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SABICH v. AMTRAK

May 20, 1991

GEORGE N. SABICH, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION, a national railroad corporation, Defendant


Nicholas J. Bua, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: BUA

NICHOLAS J. BUA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This dispute presents a thorny issue of federal preemption in the railroad labor context. Plaintiff, a railroad employee, has asserted a retaliatory discharge claim against his employer. The employer, a national railroad, contends that plaintiff's claim is preempted by the exclusive arbitral provisions of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. Based on this contention, defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment. As an alternative basis for summary judgment, defendant argues that plaintiff's claim is deficient under state law. This court is unpersuaded by defendant's preemption argument, but nonetheless finds merit in defendant's alternative argument. Accordingly, defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

 I. FACTS

 Defendant National Railroad Passenger Corporation, also known as "Amtrak", is a common carrier subject to the provisions of the RLA. In 1983, Amtrak hired plaintiff George N. Sabich as an on-board train attendant. Six years later, Sabich became an Assistant Passenger Conductor. The terms and conditions of Sabich's new position were governed by a collective bargaining agreement between Amtrak and the United Transportation Union. Under the agreement, new conductors are subject to a 90-day probationary period. If the employee does not meet with disapproval during the probationary period, his application is considered approved.

 On December 29, 1989, during his probationary period, Sabich was injured in a train derailment. Pursuant to Amtrak policy, Sabich reported the injury to his supervisor. (Amtrak obligates its employees to submit injury reports to ensure proper treatment and evaluation of all on-the-job injuries.) Following the investigation of the incident, Amtrak determined that Sabich had violated several company safety rules, which led to his injury.

 On January 4, 1990, Amtrak disapproved Sabich's application for the assistant conductor position. According to Amtrak, it did not approve Sabich's application because of his poor safety record. Sabich, on the other hand, claims that he lost his job simply because he reported his injury to Amtrak.

 Challenging Amtrak's employment decision, Sabich filed suit in state court. Amtrak subsequently removed the lawsuit to federal court. Electing not to contest the removal, Sabich filed an amended complaint asserting diversity jurisdiction. Sabich also alleges that this lawsuit presents a federal question based on Federal Railroad Administration regulations that require railroads to submit monthly accident reports. See 49 C.F.R. § 225.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Sabich's complaint asserts a single claim for retaliatory discharge. Sabich contends that he was discharged in retaliation for submitting his injury report to Amtrak.

 Amtrak now moves for summary judgment. In support of its motion for summary judgment, Amtrak raises two arguments. First, Amtrak argues that Sabich's cause of action is preempted by the RLA. Second, Amtrak contends that even if Sabich's claim is not preempted, his allegations are insufficient under state law. The court will address each argument in turn.

 A. Federal Law -- Preemption

 Congress enacted the RLA to promote stability in labor/management relations within the railroad industry. Union Pac. R.R. v. Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 94, 58 L. Ed. 2d 354, 99 S. Ct. 399 (1978). In furtherance of this goal, the RLA provides for mandatory grievance procedures to resolve certain labor disputes, commonly referred to as "minor" disputes. Minor disputes stem from the interpretation or application of an existing collective bargaining agreement. Consolidated Rail Corp. v. Railway Labor Executives' Ass'n, 491 U.S. 299, 109 S. Ct. 2477, 2480, 105 L. Ed. 2d 250 (1989). *fn1" When a minor dispute arises, labor and management must submit to binding arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board (or an adjustment board established by the parties). 45 U.S.C. § 153. The National Railroad Adjustment Board, in fact, has exclusive jurisdiction over minor disputes, subject only to limited judicial review. Consolidated Rail, 109 S. Ct. at 2481.

 Amtrak takes the position that this case presents the type of dispute that falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Adjustment Board -- as such, it is preempted by the RLA. However, Amtrak does not only argue that this case is essentially a minor dispute within the exclusive province of the arbitral boards. Amtrak takes its argument one step further by suggesting that the RLA is so pervasive in railroad labor relations that it preempts not only claims dependent upon an interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement, but "any state tort claim arising out of an employment-related dispute." Reply ...


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