Washington v. Union Carbide Corp., No. 88-3957

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (4th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore PHILLIPS and WILKINSON; WILKINSON; PHILLIPS
Citation870 F.2d 957
Parties130 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3150, 131 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 2009, 57 USLW 2571, 111 Lab.Cas. P 11,048, 4 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. 373 Thomas E. WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, a corporation, Defendant-Appellee, and International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers; Local Lodge 598, International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers, Defendants.
Docket NumberNo. 88-3957
Decision Date27 March 1989

Page 957

870 F.2d 957
130 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3150, 131 L.R.R.M. (BNA)
2009, 57 USLW 2571,
111 Lab.Cas. P 11,048,
4 Indiv.Empl.Rts.Cas. 373
Thomas E. WASHINGTON, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION, a corporation, Defendant-Appellee,
and
International Association of Machinist and Aerospace
Workers; Local Lodge 598, International
Association of Machinist and Aerospace
Workers, Defendants.
No. 88-3957.
United States Court of Appeals,
Fourth Circuit.
Argued Nov. 1, 1988.
Decided March 27, 1989.

Page 958

Michael John Del Giudice (G. Nicholas Casey, Jr., Timbera B. Carte, Lewis, Ciccarello & Friedberg, Charleston, W.Va., on brief), for plaintiff-appellant.

David Dale Johnson, Jr. (Gene W. Bailey, II, Jackson & Kelly, Charleston, W.Va., on brief), for defendant-appellee.

Before PHILLIPS and WILKINSON, Circuit Judges, and BOYLE, United States District Judge for the Eastern District of North Carolina, sitting by designation.

WILKINSON, Circuit Judge:

This case raises questions about the proper method of resolving claims that a state-law cause of action is preempted under Sec. 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. We hold that it lies within the discretion of a federal district court, in an appropriate case, to address the state claim on the merits before resolving the Sec. 301 preemption inquiry.

Thomas E. Washington brought this action in federal district court after being fired from his position at Union Carbide's facility in South Charleston, West Virginia. He alleged, inter alia, that Union Carbide violated the public policy of West Virginia by discharging him in retaliation for filing safety complaints with the company. The district court granted Union Carbide's motion for summary judgment holding that Washington's state-law claims were preempted by Sec. 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. The district court also found that Washington had failed to establish a violation of West Virginia public policy upon which to base a cause of action for retaliatory discharge. We agree that Washington failed to allege a valid cause of action for retaliatory discharge under West Virginia law and therefore find it unnecessary to address the question of Sec. 301 preemption. We affirm the grant of summary judgment in favor of Union Carbide.

I.

Thomas E. Washington worked for Union Carbide from November 29, 1976 until his discharge on July 29, 1985. He was a member of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and its Local 598, which was the exclusive bargaining agent for all hourly employees at the Union Carbide facility. Union Carbide and Local 598 were parties to a collective bargaining agreement that prohibited termination of employees "without just cause" and established a comprehensive grievance and arbitration procedure for the resolution of disputes under the collective bargaining agreement. The collective bargaining agreement also contained provisions on employee health and safety. It encouraged employees to report unsafe working conditions to Union Carbide and to suggest ways in which safety could be improved.

Washington was discharged by Union Carbide on July 29, 1985. He was advised that his employment was being terminated because of his insubordinate behavior, his departures from the job site without supervisory approval, and his past citations for inadequate job performance. Washington filed a grievance pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement challenging his discharge. He claimed that Union Carbide fired him because he filed numerous safety complaints with the company. His grievance was rejected by Union Carbide and was heard by an arbitration panel on December 16, 1985. The panel denied Washington's

Page 959

grievance on March 3, 1986, finding that he was discharged with just cause.

On February 5, 1987, Washington brought suit against Union Carbide, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and its Local 598. He claimed, as a matter of federal law, that Union Carbide breached its contractual duty not to terminate his employment without just cause, that his termination violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that the Union breached its duty to fairly represent him, that the arbitration decision was erroneous as a matter of law and procedure. He also claimed that Union Carbide violated federal and West Virginia public policy by discharging him in retaliation for filing numerous safety complaints with the company. Union Carbide replied in part that Washington's state claims were preempted by federal law.

