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Hamilton v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

December 19, 2012


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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Malcolm Hamilton, Plaintiff: Paul Luka, Roy P. Amatore, Amatore & Associates, PC, Chicago, IL; William Martin Walsh, Law Office of William M. Walsh, Chicago, IL.

For United Airlines, Inc., Defendant: Gary S. Kaplan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Asilia S Backus, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Chicago, IL.


Honorable Marvin E. Aspen, U.S. District Court Judge.

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Plaintiff Malcolm Hamilton (" Plaintiff" or " Hamilton" ) originally filed his complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Defendant United Airlines (" Defendant" or " United" ) timely removed. Presently before us is Plaintiff's Motion to Remand (Dkt. No. 15), filed on September 20, 2012, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c). [1]

The Federal Airline Deregulation Act (" FADA" ) explicitly preempts state regulation " related to" an airline's " price, route, or service." 49 U.S.C. § 41713(b)(1) (2007). Plaintiff argues that removal under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) was improper because his claims for whistleblowing, retaliatory discharge, and a declaratory judgment are " at best peripherally" related to United's prices, routes, or services. [2] (Mot. at 1.) Further, Plaintiff argues that the Whistleblower Protection Program (" WPP" ) amendment to FADA does not expand the statute's preemptive force to include all whistleblowing claims relating to air safety. ( Id. at 8.) Defendant argues that FADA expressly preempts Plaintiff's state law claims because: 1) they relate to United's " safety obligations, rates routes and services," (Notice of Removal ¶ 12); and 2) " resolution of the claims requires an examination of United's policies vis-à-vis federal law and regulations." (Resp. at 8.) In addition, Defendant suggests that the WPP amendment to FADA bolsters the inference for preemption and provides an exclusive federal remedy for Plaintiff's claims. (Notice of Removal ¶ 11.)

For the reasons set forth below, we grant Plaintiff's Motion to Remand.


United employed Hamilton from October 4, 1997 to July 12, 2010. For at least the last three years prior to his discharge, Hamilton was a flight attendant. (Compl. ¶ ¶ 6-8.) Hamilton alleges United fired him in retaliation for reporting what he

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believed to be United's violations of Federal Aviation Administration (" FAA" ) regulations to an FAA official. ( Id. ¶ 55.) As a flight attendant, Hamilton recorded each flight's " holding time," the time between landing the aircraft, deplaning passengers, cleaning the cabin, and re-boarding new passengers. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 9-11.) FAA regulations mandate that " when an aircraft carrying commercial passengers arrives at an airport terminal, an inspection of the aircraft and a headcount be conducted before additional commercial passengers may board the aircraft" and guide United's internal " holding time" regulations. ( Id. ¶ 13.) Sometime in 2009, while waiting to assist a wheelchair bound passenger in deplaning, Hamilton observed that new passengers had already begun to board. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 29-30.) Hamilton directed an FAA official standing nearby to observe the behavior. ( Id. ¶ 32.) The FAA official interviewed Hamilton about United's practice, recorded his name and badge number, and spoke with the aircraft's pilot. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 35-36.)

Hamilton alleges that after this incident, United accused him of inflating his " holding time" records to increase his pay and summoned him to several meetings with United's human resources department where United attempted to exert pressure on him to admit that he had recorded the time inaccurately. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 39-43.) Hamilton ultimately refused to make that admission and United terminated him. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 43-44.) Hamilton argues that United had no lawful reason to fire him. ( Id. ¶ ¶ 47-53.) He has brought suit alleging violations of the Illinois Whistleblower Act 740 ILCS 174/1 and common law retaliatory discharge, and seeks a declaratory judgment under 735 ILCS 5/2-701 ordering United, inter alia , to admit it had no legitimate reason to fire Hamilton and to amend his employee file to omit any negative entries. United removed the case to this court under the theory of " complete preemption" (Notice of Removal ¶ ¶ 10-13) and now seeks dismissal of the complaint under Rule 12(b)(6).


The " well-pleaded complaint" doctrine guides jurisdictional matters. Gully v. First Nat'l Bank , 299 U.S. 109, 112-13, 57 S.Ct. 96, 97-98, 81 L.Ed. 70 (1936). The " allegations of the complaint determine whether the claim arises under state or federal law," making the plaintiff " master of his pleadings." Bartholet v. Reishauer A.G. , 953 F.2d 1073, 1075 (7th Cir. 1992); see also Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams , 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 2429, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). Ordinarily, federal preemption is a defense to a plaintiff's suit and, as such, does not authorize removal because it does not appear on the face of the complaint. Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Taylor , 481 U.S. 58, 63, 107 S.Ct. 1542, 1546, 95 L.Ed.2d 55 (1987); Bartholet , 953 F.2d at 1075. An exception to both rules exists " when a federal statute wholly displaces the state law cause of action through complete pre-emption . . . [such that] a claim which comes within the scope of that cause of action, even if pleaded in terms of state law, is in reality based on federal law." Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson , 539 U.S. 1, 8, 123 S.Ct. 2058, 2063, 156 L.Ed.2d 1 (2003); see also Turek v. General Mills, Inc. , 662 F.3d 423, 425 (7th Cir. 2011). In such a case, the " federal law so fills every nook and cranny that it is not possible to frame a complaint under state law." Bartholet , 953 F.2d at 1075. [3]

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In cases of complete preemption, a defendant may remove the claim to district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a) because the district court has original jurisdiction of the claim as it " aris[es] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331; Davila , 542 U.S. at 207, 124 S.Ct. at 2495. A defendant bears the " burden of establishing federal jurisdiction, and federal courts should interpret the removal statute narrowly, resolving any doubt in favor of the ...

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