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Buffkin v. United States Postal Service

August 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge

Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.


Plaintiff, Dedric Buffkin filed this federal employment lawsuit against the United States Postal Service ("USPS"), as well as the National Postal Mailhandlers Union, Local 306 ("Union"). His complaint, in its entirety, reads:

I, Dedric Buffkin was a full time employee for the U.S. Postal Service for 9 1/2 years. Until July of 2007 when I was wrongfully terminated for something the supervisor accuse me of doing. I went to arbitration The arbitrators heard my case. And they rules that lost my job because my union, "Local 306," filed my grievance late. As to my knowledge the Union have certain rules and laws they have to floow and they didn't.

Pl. Compl. [sic throughout]. The Court has subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Before the Court is the Union's motion for summary judgment [18]. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

I. Facts

On summary judgment, the record evidence is viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party-in this instance, Plaintiff. The Court takes the relevant facts primarily from the parties' Local Rule ("L.R.") 56.1 statements. Normally, that includes Defendant's Statement of Facts, Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Statement of Facts, Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts, and Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Statement of Additional Facts. In this case, only Defendant, Union, filed an L.R. 56.1 fact statement ("Def. SOF"). Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and received an L.R. 56.2 "Notice to Pro Se Litigant Opposing Summary Judgment" [21] but has provided no response to the Union's motion for summary judgment, nor has he offered fact statements of his own. Accordingly, all of the Union's properly supported fact statements have been deemed admitted.*fn1

The facts are these: Plaintiff was discharged from his position with USPS on June 2, 2007, at which time he received a "Notice of Removal." Def. SOF ¶ 5. The Notice of Removal informed Plaintiff that he had a right to file a grievance within 14 days-that is, by June 16, 2007. Def. SOF Ex. C, at 2. Plaintiff did not file a grievance, although the Union did. Def. SOF ¶ 6. On August 4, 2008, an arbitrator considering Plaintiff's grievance dismissed the claim as untimely. Def. SOF ¶ 7. The Union mailed a copy of the arbitrator's ruling to Plaintiff and a Union vice-president discussed the ruling with Plaintiff no later than August 13, 2008. Def. SOF ¶ 8. Plaintiff filed suit in federal court on August 4, 2009 [1].*fn2

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is proper where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). Factual disputes that are irrelevant to the outcome of the suit "will not be counted." Palmer v. Marion County, 327 F.3d 588, 592 (7th Cir. 2003) (quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether there is a genuine issue of fact, the Court "must construe the facts and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). To avoid summary judgment, the opposing party must go beyond the pleadings and "set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In other words, the "mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the [non-movant's] position will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252.

III. Analysis

The Union contends in its motion to for summary judgment that Plaintiff's claim is time-barred. The Court concludes that the Union is correct: there is a six-month limitations period for hybrid actions brought pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1208(b), and Plaintiff waited approximately one-year to file suit. Therefore, his action is time-barred.

Title 39, Section 1208(b) of the United States Code, authorizes suits against USPS and labor organizations representing USPS employees in certain circumstances. That provision provides: "Suits for violation of contracts between the Postal Service and a labor organization representing Postal Service employees, 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." Plaintiff's suit is a so-called "hybrid claim," in which he is suing both USPS for breaching a provision of the applicable collective bargaining agreement and the Union for mishandling the grievance. See Bowen v. U.S. Postal Serv., 459 U.S. 212, 218 (1983) (citing Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171 (1967)). At least a hybrid claim is what Plaintiff's case appears to be, although he has not said if another legal theory is applicable, and the Court perceives none. In any event, as the Seventh Circuit often reminds litigants, summary judgment is the "put up or shut up" moment in the life of a case. E.g., Everroad v. Scott Truck Sys., Inc., 604 F.3d 471, 476 (7th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, the Court considers Plaintiff's claim as arising solely under 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b).

A bevy of unpublished appeals court decisions concludes that the applicable statute of limitations for a hybrid action brought under 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b) is six-months. Two circuits have explicitly held as much. Trent v. Bolger, 837 F.2d 657, 659 (4th Cir. 1988); Abernathy v. U.S. Postal Serv., 740 F.2d 612, 613 (8th Cir. 1984). No circuit ...

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