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PRUDDEN v. E.J. BRACH CORP.

October 28, 1996

MICHAEL P. PRUDDEN, Plaintiff,
v.
E.J. BRACH CORPORATION, and TEAMSTER'S LOCAL UNION NO. 738, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CASTILLO

 On January 11, 1995, plaintiff Michael Prudden's fourteen-year stint as a mechanic for defendant E.J. Brach came to an abrupt halt. On the heels of a demotion and pay cut, Prudden was terminated. Prudden brought this action in federal court for damages and reinstatement on April 4, 1996, alleging that his termination was precipitated by his age and disability in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, respectively. In addition to suing both Brach and his union under these statutes, Prudden included a claim against Brach only based on § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), *fn1" alleging that his discharge breached provisions in Brach and the union's collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") requiring just cause for his termination.

 It is this claim alone, embodied in Count VI of Prudden's complaint, that drives the dispute presently before this Court. Defendant Brach contends that Prudden's LMRA § 301 claim is time-barred, and moves for its dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). Brach points out that § 301 claims come in two varieties -- "straightforward" and "hybrid" -- with separate statutes of limitations to match. Hybrid § 301 claims, which allege not only that the employer breached the CBA, but also that the union breached its duty of fair representation by mishandling the ensuing grievance proceedings, must uniformly be brought within six months of the date they accrue. Straightforward claims, lacking the union breach of duty component, borrow the (often more lengthy) limitations period from the state law cause of action they most closely resemble.

 Brach argues that Prudden's § 301 claim is of the hybrid variety, and, under even the most liberal reading of the complaint, was brought much later than six months after it accrued. Prudden maintains his claim is straightforward, and analogous to a breach of contract action, which enjoys at least a five-year limitations period in Illinois. After careful consideration, we have determined that Prudden's claim is inescapably hybrid. Failing the six-month limitations period for hybrid claims, it must be dismissed with prejudice. Accordingly, Brach's motion is granted. *fn2"

 Prudden joined E.J. Brach as a mechanic on June 10, 1980, and remained there until he was discharged in January 1995. Compl. PP 8, 13, 23. Throughout his employment, Prudden was a member of Teamster's Local Union No. 738 ("the Union"). Id. P 40. The Union and Brach were parties to a collective bargaining agreement, which governed the terms and conditions of Prudden's employment. Id. P 51. The CBA establishes, among other things, a grievance procedure:

 
In the event a misunderstanding or complaint arises between the parties as to the meaning or application of this Agreement, such shall be considered a grievance and both the Company and the Union will cooperate to settle such grievance promptly in accordance with the procedure set forth herein.

 CBA P 7.01. Should the grievance remain unsettled at the end of the four-step procedure, the Union has the option of requesting arbitration. CBA P 7.05. The arbitrator's decision is then binding on both parties. CBA P 8.02. In addition, the CBA renders the Union the employees' "sole and exclusive bargaining agent with respect to wages, hours of work and other conditions of employment." CBA P 2.01. Its overriding purpose is to "provide orderly collective bargaining relations, to secure a prompt and equitable disposition of grievances . . . and to maintain and improve a harmonious relationship between the Union and the Company." CBA P 1.01.

 Prudden's employment with Brach was uneventful (save a promotion in 1989) until May 1991, when he was diagnosed with work-related repetitive trauma injuries. Compl. PP 8-10. He was subsequently forced to take several medical leaves of absence. Id. P 10. Allegedly refusing to accommodate Prudden's disability against the advice of its own medical consultant, Brach instead demoted Prudden and cut his pay on December 20, 1994, ultimately terminating him on January 11, 1995. Id. PP 11-14. Prudden was 45 years old at the time. Id. P 13. The termination came as a surprise to Prudden, who claims that he had never been placed on probation or told that Brach was dissatisfied with his performance. Id. P 16. When Prudden asked for an explanation, Brach cited a "general layoff." Id. P 23.

 Believing he had suffered discrimination on the basis of his age and disability, Prudden turned to the Union. On January 3, 1995, he demanded representation with regard to his demotion and pay cut. Id. PP 36, 43. On January 31, 1995, Prudden demanded representation with respect to his termination. Id. PP 37, 44. Prudden states specifically that the Union refused to defend his rights under the CBA, and refused to represent him in pursuing a grievance for either his demotion or termination. Id. PP 38, 41, 45, 48. This, he claims, amounted to age and disability discrimination on the part of the Union. Id. PP 41, 48.

 The allegations against the Union are found in Counts IV and V of the complaint. But the contention central to Prudden's LMRA § 301 claim, the sole subject of Brach's motion to dismiss, lies in Count VI. Count VI complains that Brach violated § 301 by breaching the CBA, which permits dismissal only for just cause. Id. P 51. We now turn to the issue of whether this claim is straightforward or whether it is hybrid, requiring dismissal on statute of limitations grounds.

 ANALYSIS

 A motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(6) should be granted if the complaint fails to state a claim that entitles the plaintiff to relief. Corcoran v. Chicago Park Dist., 875 F.2d 609, 611 (7th Cir. 1989). In evaluating the motion, however, the court must assume all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint are true, and construe them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Alexander v. City of Chicago, 994 F.2d 333, 335 (7th Cir. 1993). The court must be satisfied beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his cause of action before dismissing it. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); R.E. Davis ...


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