EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.
Table of Contents I. BACKGROUND ...............................................................794 II. LEGAL STANDARD ...........................................................794 III. PREEMPTION UNDER FEDERAL LAW .............................................794 A. Complete Preemption ..................................................795 B. The Labor Management Relations Act ...................................795 IV. ANALYSIS .................................................................797 A. Negligence ...........................................................797 1. An Employer's Duty ...............................................798 2. The Scope of the Duty ............................................800 3. No Preemption ....................................................805 B. Strict Liability .....................................................805 C. Conspiracy, Breach of Warranty, and Fraud ............................807 1. Conspiracy .......................................................807 2. Breach of Warranty ...............................................808 3. Fraud ............................................................808 D. Loss of Consortium and Wrongful Death ................................808 V. CONCLUSION ...............................................................809
Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion to remand to state court. Removal was based on the premise that Plaintiffs' Decedent's work-related claims against Decedent's employer are completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") due to the presence of a collective bargaining agreement at Decedent's workplace — a familiar argument in the federal courts. The instant case, however, arises in the wake of the recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision to permit employees to seek common law remedies against their employers for occupational diseases, such as those caused by asbestos exposure, that do not manifest until 300 weeks after the last occupational exposure. Tooey v. AK Steel Corp., 623 Pa. 60, 81 A.3d 851, 856 (2013).
Prior to the decision in Tooey, employees such as the instant Decedent were essentially left without recourse to recover from their employers for their occupational injuries as the latent development of their asbestos disease placed their claims outside the limitations period under the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. Here, the issue is, whether work-related claims brought by a member of a bargaining unit against his employer, under the Tooey rationale, are also preempted by the LMRA? Under the circumstances of this case, the answer is no.
Frank and Mary Schaffer filed a complaint against various defendants in the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas on February 15, 2013. The complaint alleged that Mr. Schaffer developed mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos, inter alia, while working at Mack Trucks ("Defendant" or "Mack"). Mack was not named as a defendant in the initial complaint because, at the time, the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act ("WCA") precluded employees from asserting tort claims for occupational injuries against their employers. Mr. Schaffer passed away on May 12, 2014. Mary Schaffer and Rita Stellar (as Personal Representative of the Estate of Frank J. Schaffer) ("Plaintiffs") filed an amended complaint on July 25, 2014. Plaintiffs pleaded claims of (1) Strict Liability; (2) Breach of Warranty; (3) Negligence; (4) Fraud; (5) Conspiracy; (6) Loss of Consortium; and (7) Wrongful Death. On August 1, 2014, Plaintiffs filed a second amended complaint to add Mack as a defendant as they could now proceed at common law against Mr. Schaffer's employer. See Tooey, 81 A.3d at 856.
Defendant Mack filed a notice of removal on September 3, 2014.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
A district court has original jurisdiction "of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A civil action brought in a state court may be removed to the district court in the district where the state action is pending if the district court had original jurisdiction over the case. 28 U.S.C. § 1441. The removing party bears the burden of demonstrating that the district court has jurisdiction over the case. Samuel-Bassett v. KIA Motors Am., Inc., 357 F.3d 392, 396 (3d Cir.2004). Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1441 is to be strictly construed against removal. La Chemise Lacoste v. Alligator Co., 506 F.2d 339, 344 (3d Cir.1974). "If at any time before final judgment it appears that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the case shall be remanded." 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c).
III. PREEMPTION UNDER FEDERAL LAW
Plaintiffs argue that they have only pleaded claims based on state law and no federal question is implicated by their claims. Plaintiffs state that resolution of the seven pleaded causes of action "are completely and wholly resolvable by state tort law." Pls.' Br. 12, ECF No. 31-2. Specifically, Plaintiffs assert that no claim
It is undisputed that Mr. Schaffer was a member of the bargaining unit under a collective bargaining agreement between the International Union, United Automobile, Aircraft and Agricultural Implement Workers of America ("the UAW" or "the Union") and Mack, the employer. Based on this fact, Defendant alleges that resolution of Plaintiffs' claims is substantially dependent upon an analysis of the terms of the collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs")
A. Complete Preemption
"The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the `well-pleaded complaint rule,' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). Following this doctrine, a case may not be removed on the basis of a federal defense, including a defense of ordinary preemption. Id. at 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425. There exists, however, an "independent corollary" to this rule, 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." Id. This concept, known as "complete preemption," provides that any such claim is transformed, for jurisdictional purposes, and necessarily "`arises under' federal law." Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 23, 103 S.Ct. 2841, 77 L.Ed.2d 420 (1983).
