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Local Union 15, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO v. Commonwealth Edison Co.

October 3, 2007

LOCAL UNION 15, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, AFL-CIO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMONWEALTH EDISON COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Local Union 15, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO ("Plaintiff" or "Local 15, IBEW") and Defendant Commonwealth Edison Company ("Defendant" or "ComEd") are parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"). The parties negotiated and entered into the CBA pursuant to the National Labor Relations Act. The CBA contains a grievance procedure that culminates in the arbitration of disputes. It provides that "the arbitration shall be conducted under the Voluntary Labor Arbitration Rules of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service."

The parties had a dispute concerning a bargaining unit employee, and that dispute was referred to arbitration pursuant to the parties' CBA. Plaintiff alleges that ComEd has failed to comply with a subpoena issued by the arbitrator who was overseeing that dispute. Plaintiff further alleges that the arbitrator issued the subpoena after ComEd allegedly refused to comply with Local 15, IBEW's requests for information in the arbitration process. In addition, Plaintiff asserts that it needs the information to represent former bargaining unit employee Eugene Lehn in his discharge arbitration and others in arbitrations pursuant to the CBA's arbitration procedure. After the arbitrator issued the subpoena, ComEd submitted a motion to quash. The parties disagree as to whether the arbitrator denied the motion to quash, but that is immaterial in the context of the matter currently before me because the focus here is entirely jurisdictional. In any event, Local 15, IBEW filed a Verified Petition to Enforce Subpoena in the Circuit Court of Cook County. ComEd removed the matter to this Court, and Plaintiff filed the motion to remand, which is the subject of this order.

Plaintiff asserts that it chose to plead under State law, and as the master of its own complaint, should be entitled to litigate in a State court. Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claim can only be argued in federal court because Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") completely preempts Plaintiff's State law claim.

Section 301 provides:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this Act, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

Besides providing federal-court jurisdiction over controversies involving collective-bargaining agreements, § 301 also "authorizes federal courts to fashion a body of federal law for the enforcement of these collective bargaining agreements." Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 451 (1957).

Because I conclude that Section 301 does completely preempt Plaintiff's State law claim, ComEd's removal was proper. Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to remand should be, and is, denied.

II. REMOVAL AND THE COMPLETE PREEMPTION DOCTRINE

By statute, "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant or the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a); see also Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) ("Only state-court actions that originally could have been filed in federal court may be removed to federal court by the defendant."). In general, the "well-pleaded complaint rule" states that a cause of action arises under federal law only when the plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint raises issues of federal law. See Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149 (1908). Thus, the plaintiff is generally considered to be the master of his complaint. See The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co., 228 U.S. 22, 25 (1913) ("[T]he party who brings a suit is master to decide what law he will rely upon."). Plaintiff here pled its action under State law.

The well-pleaded complaint rule is not necessarily the end of the analysis, however. For it is also true that "Congress may so completely pre-empt a particular area that any civil complaint raising this select group of claims is necessarily federal in character." Metropolitan Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 63-64 (1987). As one well-known treatise states: "if a plaintiff files suit in state court based upon a state cause of action, and the defendant removes the case on the basis of a valid complete-preemption defense, the federal district court will recharacterize the plaintiff's state cause of action as a federal claim for relief, making the removal proper on the basis of federal question jurisdiction." 13B Wright, Miller & Cooper ยง 3722.1, p. 511 (3d ed.1998) (emphasis in original). The commentators go on: "the complete-preemption doctrine overrides . . . the well-pleaded complaint rule and the principle that the plaintiff is the master of the complaint." Id. The Supreme ...


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