On November 10, 1987, the district court dismissed Washington's claims that Union Carbide breached the collective bargaining agreement and violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The district court also dismissed Washington's claims against the Union.

On February 1, 1988, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of Union Carbide. It did so for two reasons. It held, as an initial matter, that Washington's alleged cause of action in tort for retaliatory discharge was actually a suit against Union Carbide for breach of the collective bargaining agreement. As such, Washington's state-law claims were preempted by Sec. 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947. The district court found, in the alternative, that there was no right of action premised on West Virginia public policy protecting Washington from discharge for filing safety complaints. Washington appeals from the grant of summary judgment in favor of Union Carbide.

II.

Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA) provides in pertinent part that:

Suits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce ... may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties....

29 U.S.C. Sec. 185(a). Section 301 was enacted with the understanding that federal labor law doctrines would uniformly prevail over inconsistent state law, Teamsters v. Lucas Flour Co., 369 U.S. 95, 103-04, 82 S.Ct. 571, 576-77, 7 L.Ed.2d 593 (1962), and authorizes courts to fashion a body of federal law for the enforcement of collective bargaining agreements. Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 451, 77 S.Ct. 912, 915, 1 L.Ed.2d 972 (1957). The application of state law is therefore preempted in favor of federal labor law if resolution of a state-law claim requires interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement. Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., --- U.S. ----, 108 S.Ct. 1877, 1885, 100 L.Ed.2d 410 (1988); Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 105 S.Ct. 1904, 85 L.Ed.2d 206 (1985).

In order to determine the preemptive effect of Sec. 301, however, a court must first examine the elements of the purported state-law remedy. See, e.g., Lingle, 108 S.Ct. at 1881-83 (Illinois tort of retaliatory discharge for filing a workers' compensation claim); International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Hechler, 481 U.S. 851, 107 S.Ct. 2161, 2167-68, 95 L.Ed.2d 791 (1987) (Florida action for tortious breach-of-contract); Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 216-19, 105 S.Ct. at 1914-15 (Wisconsin tort for the bad-faith handling of an insurance claim). A colorable state-law cause of action is a predicate to a Sec. 301 preemption claim.

As discussed above, the district court's dismissal of Washington's federal claims against Union Carbide left only Washington's state-law claim for retaliatory discharge to be resolved. The district court did not err, however, in addressing whether Washington had stated a valid cause of action under state law. State claims which are wholly preempted by

Page 960

Sec. 301 constitute a well-recognized exception to the general rule that a federal claim must be stated on the face of the complaint. If Washington's purported state-law remedy had been completely preempted by Sec. 301, "any claim purportedly based on that preempted state law is considered, from its inception, a federal claim...." Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 107 S.Ct. 2425, 2430, 96 L.Ed.2d 318 (1987). The district court therefore had jurisdiction to address Washington's alleged state cause of action either as a pendent state claim here or, in a removed Sec. 301 case, as a means of determining its own jurisdiction. United States v. United Mine Workers of America, 330 U.S. 258, 292 n. 57, 67 S.Ct. 677, 695 n. 57, 91 L.Ed. 884 (1947).

III.

We think it important to differentiate our analysis from that of the dissenting opinion. Under its alternative approach, federal courts generally must assume the validity of the purported state-law claim no matter how insubstantial, and must always proceed to the preemption inquiry no matter how uncertain. We reject this position. The dissenting opinion's approach is far less flexible than that of United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S.Ct. 1130, 16 L.Ed.2d 218 (1966), and leads to extended litigation in cases where the underlying state claims are meritless.