B. The Labor Management Relations Act
Section 301 of the LMRA is one of the few federal statutes where the complete preemption corollary to the well-pleaded complaint rule applies. Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425. Section 301 states:
29 U.S.C. § 185(a).
Contract suits filed in state courts alleging a violation of a collective bargaining agreement have long since fallen under the scope of § 301. See Textile Workers Union of Am. v. Lincoln Mills of Ala., 353 U.S. 448,
In Allis-Chalmers, the Supreme Court extended the reach of § 301 beyond suits alleging labor contract violations to suits involving tort claims.
Id. at 211, 105 S.Ct. 1904. The Court held that a state law tort claim must be treated as a claim arising under federal labor law and § 301 when resolution of the claim is "substantially dependent" on the construction of the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Id. at 220, 105 S.Ct. 1904.
The Third Circuit addressed § 301 preemption in Beidleman v. The Stroh Brewery Co., 182 F.3d 225 (3d Cir.1999), when a group of employees brought suit in a Pennsylvania state court against their employer and union for (1) fraudulent misrepresentation; (2) tortious interference with contractual relations; and (3) civil conspiracy. In deciding whether the district court correctly denied the plaintiffs' motion to remand, the court analyzed the elements that the plaintiffs would have to prove in order to prevail as to each distinct state law claim. Id. at 232-33. The court ultimately concluded that all three claims were preempted by § 301. Id. at 236.
First, as to the fraud claim, the Court noted that the plaintiffs' complaint alleged that the "misrepresentation" at issue stemmed directly from the labor contract.
Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Schaffer developed mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos, inter alia, while working at Defendant Mack's facility in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Short Form Compl. ¶¶ 8-10. Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Mack "has been engaged in mining, processing, manufacturing, sale, supply and/or distribution of asbestos-containing products and/or machinery and/or equipment requiring or specifying the use of asbestos and/or asbestos-containing products, including but not limited to automotive friction parts." Fifty-Fourth Amendment to Master Compl. ¶ 2. Plaintiffs state seven causes of action against Mack: (1) Strict Liability; (2) Breach of Warranty; (3) Negligence; (4) Fraud; (5) Conspiracy; (6) Loss of Consortium; and (7) Wrongful Death.
In Pennsylvania, a negligence cause of action comprises the following elements:
R.W. v. Manzek, 585 Pa. 335, 888 A.2d 740, 746 (2005). Whether a defendant owes a duty of care to a plaintiff is a question of law in Pennsylvania. Kleinknecht v. Gettysburg Coll., 989 F.2d 1360, 1366 (3d Cir. 1993). In the instant case, Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that:
Pls.' Br. 4; see also Master Compl. 17. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' negligence claim, on its face, alleges that Defendant Mack breached its duty as an employer to provide a safe work environment for employees such as Mr. Schaffer.
1. An Employer's Duty
"Under the common law ... the employer ... owes [its] employees a duty to exercise reasonable care in providing a safe workplace." Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO v. Hechler, 481 U.S. 851, 859, 107 S.Ct. 2161, 95 L.Ed.2d 791 (1987). In certain instances, Pennsylvania has adopted this common law employer-employee duty.
Id. at 997 (emphasis added); see also Greer v. U.S. Steel Corp., 475 Pa. 448, 380 A.2d 1221, 1222 (1977).
The Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act,
Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court created a new avenue by which individuals occupationally exposed to asbestos can proceed at common law outside the scope of the WCA. In Tooey, two employees developed mesothelioma and filed claims against their former employers after they were occupationally exposed to asbestos. 81 A.3d at 856. The employers moved for summary judgment pursuant to the exclusivity provision of the WCA. Id. The employees argued that the WCA did not apply because the disease fell outside the jurisdiction, scope, and coverage of the WCA.
