Harris v. Hirsh

CourtNew York Court of Appeals
Writing for the CourtTITONE; KAYE
Citation83 N.Y.2d 734,613 N.Y.S.2d 842,636 N.E.2d 1375
Decision Date09 June 1994
Parties, 636 N.E.2d 1375, 147 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2678, 131 Lab.Cas. P 58,078 Joan V. HARRIS, Appellant, v. Paul HIRSH, Respondent.

Page 842

613 N.Y.S.2d 842
83 N.Y.2d 734, 636 N.E.2d 1375, 147
L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2678,
131 Lab.Cas. P 58,078
Joan V. HARRIS, Appellant,
v.
Paul HIRSH, Respondent.
Court of Appeals of New York.
June 9, 1994.

Page 843

[83 N.Y.2d 736] [636 N.E.2d 1376] Graham, Campaign & McCarthy, P.C., New York City (Daniel F. McCarthy and Daniel A. McCarthy, of counsel), for appellant.

Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn, New York City (Charles S. Sims and Wendy H. Schwartz, of counsel), Richard K. Bernard and C. Sue Barnett, for respondent.

[83 N.Y.2d 737] OPINION OF THE COURT

TITONE, Judge.

On this appeal, we are called upon to determine whether the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's common-law defamation action because it constituted a "minor dispute" within the exclusive purview of the mandatory grievance-to-adjustment board procedures established by the Federal Railway Labor Act (RLA) (45 USC § 151 et seq.) For the reasons that follow, we conclude that plaintiff's State law claim is preempted, and her exclusive remedy lies with the arbitration procedures established under the RLA.

Plaintiff Joan Harris was employed by Metro-North Commuter Railroad (Metro-North) as a crew dispatcher and was a member of the Brotherhood of Railway, Airline and Steamship Clerks (BRAC) collective bargaining unit. The terms of plaintiff's employment were governed by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) entered into between Metro-North and BRAC. On July 16, 1986, defendant Hirsh, plaintiff's former supervisor, called plaintiff into his office to discuss her work performance. Plaintiff alleges that during that encounter, and in the presence of plaintiff's two immediate supervisors who were invited to attend the meeting, defendant Hirsh asked plaintiff whether she had a problem, and then stated to her: "You take drugs. I've worked in the Towers, and I know a person who is on drugs and you look like one. I've been thinking about sending you for a drug test." During the meeting, defendant Hirsh also indicated that he was suspicious that plaintiff used drugs because on a prior occasion he had observed her give an "incoherent" answer to a co-worker [83 N.Y.2d 738] who had posed a question. Defendant's remarks were eventually circulated among plaintiff's co-workers.

By letter dated August 7, 1986, plaintiff requested that the BRAC district chair institute an investigation and grant her an "unjust treatment" hearing pursuant to rule 52 of the CBA 1 to determine whether defendant's conduct during the July 16 meeting violated company policy and procedure. 2 Plaintiff thereafter commenced this slander action in State court, alleging that defendant's false and defamatory words damaged her reputation and caused her to suffer mental anguish and physical injuries. Defendant

Page 844

[636 N.E.2d 1377] Hirsh asserted as affirmative defenses that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the defamation claim because it was preempted by the mandatory arbitration provisions set forth in the RLA, and that defendant's comments were made in the context of a supervisor-employee interview and were thus subject to a qualified privilege.

At the commencement of trial, defendant moved to dismiss the complaint on the jurisdictional ground. Supreme Court denied the motion. To support plaintiff's claim at trial that defendant knowingly uttered false statements about plaintiff's purported drug use, plaintiff introduced uncontradicted testimony that her two immediate supervisors had previously told defendant, in response to his inquiry, that plaintiff was not on drugs. Plaintiff also introduced three documents as exhibits: the Metro-North substance abuse policy, her August 7, 1986 letter requesting a rule 52 unjust treatment hearing, and a letter written by defendant on February 12, 1987 informing her that her position had been abolished. Thereafter, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff, finding specifically that defendant (1) committed the intentional tort of slander per se, (2) was entitled to a qualified privilege as her supervisor, (3) abused the qualified privilege he enjoyed, and (4) acted with malice when he defamed her. The jury awarded plaintiff $1.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Defendant [83 N.Y.2d 739] moved to set aside the verdict, again arguing Federal preemption. The motion was denied.

The Appellate Division reversed the order denying the motion to set aside the verdict and dismissed the complaint. The Court concluded that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction by virtue of Federal preemption. In so holding, the Court determined that the allegations raised in plaintiff's State law complaint must be considered "a 'minor dispute' within the meaning of the RLA" because the claim "is one growing out of a grievance and 'indisputably arises out of the employment relation between the plaintiff and * * * Metro-North' " (196 A.D.2d 425, 426, 601 N.Y.S.2d 275, quoting Angelo v. Metro-N. Commuter R.R., 193 A.D.2d 525, 598 N.Y.S.2d 189). We now affirm.

