Adkins v. Seaboard System R.R.

Decision Date18 June 1987
Docket NumberNo. 86-5715,86-5715
Citation821 F.2d 340
Parties125 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2883, 106 Lab.Cas. P 12,406, 2 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. 543 Paul ADKINS, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. SEABOARD SYSTEM RAILROAD, Defendant-Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit

Debra A. Catron, argued, Hazard, Ky., for plaintiff-appellant.

Larry Deener, argued, Landrum, Shouse and Patterson, Lexington, Ky., for defendant-appellee.

Before WELLFORD and NORRIS, Circuit Judges; and COHN, U.S. District Judge. *


Appellant Paul Adkins, a former railroad employee now receiving disability pension benefits, has sued Seaboard System Railroad (Seaboard), his former employer, for emotional distress with respect to the circumstances of what he claims was a threatened discharge for insubordination.

Adkins initially sought relief through the grievance procedures under his collective bargaining agreement. He designated his union as his collective bargaining agent and requested an investigation under that agreement. The investigation request was based on the same alleged "conspiracy" (between Seaboard and two of appellant's superiors, who supervised him) to fire Adkins which is at issue here. The investigation resulted in a finding of no violation of the collective bargaining agreement. Adkins did not appeal the result of this hearing.

Adkins then filed a complaint alleging that defendant's employees "deliberately and premeditately [sic] conspired to have the Plaintiff terminated without any regard to the possible consequences of their actions ... culminating in him suffering great emotional distress and physical pain as a result of these actions." In her brief, Adkins' counsel states that her client "is not seeking damages for embarassment, harassment, or emotional harm as has been the fact situation in most of the cases" 1 relied upon by Seaboard and the trial court, which granted appellee judgment.

The district court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, ruling that the National Railroad Adjustment Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the case. Adkins now appeals that ruling and asserts that the court has jurisdiction to hear the claim under the Federal Employers' Liability Act. The issues on appeal are whether this action for "deliberately" acting to have appellant terminated, which culminated in "great emotional distress," falls within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB) under the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. Sec. 151 et seq., as determined by the district court, and whether the action is cognizable within the Federal Employers' Liability Act (FELA), 45 U.S.C. Sec. 51 et seq.

Judge Siler decided that this was a "minor dispute ... regarding the meaning of an existing collective bargaining agreement" and thus must come within the jurisdiction of the NRAB, citing Andrews v. L & N Railroad Co., 406 U.S. 320, 322, 92 S.Ct. 1562, 1564, 32 L.Ed.2d 95 (1972) and McKinney v. International Ass'n of Machinists, 624 F.2d 745, 748 (6th Cir.1980), because "the unjust treatment" alleged by appellant "is covered by the language of the collective bargaining agreement."

An unpublished decision of this court in Antalek v. Norfolk and Western Co., No. 84-3057 (6th Cir. Aug. 30, 1984) [742 F.2d 1454 (table) ], supports the district court's decision. Plaintiff Antalek sued his former railroad employer for intentional infliction of emotional distress resulting from various supervisors harassing him in conspiracy with a view to terminating him. This court held that the claim came "within the purview of the RLA and, therefore, exclusive jurisdiction lies in the hands of the NRAB." Antalek, slip op. at 2 (citing Andrews, supra; McKinney, supra ).

Shortly before the oral argument in this case, however, the Supreme Court held that "[t]he fact that an injury otherwise compensable under the FELA was caused by conduct that may have been subject to arbitration under the RLA does not deprive an employee of his opportunity to bring an FELA action for damages. Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. Buell, --- U.S. ----, 107 S.Ct. 1410, 1415, 94 L.Ed.2d 563 (1987). Assuming that Buell applies retroactively to this case, we would be called upon to reverse the district court's ruling that the NRAB has exclusive jurisdiction over Adkin's claim.

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    ...the FELA. Of the various circuit courts which have considered the issue since Buell there is no consensus. Compare Adkins v. Seaboard System R.R., 821 F.2d 340 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 963, 108 S.Ct. 452, 98 L.Ed.2d 392 (1987) (intentional tort resulting in purely emotional injury......
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