (citing
Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 208
(1985)). The RLA expressly aims “to provide for the
prompt and orderly settlement of all disputes growing out of
grievances or out of the interpretation or application of
[collective bargaining] agreements . . . .” RLA §
151a. To this end, the RLA “establishes a mandatory
arbitral mechanism” for the settlement of “two
classes” of such disputes: major and minor.
Hawaiian, 512 U.S. at 252 (citing RLA § 151a).
“Major disputes relate to the formation of collective
[bargaining] agreements or efforts to secure them.”
Elgin, J. & E. Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711,
723 (1945). “[M]inor” disputes regard “the
interpretation or application of [collective bargaining]
agreements . . . .” Hawaiian, 512 U.S. at 252
(citing RLA § 151a). Thus, “major disputes seek to
create contractual rights, minor disputes to enforce
them.” Consol. Rail Corp. v. Ry. Labor Execs.'
Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 302 (1989) (citing
Burley, 325 U.S. at 723). The Seventh Circuit has
instructed courts to “characterize a dispute as minor
if it is even ‘arguably justified' that the dispute
turns on the application of [a] CBA.” Coker v.
Trans World Airlines, Inc., 165 F.3d 579, 583 (7th Cir.
1999) (quoting Hawaiian, 512 U.S. at 256).
“All minor disputes must be adjudicated under RLA
mechanisms, which include an employer's internal
dispute-resolution procedures and an adjustment board
established by the unions and the employer.” Monroe
v. Mo. Pac. R.R. Co., 115 F.3d 514, 516 (7th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiff asserts both claims “involve major disputes
. . . not subject to mandatory arbitration.” (ECF No.
10, Pl.'s Mem. Opp'n Def.'s Mot. Dismiss
(hereinafter Pl.'s Mem.) ¶¶ 7, 9.) Plaintiff
offers no support for this assertion. Contrary to
Plaintiff's assertion, “the formal demarcation
between major and minor disputes does not turn on a
case-by-case determination of the importance of the issue
presented.” Consol. Rail, 491 U.S. at 305.
Both of Plaintiff's claims seek to enforce existing
alleged contractual rights derived from the CBA.
Specifically, Plaintiff alleges Defendant “refused to
pay Plaintiff a bonus that was due under [the] collective
bargaining agreement” and “failed to
abide by the [CBA] regarding Plaintiff's pay status
and training.” (ECF No. 1-3, Compl. ¶¶ 1, 9
(emphasis added).) Thus, these claims are unambiguously
“minor” under the Seventh Circuit and Supreme
Court's interpretation of the RLA; they seek to enforce
existing contractual rights that turn on
“interpretation or application” of the CBA.
See Hawaiian, 512 U.S. at 252; Coker, 165
F.3d at 583. The “factual particularities” of
Plaintiff's complaint “require an interpretation of
the CBA and thus mandate [a] finding of preemption.”
Monroe, 115 F.3d at 519.
Plaintiff's Claims Are Not Exempt from
claims are not exempt from the arbitration requirements of
the RLA due to estoppel of Defendant. Citing Vaca v.
Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 185 (1967), Plaintiff argues he
“should not be limited to the exclusive remedial
procedures established by [the CBA].” (ECF No. 10,
Pl.'s Mem. ¶ 5.) The Supreme Court in Vaca
stated a party may be excused from required contractual
procedures when “the conduct of the [other party]
amounts to a repudiation of those contractual procedures . .
. .” 386 U.S. at 185. The Supreme Court in
Vaca cited Drake Bakeries, Inc. v. Local 50, Am.
Bakery, etc., Workers, 370 U.S. 254 (1962), to support
this assertion. However, in Drake, the Supreme Court
merely alluded to the possibility that total repudiation of a
contract might excuse a party from arbitration. In fact, the
Drake Court explained that even an alleged strike by
unionized workers was not “such a breach or repudiation
of the arbitration clause” that a party is
“excused from arbitrating, upon theories of waiver,
estoppel, or otherwise.” 370 U.S. at 262.
“Arbitration provisions, which themselves have not been
repudiated, are meant to survive breaches of contract, in
many contexts, even total breach[.]” Id.
instant case, Defendant's actions do not rise to a
“repudiation” of the contractual procedures as
required for ...