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Bartley v. University Asphalt Co.

OPINION FILED FEBRUARY 21, 1986.

ROBERT B. BARTLEY, APPELLEE,

v.

UNIVERSITY ASPHALT COMPANY, INC., ET AL. (INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, LOCAL NO. 26, APPELLANT).



Appeal from the Appellate court for the Fourth District; JUSTICE MORAN DELIVERED THE OPINION OF THE COURT:

Plaintiff, Robert B. Bartley, brought this action in the circuit court of Champaign County alleging that he was discharged from his job because he cooperated with a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe of his employer, University Asphalt Company, Inc. (University), and his union, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local No. 26 (defendant). He charged University with the tort of retaliatory discharge and defendant with a civil conspiracy in furtherance of the retaliatory discharge. The circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of University and defendant. The appellate court, with one justice dissenting, reversed the judgments of the circuit court and remanded the cause for further proceedings. (129 Ill. App.3d 231.) Thereafter, only defendant petitioned this court for leave to appeal (94 Ill.2d R. 315), which we granted.

The central issue in this case is whether plaintiff's cause of action against defendant for civil conspiracy is preempted by Federal labor law. Defendant argues that plaintiff's State tort claim for civil conspiracy is preempted by Federal labor law, and that, as a result, it must be dismissed. In addition, defendant contends that the circuit court was correct in entering summary judgment in its favor because plaintiff's allegations do not support a finding of retaliatory discharge or civil conspiracy.

The plaintiff, who had been employed by University as a truck driver since 1969, was discharged from his job on October 15, 1981. The reason given by his employer for the discharge was that plaintiff had refused to haul a load of asphalt as directed by his foreman on October 13, 1981. Plaintiff contended, however, that the reason given by University for his discharge was a pretext and that in fact he was discharged for participating in a 1979 FBI probe of University and defendant.

After receiving his discharge notice, plaintiff filed a grievance against University through defendant, the recognized bargaining representative of certain employees, including plaintiff, at University's Urbana, Illinois, plant. The collective-bargaining agreement then in force between defendant and University stated that no employee covered by the agreement was to be discharged except for "justifiable cause," and it further provided for a multistep grievance procedure to resolve employee grievances, including binding arbitration in some instances. Pursuant to the grievance procedure provided for in the collective-bargaining agreement, Mike Carr, defendant's business representative, met with Gary Saathoff, University's general superintendent, on October 19, 1981, to discuss plaintiff's grievance. The meeting failed to resolve the dispute, and plaintiff's grievance was referred to the Joint Committee. The committee, which was comprised of an equal number of union and employer representatives, was established by the collective-bargaining agreement to hear employee grievances. On November 4, 1981, the committee denied the plaintiff's grievance.

Subsequently, on December 30, 1982, plaintiff filed suit against defendant and University in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois pursuant to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA) (29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1982)). Section 301 vests Federal district courts with jurisdiction over suits alleging a breach of contract between an employer and union. The complaint alleged that University had discharged plaintiff in retaliation for his participation in the FBI investigation of defendant and University, and, as such, plaintiff had not been discharged for "justifiable cause" as required by the collective-bargaining agreement.

The allegations against defendant were based on the theory that it violated Federal labor law by not fairly representing plaintiff in contesting his discharge. The complaint alleged that defendant was hostile toward plaintiff for his participation in the FBI investigation, and that, as a result, it breached its statutory duty of fair representation in that it "conspired with Defendant Company [University] to permit Plaintiff's discharge to stand." It further alleged that defendant "failed to use its best efforts to obtain and present witnesses and documentary evidence at the hearing" before the Joint Committee; failed to "present and argue Plaintiff's case * * * to the arbitrator"; and "failed to produce evidence within its possession and control that would have supported Plaintiff's position."

According to the parties, defendant and University moved to dismiss the Federal suit on the ground that it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Thereafter, plaintiff's counsel, apparently agreeing that the suit was barred by the statute of limitations, moved to dismiss the suit and the plaintiff's motion was granted.

On April 11, 1983, plaintiff filed the present action. The complaint alleges in relevant part that University discharged plaintiff in retaliation for his involvement in the FBI investigation; that the discharge violated the "justifiable cause" provision of the collective-bargaining agreement; and that the discharge contravened "a clearly mandated public policy which favor [sic] Plaintiff's conduct in cooperation with a law enforcement agency." In an affidavit, plaintiff disputes the reason given by University for his discharge. As related, University maintains that plaintiff was discharged because he refused to haul a load of asphalt as directed by his foreman. Plaintiff's affidavit states that on the day in question he had already worked eight hours; that he received a message that his wife needed to go to the hospital; and that no loads of asphalt were available for him to haul despite his foreman's instructions to the contrary.

