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Ernest Ruiz v. Sysco Corporation; Sysco San Diego

August 16, 2011

ERNEST RUIZ,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
SYSCO CORPORATION; SYSCO SAN DIEGO, INC.; TEAMSTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 683; AND DOES 1-30, INCLUSIVE,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT SYSCO SAN DIEGO'S MOTION TO PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS FOR [Doc. No. 71.] UNLAWFUL DISCHARGE AND BREACH OF UNION'S DUTY OF FAIR REPRESENTATION, 29 U.S.C. §185 FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS

On March 16, 2010, Plaintiff Ernest Ruiz ("Plaintiff") filed a Third Amended Complaint ("TAC"), alleging causes of action for unlawful discharge and breach of union's duty of fair representation, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and various causes of action under the California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, Cal. Gov't Code §§ 12900 et. seq. (Doc. No. 32, TAC). On May 13, 2011, Defendants Sysco San Diego, Inc. and Sysco Corporation ("Defendants") filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiff's claims. (Doc. No. 71.) The Court held a hearing on the matter on July 25, 2011, and ordered additional briefing from the parties regarding Plaintiff's claims for unlawful discharge and breach of union's duty of fair representation.*fn1 (Doc. No. 79.) On August 3, 2011, Plaintiff filed his surreply to Defendants' motion for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 81.) On August 10, 2011, Defendant Sysco San Diego filed its response. (Doc. No. 85.) The Court held a hearing on the matter on August 16, 2011. Reza Keramati appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. Lara Strauss appeared on behalf of Defendants. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant Sysco San Diego's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's cause of action for unlawful discharge and breach of union's duty of fair representation.

Background

Plaintiff Ernest Ruiz worked as a delivery driver by Defendant Sysco San Diego ("Sysco SD") from November 2, 1998 until February 23, 2009. (Doc. No. 71-4, Declaration of Lori Wolner ("Wolner Decl."), ¶ 3.) Sysco SD's drivers and warehouse workers are organized by Teamsters Local Union No. 683 ("Local 683"). As a driver for Sysco SD, Plaintiff had a membership in a local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and his employment was covered by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"). (Doc. No. 76-3, Ex. 3, Agreement Between Teamsters Union Local 683 and Sysco Foods Services of San Diego, November 4, 2007 through November 3, 2013; Doc. No. 76-2, Ruiz Depo. at 27:14-23, 28:9-23.)

The CBA between Sysco SD and Local 683 establishes the employment terms and conditions for Sysco SD's drivers and warehouse workers. (Ruiz Depo. at 28:9-30:8; Defendants' Notice of Lodgment ("NOL"), Exs. E, F; Wolner Depo., 126:2-15.) The CBA provided for a yearly bid of available semi-trailer driver positions based on seniority. (Doc. No. 76-3, CBA, art. 24.)

On March 6, 2006, Plaintiff hurt his lower back and right shoulder while delivering product as a cruise line driver. (Doc. No. 71-5, Ex. H.) Plaintiff stopped working after his treating physicians placed him on work restrictions until March 2008. (Ruiz Depo. at 97:8-9; 103:20-104:11; 124:21-125:3; 113:22-114:7; 120:11-22; 136:5-7; 193:18-20; 268:16-21; NOL, Exhs. J, K, L, N.) Following his injury, Sysco SD provided Plaintiff with a combination of leave and light duty work. (Ruiz Depo. at 149:1-22.) On March 27, 2007, Plaintiff met with Sysco SD's Vice President of Operations and Vice President of Human Resources, as well as with Local 683's business agent. At Sysco SD, the job accommodations available to injured drivers were various leaves of absence and light duty work. (Wolner Depo. at 117:15-22; Sadler Depo. at 59:18-60:6.)

During 2007 and 2008, while Plaintiff was on leave and performing light duty, Local 683 challenged Sysco SD's interpretation of Article 24(1)(9) of the CBA. (Wolner Depo. at 65:15-66:16.) Article 24(1)(9) of the CBA provides that unavailability for work for 18 months due to illness or injury constitutes a break in service resulting in a loss of seniority. (Doc. No. 76-3, CBA, art. 24.) On February 18, 2009, an arbitrator decided the union-initiated grievance on behalf of another employee and confirmed that the CBA provided for loss of seniority rights, including termination, when covered employees were unable to work for 18 or more months. (NOL Ex. 4, Wolner Depo. at 74:14-75:7; 198:10-21; Ex. O, Arbitration Decision dated Feb. 18, 2009.) On February 23, 2009, Sysco SD terminated Plaintiff's employment pursuant to Article 24(1)(9) of the CBA because he had been unable to perform bargaining-unit work for over 23 months and lost his seniority under the CBA.

I. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the moving party demonstrates the absence of a genuine issue of material fact and entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A fact is material when, under the governing substantive law, it could affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 735 (9th Cir.1997). A dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury - 3 - 09cv1824 could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. The moving party can satisfy this burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence that negates an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to establish an essential element of the nonmoving party's case on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving at trial. Id. at 322-23. "Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). Once the moving party establishes the absence of genuine issues of material fact, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to set forth facts showing that a genuine issue of disputed fact remains. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. The nonmoving party cannot oppose a properly supported summary judgment motion by "rest[ing] on mere allegations or denials of his pleadings." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256.

When ruling on a summary judgment motion, the court must view all inferences drawn from the underlying facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The Court does not make credibility determinations with respect to evidence offered. See T.W. Elec., 809 F.2d at 630-31 (citing Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587). Summary judgment is therefore not appropriate "where contradictory inferences may reasonably be drawn from undisputed evidentiary facts...." Hollingsworth Solderless Terminal Co. v. Turley, 622 F.2d 1324, 1335 (9th Cir. 1980).

II. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's Claims Under the LMRA "Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, 'provides a statutory mechanism for vindicating contract rights under a collective bargaining agreement.'" Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Lerwill v. In-flight Motion Pictures, Inc., 582 F.2d 507, 511 (9th Cir. 1978).

Although claims arising under a collective bargaining agreement are generally brought by the union, "it is well settled that rights which are personal rights of the employees may be enforced by them directly under section 301." Id. (citing Lerwill, 582 F.2d at 511); see also DelCostello v. Int'l Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 163 (1983) ("It has long been established that an individual employee may bring suit against his employer for breach of a collective bargaining agreement." Thus, a former employee may properly asserts claims involving wrongful discharge in a direct suit against the employer under section 301. Soremekun, 509 F.3d at 985; Lerwill, 582 F.2d at 511. Such a suit comprises two causes of action: a breach of the collective bargaining agreement against the employer, and a breach of the union's duty of fair representation. DelCostello, 462 U.S. at 164. ...


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