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Powell v. Union Pacific Railroad Co.

October 2, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge


This matter is before the court on the motion of Union Pacific Railroad Company ("UPRR"), Ray Perry ("Perry"), Linda Pitchford ("Pitchford"), Tyler Papworth ("Papworth"), and Brian Kline ("Kline") (collectively, "defendants") to dismiss plaintiff's Third, Fourth, and Fifth causes of action in plaintiff's First Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff Robert L. Powell ("plaintiff") opposes the motion. For the reasons set forth below,*fn1 defendants' motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


Plaintiff instituted this action seeking damages arising out of an alleged railroad injury and a subsequent allegedly wrongful termination. The complaint names as defendant UPPR and other UPRR employees, namely Perry, Pitchford, Papworth, and Kline.

Plaintiff alleges that he was injured while operating a track switch on or about July 28, 2007. (First Am. Compl. ("Compl."), filed June 4, 2009, ¶¶ 3-5.) On the same day he was injured, plaintiff completed a personal injury report regarding the incident and his resulting injuries. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that approximately a year later, UPRR falsely accused plaintiff of violating UPRR's work rules by being dishonest in his personal injury report. (Id. ¶ 18.) During the disciplinary hearing, plaintiff alleges that UPRR disclosed that defendant Kline had eavesdropped on a telephone conversation between Papworth and plaintiff without plaintiff's knowledge. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff also alleges that UPRR relied upon the contents of this purportedly illegal conversation to support its false allegation that plaintiff had been dishonest. (Id.) On August 25, 2008, UPRR terminated plaintiff's employment. (Id.)

Plaintiff claims that defendants wrongfully disciplined and illegally discharged him by falsely accusing him of dishonesty. (Id. ¶¶ 20.) Plaintiff alleges that defendants falsely accused him in order to absolve management of any responsibility and to misrepresent the true facts of defendants' negligence on the railroad. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff also alleges that the false accusation of dishonesty was a pretext to retaliate against him for making the work-related injury report and for seeking compensation pursuant to the Federal Employment Liability Act ("FELA"). (Id. ¶ 22.)

In his Third cause of action, plaintiff alleges that defendants wrongfully retaliated against him in violation of the public policy of the State of California. (Id.) In his Fourth cause of action, plaintiff claims that defendants violated the California Invasion of Privacy Act when Kline eavesdropped on his conversation with Papworth. (Id. ¶ 32.) In his Fifth cause of action, plaintiff asserts a claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against the defendants. (Id. ¶¶ 39-42.)

Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiff's claims on the grounds that: (1) the Railway Labor Act preempts the Third and Fifth causes of action; (2) FELA preempts the Third cause of action; and (3) plaintiff fails to state cognizable claims for his Third, Fourth, and Fifth causes of action. (Defs.' Mem. Mot. Dismiss ("Defs.' Mem"), filed July 17, 2009.)


On a motion to dismiss, the allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). The court is bound to give the plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the "well-pleaded" allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). Thus, the plaintiff need not necessarily plead a particular fact if that fact is a reasonable inference from facts properly alleged. See id.

Nevertheless, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff "can prove facts which it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Calif., Inc. v. Calif. State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). Moreover, the court "need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations." United States ex rel. Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). Indeed, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)(citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

In ruling upon a motion to dismiss, the court may consider only the complaint, any exhibits thereto, and matters which may be judicially noticed pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201. See Mir v. Little Co. of Mary Hospital, 844 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1988); Isuzu Motors Ltd. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 12 F. Supp.2d 1035, 1042 (C.D. Cal. 1998).

Ultimately, the court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff alleged enough facts to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Only where a plaintiff has failed to "nudge [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible," is the complaint properly dismissed. Id. at 1952. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. at 1950.


A. Railway Labor Act Preemption

Defendants contend that the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151, et seq., preempts the Third and Fifth causes of action because the outcome of the claims are substantially dependent upon an analysis of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA").

1. Wrongful Termination

In Violation of Public Policy*fn2 In his Third cause of action, plaintiff asserts that defendants wrongfully terminated him in violation of public policy. (Compl. ¶ 22.) Defendants argue that whether plaintiff was properly dismissed under the CBA or whether plaintiff's discharge was motivated by retaliatory reasons cannot be determined without interpreting the CBA.

The RLA establishes a comprehensive framework to resolve labor disputes in the railroad industry. See 45 U.S.C. § 151a; Hawaiian Airlines v. Norris, 512 U.S. 246, 252 (1994); Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 563 n.9 (1987). Minor disputes that require the interpretation or application of a collective bargaining agreement can be resolved only through the RLA mechanisms. See Norris, 512 U.S. at 252-53. However, the RLA does not preempt a state law cause of action if the claim involves rights and obligations that exist independent of the CBA and if the claim requires only a purely factual inquiry into the retaliatory motive of the employer. See id. at 260, 266. In a common law claim of wrongful termination in violation of public policy, "the cause of action turns on why the employer took the action it did, and the existence of a source of public policy to which the employee's claim is tethered." Cramer v. Consol. Freightways, Inc., 209 F.3d 1122, 1134-35 (9th Cir. 2000). An employee's ...

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