The allegations against defendant are substantially similar to the allegations contained in the 1982 Federal lawsuit. Count I of plaintiff's complaint in relevant part alleges that defendant "breached its statutory duty of fair representation" in violation of Federal labor law; that it "conspired" with University "to permit Plaintiff's discharge to stand" and that it was "hostile to Plaintiff because of his previous assistance to the FBI." The complaint further alleges that defendant "breached its duty to represent Plaintiff's interest at an arbitration proceeding" by failing "to use its best efforts to obtain and present witnesses and documentary evidence * * * favorable to Plaintiff's position"; by failing to "present and argue Plaintiff's case * * * to the arbitrators"; and by failing "to produce evidence within its possession and control that would have supported Plaintiff's position."

Count II of the complaint alleges that defendant and University "wrongfully agreed and conspired together to allow the * * * retaliatory discharge * * * to remain unchallenged by Defendant Union at the arbitration hearing of November 4, 1981, even though it was unjust and a clear violation of the collective bargaining agreement." Plaintiff states in an affidavit filed in response to defendant's motion for summary judgment that he relied on Mike Carr, defendant's business manager, to "properly frame the issues" before the Joint Committee. He states that prior to the November 4, 1981, hearing of the Joint Committee, Carr advised plaintiff to "leave the talking to him (Carr)." Plaintiff also states that he did not give the committee his version of the events leading to his discharge on the advice of Carr.

On April 27, 1983, both defendant and University removed the present suit to the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois on the ground that plaintiff's State tort action was preempted by Federal law. The Federal district court, after conducting a hearing on plaintiff's motion to remand, concluded that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction, and it remanded the cause to the circuit court of Champaign County. Subsequently the circuit court entered summary judgment in favor of both University and defendant.

Under Federal labor law, unions have a statutory duty to represent fairly all employees in the bargaining unit, in negotiating and administering the collective-bargaining agreement. (Vaca v. Sipes (1967), 386 U.S. 171, 17 L.Ed.2d 842, 87 S.Ct. 903; Humphrey v. Moore (1964), 375 U.S. 335, 11 L.Ed.2d 370, 84 S.Ct. 363; 6 Kheel, Labor Law sec. 28, at 42 (Supp. 1984 & 1985).) The duty of fair representation, which arises from a union's status as the exclusive bargaining representative, imposes on the union the "obligation to serve the interests of all members without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." Vaca v. Sipes (1967), 386 U.S. 171, 177, 17 L.Ed.2d 842, 850, 87 S.Ct. 903, 910.

Issues concerning a union's duty of fair representation frequently arise in the context of suits brought pursuant to section 301 of the LMRA (29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (1982)), which provides that suits for violation of contracts between an employer and union may be brought in any Federal district court having jurisdiction of the parties without regard to the amount in controversy or the citizenship of the parties. Discharged employees, in bringing section 301 suits, often join both employer and union, alleging a violation of the collective-bargaining agreement by the employer, and a breach of the duty of fair representation by the union. See, e.g., Vaca v. Sipes (1967), 386 U.S. 171, 17 L.Ed.2d 842, 87 S.Ct. 903; Harper v. San Diego Transit Corp. (9th Cir. 1985), 764 F.2d 663; Ramsey v. Signal Delivery Service, Inc. (5th Cir. 1980), 631 F.2d 1210; Fristoe v. Reynolds Metals Co. (9th Cir. 1980), 615 F.2d 1209.

The record shows that plaintiff originally filed suit against defendant and University in Federal district court pursuant to section 301. Plaintiff's Federal complaint in essence alleged that University violated the "justifiable cause" provision of the collective-bargaining agreement and that defendant breached its duty of fair representation in handling plaintiff's grievance. Defendant contends that plaintiff's present suit alleges essentially the same cause of action as was alleged in the earlier Federal suit. As such, it argues that plaintiff's cause of action for civil conspiracy is preempted by Federal labor law. Plaintiff maintains, however, that the preemption issue was decided adversely to defendant by the Federal court. Additionally, plaintiff contends ...


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