2. The Scope of the Duty
Defendant agrees that "no claim under Section 301 appears on the face of Plaintiffs' Complaint," however, it asserts that "the trier of fact and law would have to interpret the CBAs to determine the nature, scope and extent of the duties Mack owed to Mr. Schaffer." Def.'s Resp. 11. In effect, Defendant is arguing that the common law duty it owed to Mr. Schaffer was in some way altered by the CBAs. Accordingly, Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs' state law claim is preempted because Plaintiffs' claim substantially depends on (or is "inextricably intertwined" with)
In Allis-Chalmers, a Wisconsin employee brought a state law tort action against his employer for the bad-faith handling of disability-benefit payments due under a CBA. 471 U.S. at 206, 105 S.Ct. 1904. The employee alleged that his employer failed to make the required disability payments under the plan negotiated in the CBA, and the employer's failure to do so breached the Wisconsin state law duty to act in "good faith" in paying disability benefits. Id. The Court held that the employee's state law claim was preempted because the duty to the employee, of which the tort was a violation, was created by the CBA and was without existence independent of the agreement. Id. at 218, 105 S.Ct. 1904. Under Wisconsin law, the Court explained, "the tort exists for breach of a duty devolv[ed] upon the insurer by reasonable implication from the express terms of the contract, the scope of which, crucially, is ascertained from a consideration of the contract itself." Id. at 216, 105 S.Ct. 1904 (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, "[t]he duties imposed and rights established through the state tort thus derive from the rights and obligations established by the contract." Id. at 217, 105 S.Ct. 1904.
Here, the duty that was allegedly violated is one imposed by Pennsylvania common law and does not derive from any CBA between Mack and the Union. Importantly, unlike the duty in Allis-Chalmers, the duty to provide a safe work environment preceded and exists independent of the CBAs. See Finnerty, 54 A. at 997; Greer, 380 A.2d at 1222; see also Hechler, 481 U.S. at 859, 107 S.Ct. 2161. Indeed, Defendant admits this fact. See Def.'s Resp. 22, 24-25 (citing various Pennsylvania cases pertaining to an employer's duty to its employees). Defendant's argument that the Court will have to analyze the CBAs to determine the "scope" of the duty is not persuasive. Defendant states that the CBAs provided "numerous provisions
See Notice of Removal ¶¶ 39-47, ECF No. 1.
First, Defendant has not pointed to any portion of the CBAs that somehow modifies — either by enlarging, diminishing or even refining — the duty imposed by the common law. Even if the common law duty was somehow expanded by the CBAs, Plaintiffs are not basing their claim on any expansion because there is no reference to a CBA in their complaint. See Voilas v. Gen. Motors Corp., 170 F.3d 367, 373-74 (3d Cir.1999) (noting that "employees have the option of vindicating their interests by means of either a section 301 action or an action brought under state law, as long as the state-law action as pleaded does not require interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement" (citing Caterpillar, 482 U.S. at 394-95, 107 S.Ct. 2425)). Moreover, there is no contention that Mr. Schaffer explicitly waived his common law right to assert a negligence cause of action against his employer.
Defendant cites to various portions of the CBAs relating to, inter alia, workplace health and safety; however, the pertinent question is not whether Plaintiffs' claim relates to a subject contemplated by the CBAs. Rather, the question here is whether Plaintiffs' claim requires the Court to "interpret" a provision of a CBA. See Kline v. Sec. Guards, Inc., 386 F.3d 246, 256 (3d Cir.2004). In Kline, various union employees brought an action in state court against their employers alleging numerous violations of Pennsylvania law, including: (1) claims under the Pennsylvania Wire Tap Act; (2) claims under the Pennsylvania Private Detective Act; and (3) various common law tort claims including invasion of privacy, negligent or reckless supervision, and failure to exercise reasonable care to protect the employees. Id. at 250-51. The employers were allegedly monitoring conversations between employees through a video feed with built-in microphones at the entrance to the facility. Id. The employers removed the case pursuant to the LMRA and the district court denied the employees' motion to remand. Id. On appeal, the Third Circuit held that the employees' claims were not preempted by § 301 and instructed the district court to remand the case to state court. Id. at 263.
The crux of the dispute involved the employers' contention that the employees' state law claims went to the "core" of the employers' "management rights," which was a subject of collective bargaining. Id. at 255. The employers argued that the state claims "necessarily implicated" the "Management Rights" and "Shop Rules" clauses of the CBA between the employers and the union. Id. The court held that "[w]hile it is true that the CBA may be consulted in the course of litigating [the employees'] claims, it does not follow that their claims are completely preempted." Id. Further,
Id. at 256.
Defendant Mack's arguments are nearly identical to the arguments espoused by the employers, and rejected by the Third Circuit, in Kline. Here, Defendant points to workplace and safety clauses in the CBAs and asserts that complete preemption must apply to Plaintiffs' negligence claim. This argument fails. The Court does not have to interpret any of the clauses in the CBAs in order for Plaintiffs to establish the scope of the duty. While it is possible that Defendant could point to some portion of a CBA in arguing that it acted reasonably, or to establish that it provided some type of warning as to certain occupational hazards, whether these statements provide a defense (in that they show Defendant acted reasonably, or that Defendant did not breach its duty of care) is a question of fact for the jury. See Trans Penn Wax Corp. v. McCandless, 50 F.3d 217, 232 (3d Cir.1995) (holding that in interpreting the employees' fraud claim, whether there was "justifiable reliance" and "extreme and outrageous conduct" were purely factual questions which did not require interpretation of the CBA or substantially depend on its construction); see also Kleinknecht, 989 F.2d at 1371 (holding that whether a duty was breached in a negligence action is a question for the factfinder). In fact, many of these defenses may be better demonstrated with evidence outside the CBAs.