We favor instead an approach to Sec. 301 preemption cases that will leave district courts discretion to address either the underlying state claim or the Sec. 301 preemption inquiry as an initial matter. In some cases this discretionary approach will follow the thoughtful analysis found in the dissenting opinion. There may well be instances where a district court will wish to assume the validity of the purported state-law claim and proceed directly to the preemption inquiry. See United Ass'n of Journeymen & Apprentices of the Plumbing & Pipe Fitting Industry, Local No. 57 v. Bechtel Power Corp., 834 F.2d 884, 889 (10th Cir.1987). If the alleged state cause of action is preempted, the court may then address the Sec. 301 claim on its merits. If not preempted, the federal court may either dismiss the alleged state-law claim without prejudice or resolve it on its merits under the guidance of Gibbs. We do not...

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52 practice notes
  • Frohnapfel v. Arcelormittal Weirton LLC, Civil Action No. 5:14–CV–45.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
    • April 22, 2015
    ...Stated differently, “a colorable state-law cause of action is a predicate to a § 301 preemption claim.” Washington v. Union Carbide Corp., 870 F.2d 957, 959 (4th Cir.1989).Prior to receipt of the resolution of the certified question, it was not yet clear whether plaintiff had alleged a colo......
  • Blanda v. Martin & Seibert, L.C., No. 19-0317
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 22, 2019
    ...citations omitted).58 Id.59 Shell , 183 W.Va. at 413, 396 S.E.2d at 180 ((citations omitted)).60 See Washington v. Union Carbide Corp ., 870 F.2d 957, 962–63 (4th Cir. 1989) (finding no retaliatory discharge by private employee under West Virginia’s Occupation Safety and Health Act, which a......
  • West v. J.O. Stevenson, Inc., NO. 7:15-CV-87-FL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • February 24, 2016
    ...with its predecessors, ancillary and pendent jurisdiction, have been described as “flexible.” See Washington v. Union Carbide Corp. , 870 F.2d 957, 960 (4th Cir.1989). Nevertheless, the doctrine's flexibility is not endless. Supplemental jurisdiction “does not encompass claims when one coun......
  • Smart v. Local 702 Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, No. 07-4088.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 7, 2009
    ...without merit); Childers v. Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co., 881 F.2d 1259, 1263 (4th Cir.1989) (same); Washington v. Union Carbide Corp., 870 F.2d 957 (4th Cir.1989). Cf. Foy v. Giant Food, Inc., 298 F.3d 284, 290-91 (4th Cir.2002) (observing that the question of whether employer's action in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
52 cases
  • Frohnapfel v. Arcelormittal Weirton LLC, Civil Action No. 5:14–CV–45.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Northern District of West Virginia
    • April 22, 2015
    ...Stated differently, “a colorable state-law cause of action is a predicate to a § 301 preemption claim.” Washington v. Union Carbide Corp., 870 F.2d 957, 959 (4th Cir.1989).Prior to receipt of the resolution of the certified question, it was not yet clear whether plaintiff had alleged a colo......
  • Blanda v. Martin & Seibert, L.C., No. 19-0317
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of West Virginia
    • November 22, 2019
    ...citations omitted).58 Id.59 Shell , 183 W.Va. at 413, 396 S.E.2d at 180 ((citations omitted)).60 See Washington v. Union Carbide Corp ., 870 F.2d 957, 962–63 (4th Cir. 1989) (finding no retaliatory discharge by private employee under West Virginia’s Occupation Safety and Health Act, which a......
  • West v. J.O. Stevenson, Inc., NO. 7:15-CV-87-FL
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Eastern District of North Carolina
    • February 24, 2016
    ...with its predecessors, ancillary and pendent jurisdiction, have been described as “flexible.” See Washington v. Union Carbide Corp. , 870 F.2d 957, 960 (4th Cir.1989). Nevertheless, the doctrine's flexibility is not endless. Supplemental jurisdiction “does not encompass claims when one coun......
  • Smart v. Local 702 Intern. Broth. of Elec. Workers, No. 07-4088.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • April 7, 2009
    ...without merit); Childers v. Chesapeake & Potomac Tel. Co., 881 F.2d 1259, 1263 (4th Cir.1989) (same); Washington v. Union Carbide Corp., 870 F.2d 957 (4th Cir.1989). Cf. Foy v. Giant Food, Inc., 298 F.3d 284, 290-91 (4th Cir.2002) (observing that the question of whether employer's action in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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