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Brumbaugh v. International Brother-Hood of Electrical Workers

August 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge


This matter comes before the Court on Defendant International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union No. 51's (Local 51) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (d/e 15) and accompanying Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (d/e 16). For the reasons set forth below, the Motion to Dismiss is allowed, in part, and denied, in part.

PROCEDURAL AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND On August 21, 2006, Plaintiff Larry Brumbaugh filed a three-count complaint in the Circuit Court of the Eighth Judicial District in Adams County, Illinois. See Attachments to Notice of Removal (d/e 1), State Court Complaint. The state court complaint alleged claims for breach of contract (Count I), professional negligence (Count II), and "holding out" (Count III) against International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), Local 51, and Dominic Rivara. On December 18, 2006, Plaintiff served Defendant Local 51 with a copy of the state court complaint and a summons. On December 29, 2006, Local 51 removed the state court action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. Plaintiff did not challenge the removal.

On February 15, 2007, Plaintiff sought leave to file an amended complaint, which was allowed. See First Motion for Leave to File First Amended Complaint (d/e 11); Text Order entered February 16, 2007. In his First Amended Complaint (d/e 10), Plaintiff alleged state law claims for breach of contract (Count I), professional negligence (Count II) and implied contract (Count III), and a federal claim for breach of the duty of fair representation (Count IV). On March 2, 2007, Plaintiff voluntarily moved to dismiss Defendant Rivara as a party to this action, which was granted. See Text Order entered March 2, 2007. Local 51 has filed the instant Motion to Dismiss, seeking to dismiss Plaintiff's three state law claims (Counts I, II, and III) on the grounds of federal preemption and his federal claim (Count IV) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

For purposes of the Motion to Dismiss, the Court must accept as true all well-pleaded factual allegations contained in the complaint and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Hager v. City of West Peoria, 84 F.3d 865, 868-69 (7th Cir. 1996); Covington Court Ltd. v. Village of Oak Brook, 77 F.3d 177, 178 (7th Cir. 1996). The following facts are taken from the allegations of the First Amended Complaint. Plaintiff has been employed at Nelson Tree Service (a non-party to this action) for almost nine years and is a union member represented by Defendant Local 51. Defendant IBEW is an international labor organization, operating in Quincy, Adams County, Illinois, by and through Local 51, which is a local lodge or union hall operating under the authority of IBEW.

At all times relevant to this action, Nelson Tree Service and Local 51 have been parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), which provides that Local 51 is the exclusive bargaining representative of qualified employees at Nelson Tree Service, including Plaintiff, with respect to all matters concerning benefits, discipline, and other applicable conditions of employment.*fn1 The First Amended Complaint asserts that because Plaintiff is an intended third party beneficiary of the CBA, Local 51 (as Plaintiff's exclusive bargaining representative) has a duty to represent him "with reasonable skill, diligence and zeal" in all matters covered by the CBA when disputes arise between Plaintiff and his employer. First Amended Complaint, ¶ 9.

The First Amended Complaint alleges that Plaintiff was demoted from a certain position at Nelson Tree Service and, as a result, Plaintiff grieved his demotion. On December 15, 2005, as a consequence of negotiations between Local 51 and Rivara and Nelson Tree Service regarding Plaintiff's grievance, the grievance was settled.*fn2 The December 15, 2005, Settlement Agreement provided as follows: "As of this date both parties (IBEW Local 51 and Nelson Tree Service) agree that when Nelson Tree Service starts a manual crew in the Quincy Area that Local 51 Member Larry Brumbaugh will be afforded the opportunity to run the crew." Attachments to Notice of Removal, Exh. A.