Importantly, "[t]he fact that a collective bargaining agreement was part of the context in which an employee's claim must be addressed ... [does] not trigger complete preemption in the absence of some substantial dispute over the meaning of the collective bargaining agreement." Kline, 386 F.3d at 257; see also Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 124, 114 S.Ct. 2068, 129 L.Ed.2d 93 (1994) ("[W]hen the meaning of contract terms is not the subject of dispute, the bare fact that a collective-bargaining agreement will be consulted in the course of state-law litigation plainly does not require the claim to be extinguished.").
For different reasons, Hechler and Rawson are also inapplicable. In Hechler, the Court was presented with the question of whether a state law tort claim involving a union's breach of a duty of care to provide
Similarly in United Steelworkers of Am., AFL-CIO-CLC v. Rawson, 495 U.S. 362, 110 S.Ct. 1904, 109 L.Ed.2d 362 (1990), survivors of four miners killed in a fire brought wrongful death actions against the decedents' union. The Court held that the duty that the plaintiffs' tort suit relied on was allegedly assumed by the union in the collective bargaining agreement. Id. at 371, 110 S.Ct. 1904. The Court noted that this "is not a situation where the Union's delegates are accused of acting in a way that might violate the duty of reasonable care owed to every person in society." Id. Moreover, there was no indication that the union committed "an act that could be unreasonable irrespective of who committed it and could foreseeably cause injury to any person who might possibly be in the vicinity." Id. Rather, the pertinent duty arose out of the CBA and must be interpreted by federal labor law. Id. at 371-72, 110 S.Ct. 1904. Accordingly, the plaintiffs' claims were preempted by § 301. Id. Again, the duty alleged in Rawson did not exist independent of the CBA. For the same reason as in Hechler, the instant case is distinguishable.
Finally, Defendant's reliance on Beidleman is also misplaced. While the facts of Beidleman are at least analogous, in that the employees brought claims against their employer, the substantive claims in that case are distinct from the instant negligence claim. See 182 F.3d at 229 (noting employees' claims against their employer were for fraudulent misrepresentation, tortious interference with contractual relations, and civil conspiracy). Moreover, all of the employees' claims in Beidleman specifically referenced the labor agreement in question. Id. at 237. Therefore, the court was compelled to interpret what rights and duties flowed from that agreement. Id. at 236. ("The employees' contention that their state-law claims related merely to the existence of the [CBA] is contradicted by the allegations in their own complaint."). The same cannot be said in the instant case.
3. No Preemption
In sum, "not every dispute concerning employment, or tangentially involving a provision of a collective-bargaining agreement is preempted by § 301 or other provisions of the federal labor law." Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 211, 105 S.Ct. 1904. Here, Plaintiffs have pleaded a state law claim for negligence involving, inter alia, an alleged breach of a duty to provide a safe work environment. Pennsylvania recognizes such a duty as a matter of law, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has recently permitted former employees to pursue such claims as residing outside the scope of the Pennsylvania Workers' Compensation Act. Defendant has not shown how the common law duty is impacted by the mere presence of various CBAs, nor has it shown that the Court will have to interpret any of the terms of the various CBAs in order to adjudicate Plaintiffs' negligence claim. Therefore, in the instant case, Plaintiffs' negligence claim is not preempted by § 301.
B. Strict Liability
Pennsylvania adopted § 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts in Webb v. Zern, 422 Pa. 424, 220 A.2d 853, 854 (1966), which states:
Restatement (Second) of Torts § 402A (1965).
Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reaffirmed and refined the application of the Second Restatement in Pennsylvania strict liability cases. See Tincher v. Omega Flex, Inc., ___ Pa. ___, 104 A.3d 328, 400 (2014). The court explained that the strict liability action "sounds in tort, i.e. the cause involves breach of duties `imposed by law as a matter of social policy,' rather than contract, i.e., the cause involves breach of duties `imposed by mutual consensus agreements between particular individuals.'" Id. (citing Ash v. Cont'l Ins. Co., 593 Pa. 523, 932 A.2d 877, 884 (2007)). The court elaborated on the duty imposed by Pennsylvania law:
Tincher, 104 A.3d at 383 (alterations in original) (emphasis added) (citations omitted). In order to demonstrate a breach of this duty, "a plaintiff must prove that a seller (manufacturer or distributor) placed on the market a product in a `defective condition.'" Id.
