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Smith v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 22, 2014

ARTHUR M. SMITH IV, et al., Plaintiffs,
UNITED AIRLINES, INC., et al., Defendants.


ELIZABETH D. LAPORTE, Chief Magistrate Judge.

Defendants each brought separate motions to dismiss based on similar arguments. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are GRANTED.

I. Factual Allegations and Procedural History

This case stems from Plaintiffs' compensation dispute with their employer, Defendant United Airlines, Inc. ("United"), and their union, Defendant International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers ("Union"). Plaintiffs are ramp servicemen who currently work at San Francisco International Airport ("SFO"), but who have worked previously for United at other airports. (Cmplt. ¶¶ 5-7.) Ramp servicemen handle the "loading, stowing, unloading, and pick-up and delivery of all cargo." (Id. ¶ 15; Reardon Decl. Ex. 1 (hereinafter "Collective Bargaining Agreement" or "CBA") at 6.)[1] Lead ramp servicemen perform the same functions and also may be required "to lead and direct the work of other employees of lower classifications" and "to give instruction and training." (Cmplt. ¶ 15; CBA at 6.) Lead ramp servicemen are compensated at a higher rate of pay than ramp servicemen. (Cmplt. ¶ 16; CBA at 101.)

Plaintiffs allege that when lead ramp servicemen are unavailable, ramp servicemen typically fulfill their role and are compensated as lead ramp servicemen during that time. (Cmplt. ¶ 17.) Plaintiffs allege that prior to working at SFO, they worked for United in other cities and were paid as lead ramp servicemen when they fulfilled those duties. (Id. ¶ 13.) However, Plaintiffs allege that they have been denied this additional pay since beginning work at SFO. (Id.)

Plaintiff Smith allegedly filed a grievance on January 30, 2013, concerning this issue and, upon failure to reach a resolution, filed a second step grievance three days later. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Smith alleges that he "made periodic inquiries" regarding the status of his grievance and was told to "wait until after the approval of the new contract to proceed." (Id. ¶ 29.) On or about April 30, 2013, Smith alleges that he was told by an executive member of the Union that he "doubted that the Company would convene a hearing on either grievance." (Id. ¶ 32.) In August 2013, Smith alleges that he spoke with the same executive member and the Union president "multiple times.... [and] [o]n each occasion [they] sided with [United]." (Id. ¶ 33.) Additionally, Smith alleges that the executive member told him that "it was his belief that [United] was operating properly according to Agreement procedures." (Id.) Furthermore, on August 23, 2013, Smith alleges that his counsel wrote a letter, which was never answered, requesting that the Union commence a new grievance process related to this issue. (Id. ¶ 35.)

Plaintiffs Tran and Moody allege that they also filed grievances during this time. Upon filing their grievances in February 2013, these Plaintiffs allege that they were "orally denied" and that they were told "this is the way it's done in San Francisco." (Id. ¶¶ 50, 64.) Furthermore, they allege that they were told that because Smith had previously filed a grievance on this issue, "Smith's grievance would serve as the grievance for all ramp Agents with disputes regarding lead pay and that the Union would not consider any other grievances on the issue." (Id.)

On November 1, 2013, Plaintiffs allege that "a new collective bargaining agreement became effective between United and [the Union]" that "effectively render[ed] as moot Plaintiffs' grievance." (Id. ¶¶ 37, 40.) Plaintiffs allege that they have consequently been damaged because the failure to resolve the issue "has prohibited Plaintiffs from being grandfathered into a more desirable pay structure" in the new CBA. (Id. ¶ 42.)

On April 16, 2014, Plaintiffs filed this action alleging claims for breach of duty of fair representation against Defendant Union and breach of contract against Defendant United. After Defendants moved to dismiss the original complaint, Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint on June 23, 2014. On July 7, 2014, Defendants filed the present motions to dismiss.

II. Standard

A complaint will survive a motion to dismiss if it contains "sufficient factual matter... to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). The reviewing court's "inquiry is limited to the allegations in the complaint, which are accepted as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Lazy Y Ranch LTD v. Behrens , 546 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008).

A court need not, however, accept as true the complaint's "legal conclusions." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id. at 679. Thus, a reviewing court may begin "by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id.

III. Statute of Limitations

Plaintiffs bring a "hybrid" claim for breach of duty of fair representation against the Union and breach of contract against United. See West v. Conrail , 481 U.S. 35, 37-38 (1987); Delcostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters , 462 U.S. 151, 165 (1983). Such claims are subject to a six-month statute of limitations. Delcostello , 462 U.S. at 169-170; Lea v. Republic Airlines, Inc. , 903 F.2d 624, 633 (1990). "[T]he six-month period generally begins to run when an employee knows or should know of the alleged breach of duty of fair representation by a union." Galindo v. Stoody Co. , 793 F.2d 1502, 1509 (9th Cir. 1986); Miletak v. Commc'n Workers of ...

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