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Caldwell v. Koppers, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Florence Division

October 31, 2014

Peter J. Caldwell, Willie Barr, Tommy Bass, James Burnett, Rondal Briggs, Brad Britt, Joseph Coker, Lynn Cooper, Bruce Echols, McCall Ford, Roland Ford, Walter Ford, Harold Frasier, Leroy Fulton, Walter Gibson, Shelton Hawkins, Jeffery Mack, Tony Planter, Prince Pressley, Stephen Sellers, Willie Shepherd, Robert Singletary, Lindsey Timmons, Plaintiffs,
v.
Koppers, Inc., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

BRUCE HOWE HENDRICKS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the defendant Koppers, Inc.'s ("the defendant") Motion to Dismiss and to Stay Discovery. (ECF No. 13.) The case was removed from the Court of Common Pleas, County of Florence, South Carolina on December 5, 2013, by the defendant. (ECF No. 1.) In their complaint, the plaintiffs assert causes of action for breach of contact and violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, S.C. Code Ann. § 41-10-10, et seq. (ECF No.1-1.)

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The plaintiffs were employed by the defendant at its facility located in Florence, South Carolina. (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 4.) The plaintiffs each were members of a "bargaining unit" represented by Local Lodge No. W77 of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. Id. ¶ 4. The terms and conditions of the plaintiffs' employment were covered by a Labor Agreement between the defendant and the Local W77, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, for the period of time prior to October 31, 2010, and then subsequently by a Labor Agreement, effective November 1, 2010 (hereinafter referred to as "prior Agreement" and "Agreement" respectively). Id. ¶¶ 12, 13.

Under the prior Agreement, individual employees' vacation pay was calculated based upon each employee's date of hiring. (Compl. ¶ 13.) Under the new Agreement, vacation pay for all employees was calculated on a calendar year basis. Id. ¶ 14.

In their Complaint, the plaintiffs allege that the defendant failed to adequately provide or to compensate them for vacation time which had accrued under the prior Agreement, and that such alleged failure amounts to a breach of contract and a violation of the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, S.C. Code § 41-10-10, et. seq.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A plaintiff's complaint should set forth "a short and plain statement... showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Rule 8 "does not require detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfullyharmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To show that the plaintiff is "entitled to relief, " the complaint must provide "more than labels and conclusions, " and "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. In considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "accepts all well-pled facts as true and construes these facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff...." Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v. Consumeraffairs.com, Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 255 (4th Cir. 2009). Notably, "legal conclusions, elements of a cause of action, and bare assertions devoid of further factual enhancement" do not qualify as well pled facts.

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must state "a plausible claim for relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Stated differently, "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not show[n]' - that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). Still, Rule 12(b)(6) "does not countenance... dismissals based on a judge's disbelief of a complaint's factual allegations." Colon Health Centers of Am., LLC v. Hazel, 733 F.3d 535, 545 (4th Cir. 2013) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989)). "A plausible but inconclusive inference from pleaded facts will survive a motion to dismiss...." Sepulveda-Villarini v. Dep't of Educ. of Puerto Rico, 628 F.3d 25, 30 (1st Cir. 2010) (Souter, J.).

DISCUSSION

The defendant contends that the plaintiffs' claims should be dismissed as having been preempted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") of 1947, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). Section 301 of the LMRA states: "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. § 185(a). To ensure uniform interpretation of collective bargaining agreements ("CBA") and to protect the power of arbitrators, see Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 211, 219 (1985), Section 301 has been found to "displace entirely any state cause of action for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization, " Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 23 (1983) (internal quotation omitted). In Section 301 cases federal law applies, "which the courts must fashion from the policy of our national labor laws." Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 456 (1957).

Section 301 preempts state law claims when their resolution depends upon the meaning of the CBA, or when resolution of the state law claim is "inextricably intertwined with consideration of the terms of the labor contract." Owen v. Carpenters' Dist. Council, 161 F.3d 767, 773 (4th Cir.1998) (citing Lingle v. Norge Div. of Magic Chef, Inc., 486 U.S. 399, 405-06 (1988), and Allis-Chalmers, 471 U.S. at 213 (1985)); Anselmo v. W. Paces Hotel Grp., LLC, 2011 WL 1049195, at *5 (D.S.C. Mar. 18, 2011). "[I]t is the legal character of a claim, as independent of rights under the [CBA] (and not whether a grievance arising from precisely the same set of facts could be pursued) that decides whether a state cause of action may go forward." Livadas v. Bradshaw, 512 U.S. 107, 123-24 (1994) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Section 301 does not preempt state contract rights that are independent of a [CBA], Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 396 (1987), or "nonnegotiable rights conferred on individual employees as a matter of state law, " Davis v. Bell Atlantic-West Virginia, Inc., 110 F.3d 245, 247-48 (4th Cir.1997) (citing Livadas, 512 U.S. at 123).

In this present case, the matter does not even feel like a close call, frankly. The United States Supreme Court has stated directly:

Thus, questions relating to what the parties to a labor agreement agreed, and what legal consequences were intended to flow from breaches of that agreement, must be resolved by reference to uniform federal law, whether such questions arise in the context of a ...

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