As to their strict liability claim, Plaintiffs' complaint alleges, inter alia, the following:
See Master Compl. 12-15.
Defendant asserts that Plaintiffs' strict liability claim is preempted for the same reason that Plaintiffs' negligence claim is preempted — that being the Court must interpret the CBAs to define the scope of the "duty" owed to Mr. Schaffer. For many of the same reasons stated
C. Conspiracy, Breach of Warranty, and Fraud
Because of the nature of the "shotgun" pleadings in this case, it is not clear whether these three claims even pertain to Defendant Mack, nor is it clear whether they would survive a motion to dismiss by Mack. That question, however, is not for this Court to decide, nor is it a reason to hold that the claims are preempted by § 301. Accordingly, to the extent that these claims are asserted against Mack, the Court will briefly address each claim.
In Pennsylvania, a civil conspiracy is a "combination of two or more persons to do an unlawful act or criminal act or to do a lawful act by unlawful means or for an unlawful purpose." Beidleman, 182 F.3d at 235-36 (citing Landau v. W. Pa. Nat'l Bank, 445 Pa. 217, 282 A.2d 335, 338 (1971)). Here, Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that:
Master Compl. 23.
Plaintiffs' claim for conspiracy is not preempted by § 301. As previously stated, the Court will not need to interpret any part of the CBAs in order for Plaintiffs to establish their claim for civil conspiracy, nor is Plaintiffs' civil conspiracy claim based on any right or duty created by the collective bargaining agreement.
2. Breach of Warranty
Under Pennsylvania law, there is an implied warranty "[w]here the seller at the time of contracting has reason to know: (1) any particular purpose for which the goods are required; and (2) that the buyer is relying on the skill or judgment of the seller to select or furnish suitable goods." 13 Pa.Cons.Stat. § 2315. Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that:
Master Compl. 16.
Again, while it is not clear from Plaintiffs' complaint whether Mr. Schaffer was a "buyer" of any goods sold by Defendant Mack, there is simply no need for the Court to interpret the provisions of the CBAs in resolving this claim. Indeed, this claim does not appear to relate in any fashion to Mr. Schaffer's employment with Mack. See Kline, 386 F.3d at 256-57 (stating that "look[ing] to the CBA merely to discern that none of its terms is reasonably in dispute does not require preemption") (quoting Cramer v. Consol. Freightways Inc., 255 F.3d 683, 691 (9th Cir. 2001)). Therefore, the CBAs are completely inapplicable, despite Defendants' contention that "interpretation of the CBAs is required to determine whether and to what extent Mack made any `warranties,' the terms and conditions of such `warranties,' and whether the `warranties' Plaintiffs allege to have been breached by Mack are part of the employment contract." Def.'s Resp. 24. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' claim for breach of warranty is not preempted by § 301.
For the same reasons, Plaintiffs' fraud claim is not preempted. Under Pennsylvania law, "[f]raud must be averred with particularity by the following elements: 1) a misrepresentation; 2) a fraudulent utterance of it; 3) the maker's intent that the recipient be induced thereby to act; 4) the recipient's justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation; and 5) damage to the recipient proximately caused." Sevin v. Kelshaw, 417 Pa.Super. 1, 611 A.2d 1232, 1236 (1992). Plaintiffs allege, inter alia, that:
Pls.' Br. 4; see also Master Compl. 21. Again, Plaintiffs' allegations as to this claim do not relate to his employment with Mack, nor do any of the portions of the CBAs cited by Defendant require this Court's interpretation in potentially resolving the claim. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' claim for fraud is not preempted by § 301.
D. Loss of Consortium and Wrongful Death
The parties agree that these claims are derivative of the underlying claims. Accordingly, no additional analysis is necessary, and Plaintiffs' claims for loss of consortium
Plaintiffs' claims involve state law rights that exist independent of any collective bargaining agreement. The Court is not required to interpret any provision of the CBAs, nor do Plaintiffs' claims raise "questions relating to what the parties to a labor agreement agreed, and what legal consequences were intended to flow from breaches of that agreement." Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 211, 105 S.Ct. 1904. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' claims are not preempted by § 301.
For all of the reasons stated above, Plaintiffs' motion to remand will be granted.