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Hyde v. Iatse Local Union 64

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

January 29, 2019




         I. Procedural History

         The above-styled civil action is before this Court as a result of a notice of removal filed by the defendant pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441 and 1446. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff's amended complaint (ECF No. 1-2) alleges claims primarily related to workplace sexual harassment of plaintiff during various theatrical events in the local area beginning in 2016.[1] ECF No. 1-2. Defendants assert federal jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question) by contending that plaintiff has asserted claims that are completely preempted by § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185. ECF No. 1 at 2.

         The plaintiff, Christie Hyde (“Hyde”), commenced this civil action in the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia, and filed her amended complaint against the above-named defendants International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees Local Union 64 (the “Local Union”), Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board (“Auditorium Board”), Greater Wheeling Sport and Entertainment Authority (“Entertainment Authority”), and Frank Scarnechia (“Scarnechia”) (hereinafter collectively, “defendants”).

         In her amended complaint, plaintiff asserts the following counts against the defendants: Count I-Sexual Harassment-Hostile Work Environment-Frank Scarnechia; Count II-Sexual Harassment-Quid Pro Quo-Frank Scarnechia; Count III-Sexual Harassment-Strict Liability of Employer-Local 64; Count IV-Spoilation of Evidence-Frank Scarnechia; Count V-Sexual Harassment-Strict Liability of Employer-Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board; Count VI-Sexual Harassment-Strict Liability of Employer-Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority; Count VII-Sexual Harassment-Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress-Frank Scarnechia; Count VIII-Sexual Harassment-Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress-Local 64; Count IX-Sexual Harassment-Wrongful Termination-Local 64; Count X-Sexual Harassment-Wrongful Termination-Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board; Count XI-Sexual Harassment-Wrongful Termination -Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority; Count XII-Retaliatory Discharge-Local 64; Count XIII-Retaliatory Discharge-Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority; Count XIV-Retaliatory Discharge-Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board; Count XV-Punitive Damages-Local 64; Count XVI-Punitive Damages-Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board; Count XVII-Punitive Damages-Greater Wheeling Sports and Entertainment Authority. ECF No. 1-2.

         Defendants timely filed a notice of removal and contend that plaintiff has asserted claims that are completely preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. ECF No. 1. Defendants argue that the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) (ECF No. 1-3) between Local 64 and the Entertainment Authority must be interpreted in order to determine whether plaintiff was considered an “employee” of defendant Entertainment Authority. Id. at 3. Defendants also argue that the CBA must be analyzed and interpreted to determine what duty, if any, was owed by the Entertainment Authority to the plaintiff regarding her claims of sexual harassment and whether the Entertainment Authority breached any duty owed. Id. Defendants further contend that the CBA must be interpreted to determine who selected those who worked, who supervised, who contracted, and who directed plaintiff at time of the alleged sexual harassment. Id.

         Defendants assert that the CBA must be construed and interpreted and the parties' respective duties and obligations described before the state law claim of sexual harassment can be addressed, noting that “[t]o the extent that any state law claims are asserted here with LMRA preemption, such claims are within this Court's supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.” Id. at 4. Lastly, defendants note that removal is not agreed upon by all defendants. However, consent is not required as this removal falls under one of the three recognized exceptions to the rule of unanimity, where the removed claim is a separate and independent claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c). Bell v. Werner Enterprises, Inc., No. 5:11CV18, 2011WL 1297115, at *4 (N.D. W.Va. Apr. 5, 2011). This civil action contains claims arising under the LMRA and thus, unanimity of the defendants is not required.

         In accordance with the assertion that plaintiff's claims are completely preempted, defendants Entertainment Authority and the Local Union then filed motions to dismiss (ECF Nos. 7, 8) pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12b(6) and 12 (b)(7). Defendant Entertainment Authority asserts that plaintiff's claims against the Wheeling Municipal Auditorium Board must be dismissed because this entity is no longer in existence, and that plaintiff's claims against the Entertainment Authority fail because neither the plaintiff nor defendant Scarnechia were its employees. Defendant Local Union argues that the amended complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted because it seeks common law claims against the Local Union which is an unincorporated labor organization and not a person under West Virginia common law for which common law claims cannot be based as a matter of law, and otherwise fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

         In response, plaintiff filed a motion to remand, claiming that its claims are not completely preempted and that, as such, this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this matter. ECF No. 10.[2] In plaintiff's motion to remand, she argues that the removal of this action by defendant Entertainment Authority is improper in that defendant attempts to force federal question jurisdiction upon this matter by merely referencing the LMRA, when the plaintiff is not nor has she ever been a member of the Local Union. Plaintiff asserts that there is no clear and unequivocal issue to secure federal removal jurisdiction and states that the plaintiff's complaint does not allege issues that are solely vested in the jurisdiction of the federal courts, as sexual harassment is not a federal cause of action alone. Plaintiff contends that defendants' attempt to rely on the doctrine of complete preemption and a fragile link to the LMRA as a “jurisdictional thread” to pull this case from state court and remove this matter to federal court fails. ECF No. 10 at 35.

         Defendants Auditorium Board and Entertainment Authority filed a response in opposition to the plaintiff's motion to remand. ECF No. 11. In response, defendants assert that “[t]he fundamental threshold issue is who is the employer and what are the responsibilities [sic] under the collective bargaining agreement.” ECF No. 11 at 1. Defendants argue that plaintiff has specifically alleged different defendants may be employees who have responsibility for alleged sexual harassment in the workplace. Defendants contend that the employer-employee relationship is controlled by the CBA which solely must be interpreted by this federal court before anyone can begin to address the sexual harassment claims. ECF No. 11 at 1. Ultimately, defendants assert that plaintiff's claims, under the current facts, are completely preempted by § 301 of the LMRA because the Court must consult and interpret the collective bargaining agreement between defendants and Local Union in order to resolve the issues presented in plaintiff's causes of action. ECF No. 11 at 3-4. Defendants assert that the complaint itself clearly establishes federal jurisdiction and that plaintiff's non-union status is not relevant to the federal question present.

         The plaintiff filed a reply to defendants' response in opposition. ECF No. 13. In reply, the plaintiff argues that the fundamental threshold issue is misstated by defendants. Plaintiff asserts that the threshold issue is whether the plaintiff is subject to the collective bargaining agreement without union membership and whether her right to be free from workplace sexual harassment is an issue for federal courts based upon the thinnest connection to a union contract. ECF No. 13 at 2.

         This Court has now reviewed the applicable law as well as the memoranda submitted in support of and in opposition to the motion to remand. For the reasons that follow, this Court grants the plaintiff's motion to remand and remands this case to the Circuit Court of Ohio County, West Virginia for further proceedings. As a result, this Court also denies the defendants' motions to dismiss as moot and without prejudice subject to refiling in state court.

         II. Applicable Law

         A. Rem ...

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