Fowler v. Ill. Sports Facilities Auth. & Chi. White Sox, Ltd., 18 C 964

CourtUnited States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
Writing for the CourtGary Feinerman, Judge
Citation338 F.Supp.3d 822
Parties Dustin FOWLER, Plaintiff, v. The ILLINOIS SPORTS FACILITIES AUTHORITY and Chicago White Sox, Ltd., Defendants.
Docket Number18 C 964
Decision Date29 June 2018

338 F.Supp.3d 822

Dustin FOWLER, Plaintiff,
The ILLINOIS SPORTS FACILITIES AUTHORITY and Chicago White Sox, Ltd., Defendants.

18 C 964

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.

Signed June 29, 2018

338 F.Supp.3d 824

Richard J. DePonto, John J. Bailly, Bailly & McMillan, LLP, White Plains, NY, Michael Jude Sorich, Cavanagh Law Group, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff.

Chadwel David Kasdin, Grace E. Mangieri, Gretchen Harris Sperry, Robert Thomas Shannon, Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, Chicago, IL, Adam M. Lupion, Neil H. Abramson, Proskauer Rose LLP, New York, NY, for Defendants.


Gary Feinerman, Judge

Dustin Fowler, a professional baseball player, brought this suit against the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority and Chicago White Sox, Ltd. (together, "the White Sox") in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, after he was seriously injured while playing at Guaranteed Rate Field, the White Sox's stadium. Doc. 1-1. The complaint characterizes Fowler's claims as negligence claims arising under Illinois law. Defendants removed the suit to this court under 28 U.S.C. § 1441, asserting that federal question jurisdiction lies under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because Fowler's claims are completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, and thus in fact are federal claims. Doc. 1. Fowler moves to remand. Doc. 32. The motion is granted.


On June 29, 2017, the New York Yankees played the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. Doc. 1-1 at ¶¶ 6-8. Fowler made his Major League debut that day,

338 F.Supp.3d 825

playing right field for the Yankees. Id. at ¶ 9. When Fowler ran into the wall on the right foul line while attempting to catch a foul ball, his knee made contact with a metal electrical box, resulting in serious injury that required surgery and ended his season. Id. at ¶¶ 18-19. According to Fowler, the metal box was positioned behind and between the wall and railing next to the right foul line, without any kind of padding or covering. Id. at ¶¶ 12, 14, 15, 17. Fowler sued the White Sox, alleging that the club negligently installed the box in a position where it was undetectable and posed an unreasonable risk of injury to players. Id. at ¶¶ 25, 34.

The terms of Fowler's employment as a professional baseball player are governed by the 2017-2021 Basic Agreement, a collectively bargained agreement between the Major League Clubs and the Major League Baseball Players Association. Doc. 1 at ¶ 3.


As noted, the White Sox premise federal jurisdiction on the ground that Fowler's negligence claims, which he characterizes as arising under Illinois law, are completely preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. See 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) (providing that federal law governs "[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization."). The complete preemption doctrine "converts an ordinary state common-law complaint into one stating a federal claim." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams , 482 U.S. 386, 393, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). "Once an area of state law has been completely pre-empted, any claim purportedly based on that pre-empted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim, and therefore arises under federal law" for purposes of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1441(a). Crosby v. Cooper B-Line, Inc. , 725 F.3d 795, 800 (7th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Ne. Rural Elec. Membership Corp. v. Wabash Valley Power Ass'n , 707 F.3d 883, 894 (7th Cir. 2013).

Settled precedent holds that § 301 completely preempts state law claims "founded directly on rights created by collective-bargaining agreements, and also claims substantially dependent on analysis of a collective-bargaining agreement." Caterpillar , 482 U.S. at 394, 107 S.Ct. 2425 (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Nelson v. Stewart , 422 F.3d 463, 467-69 (7th Cir. 2005) ; In re Bentz Metal Prods. Co. , 253 F.3d 283, 285-86 (7th Cir. 2001) (en banc). Complete preemption under § 301 "covers not only obvious disputes over labor contracts, but also any claim masquerading as a state-law claim that nevertheless is deemed ‘really’ to be a claim under a labor contract." Crosby , 725 F.3d at 797. "[T]o determine whether a purported state-law claim ‘really’ arises under Section 301, a federal court must look beyond the face of [the] plaintiff's allegations and the labels used to describe her claims and evaluate the substance of plaintiff's claims." Id. at 800 (alterations and internal quotation marks omitted).

Section 301 preemption is not boundless. "[A] state-law claim is ‘completely preempted’ only when it is inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of the labor contract." Ibid. (internal quotation marks omitted). A state law claim is not completely preempted where a defendant contending that the claim requires interpretation of a CBA advances a frivolous or insubstantial reading of the agreement; rather, preemption applies only where the defendant's interpretation of the CBA is arguable or plausible. See Baker v. Kingsley , 387 F.3d 649, 659 (7th Cir. 2004) ("Because defendants' interpretation is plausible, and demonstrates a genuine dispute between the parties that can affect liability, it is a sufficient basis

338 F.Supp.3d 826

for preemption."); Cramer v. Consol. Freightways, Inc. , 255 F.3d 683, 692 (9th Cir. 2001) ("A creative linkage between the subject matter of the claim and the wording of a CBA provision is insufficient; rather, the proffered interpretation argument must reach a reasonable level of credibility."); Boogaard v. Nat'l Hockey League , 126 F.Supp.3d 1010, 1017 (N.D. Ill. 2015), aff'd , 891 F.3d 289 (7th Cir. 2018).

Under Illinois law, the elements of a negligence claim are "the existence of a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff, a breach...

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    ...not considered for venue, diversity of citizenship, or amount-in-controversy purposes, do not violate the [Rules Enabling Act]." Haj , 338 F.Supp.3d at 822, 2018 WL 3707561, at *4.The conclusion that BMS did not alter prior consensus is also supported by the Supreme Court's own characteriza......
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    • 3 Marzo 2020 127; Hicks v. Houston Baptist Univ., No. 5:17-CV-629-FL, 2019 WL 96219, at *6 (E.D.N.C. Jan. 3, 2019); Al Haj v. Pfizer Inc., 338 F. Supp. 3d at 822; Becker v. HBN Media, Inc., 314 F. Supp. 3d 1342, 1345 (S.D. Fla. 2018); Sotomayor v. Bank of Am., N.A., 377 F. Supp. 3d 1034, 1037 (C.D. C......
  • Williams v. Jackson Park SLF, LLC, Case No. 19-CV-8198
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    • United States District Courts. 7th Circuit. United States District Court (Northern District of Illinois)
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    • Case Western Reserve Law Review Vol. 71 Nbr. 3, March 2021
    • 22 Marzo 2021
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