Congress enacted the RLA (45 USC §§ 151-163) to stabilize labor-management relations in the rail and air carrier industries and to ensure uniform application of Federal law in the interpretation of labor agreements (Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 562, 107 S.Ct. 1410, 1414, 94 L.Ed.2d 563 [1987]. The act establishes a comprehensive scheme for the orderly and prompt resolution of disputes between covered carriers and their employees that could potentially interrupt service and affect the Nation's commerce (Union Pac. R.R. Co. v. Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 94, 99 S.Ct. 399, 402, 58 L.Ed.2d 354 [1978]. To achieve the congressional goal of "keeping railroad labor disputes simple and out of the reach of the often lengthy court process" (Grote v. Trans World Airlines, 905 F.2d 1307, 1309 [9th Cir.], cert. denied 498 U.S. 958, 111 S.Ct. 386, 112 L.Ed.2d 397 [1990], the RLA gives the National Railroad Adjustment Board, or an adjustment board jointly established by the employer and the representative unions (see, 45 USC § 153 [First] [i]; [Second] primary and exclusive jurisdiction to resolve what have been termed "minor disputes" between covered carriers and their employees (Elgin, Joliet & E. Ry. Co. v. Burley, 325 U.S. 711, 723, 65 S.Ct. 1282, 1289-90, 89 L.Ed. 1886 [1945]. "Minor disputes," statutorily defined as all "disputes between an employee * * * and a carrier * * * growing out of grievances or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions" (45 USC § 153 [First] [i], are subject to binding and compulsory arbitration under the RLA (45 USC § 153). 3

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8 practice notes
  • Gay v. Carlson, No. 872
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • July 12, 1995
    ...is not the type of interpretation that Norris contemplated as a ground for pre-emption. Defendants rely heavily on Harris v. Hirsh, 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375 (1994). In Hirsh, an employee brought slander claims against a co-employee who had suggested, in the presence ......
  • Kaplan v. Einy
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • November 15, 1994
    ...we would affirm her order in the interest of achieving substantial justice (see, Harris v. Hirsh, 196 A.D.2d 425, 601 N.Y.S.2d 275, affd. 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375; Brooklyn Law School v. Raybon, Inc., 175 A.D.2d 56, 572 N.Y.S.2d 312; Post v. Post, 141 A.D.2d 518, 529......
  • Mack v. Metro-North Commuter RR, No. 94 Civ. 2024 (RPP).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 29, 1994
    ...the dispute was subject to the RLA in the first place." Hawaiian Airlines at ___ - ___, 114 S.Ct. at 2250-51. In Harris v. Hirsh, 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375 (Ct.App.1994), a case decided eleven days before Hawaiian Airlines, the New York Court of Appeals, relying ......
  • Victor G., Matter of
    • United States
    • New York Family Court
    • August 2, 1994
    ...N.Y.S.2d 803 [airline regulation], Young v. Sheet Metal Workers, Intl., 112 Misc.2d 692, 447 N.Y.S.2d 798 [ERISA] and Harris v. Hirsh, 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375 [Railway Labor Act] while at the other end we find those in which it simply cannot reach the merits (e.g., ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
8 cases
  • Gay v. Carlson, No. 872
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (2nd Circuit)
    • July 12, 1995
    ...is not the type of interpretation that Norris contemplated as a ground for pre-emption. Defendants rely heavily on Harris v. Hirsh, 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375 (1994). In Hirsh, an employee brought slander claims against a co-employee who had suggested, in the presence ......
  • Kaplan v. Einy
    • United States
    • New York Supreme Court Appellate Division
    • November 15, 1994
    ...we would affirm her order in the interest of achieving substantial justice (see, Harris v. Hirsh, 196 A.D.2d 425, 601 N.Y.S.2d 275, affd. 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375; Brooklyn Law School v. Raybon, Inc., 175 A.D.2d 56, 572 N.Y.S.2d 312; Post v. Post, 141 A.D.2d 518, 529......
  • Mack v. Metro-North Commuter RR, No. 94 Civ. 2024 (RPP).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
    • November 29, 1994
    ...whether the dispute was subject to the RLA in the first place." Hawaiian Airlines at ___ - ___, 114 S.Ct. at 2250-51. In Harris v. Hirsh, 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375 (Ct.App.1994), a case decided eleven days before Hawaiian Airlines, the New York Court of Appeals, relyi......
  • Victor G., Matter of
    • United States
    • New York Family Court
    • August 2, 1994
    ...N.Y.S.2d 803 [airline regulation], Young v. Sheet Metal Workers, Intl., 112 Misc.2d 692, 447 N.Y.S.2d 798 [ERISA] and Harris v. Hirsh, 83 N.Y.2d 734, 613 N.Y.S.2d 842, 636 N.E.2d 1375 [Railway Labor Act] while at the other end we find those in which it simply cannot reach the merits (e.g., ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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