The First Amended Complaint states that, on or about April 1, 2006, Plaintiff learned that a Nelson crew had begun working in or about Quincy, Illinois, and that he had not been appointed foreman of that crew, which Plaintiff believed was a violation of the Settlement Agreement. Plaintiff thus grieved this violation and brought the grievance to the attention of Local 51. By a letter dated May 24, 2006, Local 51 advised Plaintiff that it would not pursue his grievance because it believed the grievance to be without merit.*fn3

Count I alleges that Local 51's abandonment of Plaintiff's grievance constituted a violation of Local 51's "contractual duty to zealously, effectively and diligently" represent Plaintiff in his dispute with his employer concerning the employer's alleged breach of the December 15, 2005, Settlement Agreement. First Amended Complaint, ¶ 15. Count II alleges that "[n]otwithstanding the [CBA], the Defendants hereto had a duty in law to represent . . . Plaintiff zealously and effectively . . ." and their refusal to pursue the grievance amounted to professional negligence. Id. at ¶ 18. Count III alleges that the Defendants "held" themselves out as Plaintiff's representative and advocate, but failed to fulfill their implied bargain with Plaintiff to advocate on his behalf by declining to pursue the grievance further. Count IV alleges that the Defendants breached their duty of fair representation of Plaintiff by refusing to pursue his grievance and that such conduct was arbitrary, discriminatory, and in bad faith. Local 51 now moves to dismiss the First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim requires the court to consider the allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff and to accept all well-pleaded facts as true. Cole v. U.S. Capital, Inc., 389 F.3d 719, 724 (7th Cir. 2004). A complaint should not be dismissed, under Rule 12(b)(6), for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. Doherty v. City of Chicago, 75 F.3d 318, 322 (7th Cir. 1996). The plaintiff is required only to provide a short and plain statement of his claim "'that will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 168 (1993) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); see also Lucien v. Preiner, 967 F.2d 1166, 1168 (7th Cir. 1992). Under this notice pleading standard, plaintiff need not plead facts or legal theories. Hefferman v. Bass, 467 F.3d 596, 599 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing cases). Further, any documents accompanying the complaint are considered part of the pleadings, and documents attached to a motion to dismiss are similarly considered part of the pleadings if they are referenced in the complaint and are central to the plaintiff's claims. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c); Venture Associates Corp. v. Zenith Data Systems Corp., 987 F.2d 429, 431 (7th Cir. 1993); Chavez v. Farmington Foods, Inc., 1997 WL 403494, at *2 (N.D. Ill. July 11, 1997).


Local 51 moves to dismiss the first three state law claims for breach of contract (Count I), professional negligence (Count II), and implied contract (Count III) on the grounds of federal preemption. Local 51 asserts that the three state law claims are preempted by the federal law concerning the duty of fair representation. It is well-established that § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA) "completely" preempts state claims directly implicating rights created by collective bargaining agreements, as well as claims requiring an interpretation of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Nelson v. Stewart, 422 F.3d 463, 467-68 (7th Cir. 2005). "Closely related to claims implicating section 301, the Court long has implied from a labor union's status as the exclusive representative of workers in its bargaining unit, a concomitant duty of the union to represent its members fairly." Id. at 469 (internal citation omitted). "The duty of fair representation exists because it is the policy of the National Labor Relations Act to allow a single labor organization to represent collectively the interests of all employees within a unit . . . without hostility or discrimination toward any, to exercise its discretion with complete good faith and honesty, and to avoid arbitrary conduct." DelCostello v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 165 n. 14 (1983) (internal quotations omitted) (citing cases).

Furthermore, as with state law claims implicating § 301 of the LMRA, an employee's state law claims against his union, challenging the union's alleged deficient representation of him in disputes with his employer, are displaced by the federal law of the duty of fair representation. Marrero v. Modern Maintenance Bldg. Services, Inc., 318 F.Supp.2d 721, 724 (E.D. Wis. 2004) (citing Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 177 (1967)); see Nelson, 422 F.3d at 470 ("We may assume for purposes of our decision today that our sister circuits have decided correctly that a union's implied duty of fair representation involving a section 301 contract effects complete preemption."); see also Thomas v. National Ass'n of Letter Carriers, 225 F.3d 1149, 1158 (10th Cir. 2000) ...

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