Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp.

Decision Date21 April 2016
Docket NumberCivil Action No. 15-1289 (RBW)
Citation183 F.Supp.3d 71
Parties Cheryl Renee Said, Plaintiff, v. The National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Columbia

Stephen Christopher Swift, Swift & Swift, P.L.L.C., Alexandria, VA, for Plaintiff.

Jocelyn R. Cuttino, William James Delany, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, Washington, DC, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

REGGIE B. WALTON, United States District Judge

The plaintiff, Cheryl Renee Said, instituted this civil action against the defendant, the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, which does business as "Amtrak," asserting several causes of action under federal and District of Columbia law for her allegedly unlawful termination by the defendant. See Complaint ("Compl.") ¶¶ 3, 5-6, 43-75. Currently pending before the Court is Plaintiff Cheryl Renee Said's Motion for Leave of Court to Amend the Complaint ("Pl.'s Mot."). After careful consideration of the parties' submissions,1 as well as their oral arguments at a March 30, 2016 hearing,2 the Court concludes for the reasons below that it must deny the plaintiff's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

The following are the facts underlying this case as alleged by the plaintiff in her complaint and proposed amended complaint. The defendant employed the plaintiff as a "Lead Service Attendant," and at all times relevant to this case, the plaintiff "was a [u]nion member of Amtrak Service Workers Council" ("the Union") and "covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement (‘CBA’) between [Amtrak] and [the Union]." Compl. ¶ 5; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Amended Complaint ("Proposed Am. Compl.")) ¶ 5. "On or about February 1, 2011, while ... working[,]" she was "inform[ed] that her husband had died." Compl. ¶ 9; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 9. Her "husband's sudden death had a devastating effect on her." Compl. ¶ 14; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 14. The plaintiff "became very ill as she suffered prolonged grief, severe depression, anxiety[,] and insomnia," which was all in addition to "the high blood pressure

she already suffered from." Compl. ¶ 14; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 14.

The plaintiff "was given time off due to the death of her husband." Compl. ¶ 11; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 11. As a result of her husband's death, the plaintiff requested a leave of absence on two occasions: February 15, 2011, and March 31, 2011. See Compl. ¶¶ 11-14; see also Compl., Exhibit ("Ex.") B at 1, 33 ; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 11-14. The latter of her requests had an estimated return date from her leave of absence as April 30, 2011. Compl. ¶ 14; see also Compl., Ex. B at 1; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 14. Prior to that latter return date, the plaintiff allegedly called her supervisor, informed the supervisor that she would "not get better" by then, and "verbally requested another leave of absence over the phone." Compl. ¶ 15; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 15. The supervisor purportedly "gave her permission" to "take all the time [she] need[ed] to get better before returning to work," i.e., her supervisor "assured" her "that she need not worry about being absent for [as] long ... as she needed to get well ...." Compl. ¶ 15 (emphasis omitted); see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 15. The plaintiff "believed that ... her supervisor ... had the authority to give her that verbal permission [for leave], without any need to fill any [paperwork]," and "[s]he relied on that assurance." Compl. ¶ 15; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 15. "As it turned out[,] [however, her supervisor] had no such authority ...." Compl. ¶ 15; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 15.

Between April 30, 2011, and February 9, 2012, the day the plaintiff "reported to work to inform [the defendant] that she was officially returning to work on ... February 19, 2012," Compl. ¶ 30; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 30, she was allegedly informed by multiple superiors verbally that she should take as much time as she needed to recover from the death of her husband, see Compl. ¶¶ 19, 22, 24, 27, 30-31; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 19, 22, 24, 27, 30-31. During this period of absence, the plaintiff even received "sickness [disability] benefits" "with [the defendant's] approval." Compl. ¶ 26; see also Compl. ¶¶ 24, 27-29; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 24, 26-29. Despite her "regular contact" with her superiors, she discovered on February 9, 2012, that her employment had been terminated by the defendant on or about November 4, 2011, through a letter that was sent to an address where the plaintiff had told the defendant she no longer lived. Compl. ¶ 29; see also Compl. ¶¶ 32-34; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 29, 32-34.

The defendant's termination of the plaintiff was based on Rule 24 of the CBA, Compl. ¶ 34; Compl., Ex. H at 1; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 34, which states the following concerning unauthorized absences: "Employees who are absent from work for ten (10) days without notifying the corporation shall be considered as having resigned from the service, unless the corporation is furnished satisfactory evidence that circumstances beyond their control prevented such notification," Compl. ¶ 29; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶ 29. In the termination letter, the defendant stated:

There has been no response or notification of your prolonged absence from work at Amtrak. In a letter sent to you on October 12, 2011, ... you were instructed to notify the corporation for your absence. In the letter you were informed that failure to do so will invoke Rule 24 of the [CBA], and you will be considered as resigned from the corporation.

