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Harris v. Cooper B-Line, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

May 2, 2014



J. PHIL GILBERT, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendant Wayne Henze's Motion to Dismiss Count II of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 40). Plaintiff responded by requesting that the Court deny Defendant Henze's Motion to Dismiss and remand the case to the Circuit Court of St. Clair County (Doc. 46). Henze has replied to Plaintiff's response (Doc. 49).

For the following reasons, the Court grants Henze's Motion to Dismiss and dismisses Count II of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 32).


Plaintiff Adrian Harris, an African American, was employed by Cooper B-Line, Inc. ("Cooper") as a junior welder and a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, District No. 9 ("District 9"). Defendant Wayne Henze was Plaintiff's direct supervisor at Cooper. Pursuant to the "Labor Agreement between Machinists District No. 9 and Cooper B-Line, Inc., " Plaintiff was entitled to job protection and had the right to be free from racial discrimination in the workplace (Doc. 32, p. 2).

While employed at Cooper, however, Plaintiff claims he was held to a higher performance standard than white workers and was issued warnings for minor mistakes that his white co-workers were not similarly warned about (Doc. 6-2). Plaintiff also claims that Henze and others falsely accused him of threatening a co-worker and waving a gun in the parking lot of Cooper's facility (Doc. 6-2). Plaintiff alleges that Cooper abruptly fired him without conducting a fair and impartial investigation, had Plaintiff escorted from the facility by two police officers, and posted a sign at its facility "which essentially was a Wanted Poster" suggesting that Plaintiff was armed and dangerous (Doc. 6-2).

Plaintiff filed a five-count complaint in the Circuit Court of the Twentieth Judicial Circuit in St. Clair County, Illinois (Doc. 6-2), asserting claims for racial discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act ("IHRA") against Defendants Cooper and District 9, claims for breach of contract and for intentional infliction of emotional distress against Defendant Cooper, and a claim for intentional interference with an economic advantage against Defendant Henze.

Upon removal to federal court, each of Plaintiff's original claims was dismissed except for his employment discrimination claim against Defendant District 9, which was determined to be preempted by the federal law duty of fair representation (Doc. 31). The Court also granted Plaintiff leave to amend his claim against Defendant Henze, as Plaintiff's claim of tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage was "the wrong cause of action." (Doc. 31, p. 9). The Court suggested that Plaintiff try again but this time with a claim against Defendant Henze for tortious interference with a contract (Doc. 31).

Plaintiff accordingly filed a two-count amended complaint with the Court (Doc. 32). Count I of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, alleging employment discrimination on the basis of race against Defendant District 9, was dismissed without prejudice for failure to exhaust administrative remedies (Doc. 47). Count II, alleging tortious interference with a contract against Defendant Henze, is all that remains before the Court.

Defendant Henze filed a motion to dismiss Count II of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 40), arguing that dismissal is proper because (1) Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), preempts Count II, (2) Plaintiff has failed to allege sufficient facts to support the essential elements of his tortious interference claim, and (3) because Defendant Henze's communication to Cooper management officials, if it even occurred, would be privileged under Illinois law.


The central question now before the Court is whether Plaintiff's tortious interference claim is superseded by the exclusive federal jurisdiction created by Section 301, and if so, whether Section 301's preemptive force requires dismissal of Plaintiff's claim. "Arising Under" Federal Jurisdiction

Federal district courts hold "original jurisdiction of all civil matters arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A case arises under federal law if it meets the "well-pleaded complaint" rule, whereby federal law appears on the face of a plaintiff's complaint. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). The policies surrounding this rule are clear: "that the plaintiff is the master of the complaint, that a federal question must appear on the face of the complaint, and that the plaintiff may, by eschewing claims based on federal law, choose to have the cause heard in state court." Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 398-99.

Even if the well-pleaded complaint rule is not met, an action may arise under federal law if the state law at issue is "completely preempted" by federal law. This occurs when "the preemptive force of a [federal] statute is so extraordinary' that it converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim for purposes of the well-pleaded complaint rule.'" Nelson v. Stewart, 422 F.3d 463, 466-67 (7th Cir.2005) (quoting Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393). Following complete preemption, "any claim purportedly based on that preempted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law [thereby authorizing removal]." Nelson, 422 F.3d at 467. While complete preemption represents a very narrow exception to ...

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