This letter is official notification that you are now considered resigned .... Compl., Ex. H at l; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.), Ex. H at 1. According to the plaintiff, she received neither this letter nor the October 12, 2011 letter referenced therein. Compl. ¶¶ 33-34; see also Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 33-34. The plaintiff accuses the defendant of intentionally sending these letters to an incorrect mailing address because it "wanted to terminate [her] because of her race and sex ...." Compl. ¶ 36; see also Compl. ¶¶ 39-42, 45, 49-50, 56-59, 66; Pl.'s Mot., Ex. 1 (Proposed Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 36, 39-42, 71, 75-76, 82-85, 92. Consequently, the plaintiff filed her complaint against the defendant in this case, which she now seeks to amend to include breach of contract and promissory estoppel claims. Pl.'s Mot. at 1.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

"A party may amend its pleading once as a matter of course" within twenty-one days following several designated events. Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1). However, after that time has elapsed, the initial pleading may be amended "only with the opposing party's written consent or the court's leave." Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(2). While the court has sole discretion to grant or deny leave to amend, "[l]eave to amend a [pleading] should be freely given in the absence of undue delay, bad faith, undue prejudice to the opposing party, repeated failure to cure deficiencies, or futility." Richardson v. United States, 193 F.3d 545, 548–49 (D.C.Cir.1999) (citing Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182, 83 S.Ct. 227, 9 L.Ed.2d 222 (1962) ). The rationale for this perspective is that "[i]f the underlying facts or circumstances relied upon by a plaintiff may be a proper subject of relief, [s]he ought to be afforded an opportunity to test [her] claim on the merits." Foman, 371 U.S. at 182, 83 S.Ct. 227. Nevertheless, the "court may properly deny a motion to amend if the amended pleading would not survive a motion to dismiss," i.e., if it is futile to amend. In re Interbank Funding Corp. Sec. Litig., 629 F.3d 213, 218 (D.C.Cir.2010) ; see alsoJames Madison Ltd. v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1099 (D.C.Cir.1996) ("Courts may deny a motion to amend a complaint as futile ... if the proposed claim would not survive a motion to dismiss.").

III. ANALYSIS
A. The Plaintiff's Proposed Breach of Contract Claim

The defendant contends that leave to amend the complaint would be futile because the breach of contract claim "is preempted by the Railway Labor Act," 45 U.S.C. § 151 (2012), as the claim "requires interpretation of [the] CBA." Def.'s Opp'n at 2. In response, the plaintiff does not contest the applicability of the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"); instead she relies on "exceptions" to the RLA that she contends render preemption inapplicable to this case. Pl.'s Reply at 5. The defendant has the better of this dispute.

The RLA "was enacted in an effort to promote stability in labor management relations within the railroad industry." Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. E. Air Lines, Inc., 701 F.Supp. 865, 872 (D.D.C.1988) (citing 45 U.S.C. §§ 151 -188 (1987) ), aff'd, 889 F.2d 291 (D.C.Cir.1989) ; see alsoAbdul – Qawiy v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., No. 04–cv–1030 (HHK), 2005 WL 3201271, at *3 (D.D.C. Oct. 25, 2005) (citing Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Ry. Co. v. Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 562, 107 S.Ct. 1410, 94 L.Ed.2d 563 (1987) ). It "provides remedies for the resolution of employee disputes arising out of the interpretation of [a] collective bargaining agreement[ ] and requires all parties to ‘exert every reasonable effort to make and maintain’ [the] collectively[-]bargained agreement[ ], and to abide by the terms of the most recent agreement until all the dispute resolution procedures have been exhausted." Air Line Pilots, 701 F.Supp. at 872 (quoting 45 U.S.C. § 152 ; then citing 45 U.S.C. §§ 155, 156, 160 ). Where a dispute is " ‘arguably’ ... covered by the existing collective bargaining agreement,"4 i.e., it "relates either to the meaning or proper application of a particular provision with reference to a specific...

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  • Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 10, 2018
    ...opinion in this case, the plaintiff "had the right" to file a grievance on her own behalf but "opted not to," Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 183 F.Supp.3d 71, 77 (D.D.C. 2016) (citation omitted); see also Said Dep. 66:14–21 (admitting that she did not pursue a formal grievance), and th......
  • Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • July 18, 2019
    ...in denying the plaintiff's motion to amend her complaint to add a breach of contract claim, see Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. (Said I ), 183 F. Supp. 3d 71, 75–78 (D.D.C. 2016) (Walton, J.); see also Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. (Said II ), 191 F. Supp. 3d 55, 57–58 (D.D.C. 2016)......
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    ... ... to take over decoy duties from Plaintiff, but Haymans said that Plaintiff would have to "go[ ] again." Id ... will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 ... ...
  • Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., Civil Action No. 15-1289 (RBW)
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — District of Columbia
    • June 9, 2016
    ...to leaves of absence, which precludes the assertion of a promissory estoppel claim. See Said v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 183 F.Supp.3d 71, 77–78, 2016 WL 1610601, at *5 (D.D.C.2016) (Walton, J.). The plaintiff contends, however, that once the defendant terminated her, she was no longer a......

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