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Oltmanns v. International Longshoremen's Association Local 1475 Clerks And Checkers Union, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division

July 8, 2019

JUSTIN OLTMANNS, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMEN'S ASSOCIATION LOCAL 1475 CLERKS AND CHECKERS UNION, INC.; and GEORGIA STEVEDORE ASSOCIATION, INC.; Defendants.

          ORDER

          R. STAN BAKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Presently before the Court are Defendant International Longshoreman's Association Local 1475 Clerks and Checkers Union, Inc.'s (“ILA”) Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 20), Plaintiff's Response and Request for Leave to Amend Complaint, (doc. 27), and Defendant Georgia Stevedore Association, Inc.'s (“GSA”) Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 30). Plaintiff Justin Oltmanns filed this case pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”). (Doc. 1 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 185).) In response to ILA's first Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 10), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint and added GSA as a Defendant, (doc. 16). ILA then filed its second Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 20), Plaintiff filed a Response and Request for Leave to Amend, (doc. 27), and GSA filed its first Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 30). ILA and GSA both filed Responses in opposition of Plaintiff's request. (Docs. 34, 35). For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS Defendant ILA's Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 20), GRANTS Defendant GSA's Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 30), and DENIES Plaintiff's Request for Leave to Amend, (doc. 27).

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff works for Defendant GSA as a dec Port of Savannah in Savannah, Georgia.[1] (Doc. 16, p. 2; doc. 30, p. 4.) Plaintiff is also a member of Defendant ILA-the International Longshoreman's Association and its local organization, Local 1475-and has been a member in good standing since 2007. (Doc. 16, p. 2.) Pursuant to an agreement reached by Defendants in 2013, ILA serves as the collective bargaining representative for GSA-employed workers performing deck and dockmen work (“deck and dockmen”). (Doc. 20, pp. 2- 3.) This agreement is reflected in a document titled “Memorandum of Understanding” (the “MOU”).[2] (Id. at p. 3; doc. 16, p. 4.) The MOU outlines the duties of the deck and dockmen, provides that ILA is responsible for assigning work to deck and dockmen, and sets forth a priority system for ILA to follow when assigning available jobs. (Doc. 1-2, p. 2-3; see doc. 34, p. 2.) It also incorporates the “Clerk and Checker's Agreement of Local 1475, ”-the collective bargaining agreement between Defendants-subject to the terms and modifications set forth in the MOU. (Doc. 20, p. 3.) The collective bargaining agreement had previously only applied to individuals working as clerks and checkers in the Port of Savannah. (Id., pp. 2-3; see doc. 16, p. 4.)

         Although he is employed as a deck and dockmen, Plaintiff receives clerk and checker assignments when such work is available through something called the “Z-4 Extra List.” (Doc. 16, p. 2.) Clerk and checker work is assigned based on a worker's “seniority” status. (See id. at p. 3.) Per the collective bargaining agreement, seniority is to be “decided and enforced on a local basis;” here, the local seniority system for clerks and checkers is governed by the Savannah Clerks and Checkers Seniority Plan (the “Seniority Plan”).[3] (Doc. 20, p. 2; doc. 20-2, p. 3; doc. 20-3.) The Seniority Plan provides that clerks and checkers seniority “shall be enjoyed” by individuals employed as clerks and checkers who work “700 or more hours” during a contract year. (Doc. 20-3, pp. 2-4; doc. 16, p. 3.) According to Plaintiff, “past port practice” has been to allow deck and dockmen hours to transfer for clerks and checkers seniority, and that clerks and checkers accrue hours for seniority classification by working as deck and dockmen. (Doc. 16, p. 3.) However, the MOU, the collective bargaining agreement, and the Seniority Plan are all silent on the issue of “crossover” hours. (Id. at pp. 3-4.) Because he worked as a deck and dockmen for over 700 hours in contract year 2014-2015 and over 1100 hours in 2015-2016, Plaintiff contends that he qualifies for clerks and checkers seniority. (Doc. 16, p. 3.) Plaintiff asserts that he “has not been afforded that right.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed a grievance regarding “the discrepancy in the seniority classifications, ” arguing that the hours he worked as deck and dockmen entitle him to clerks and checkers seniority. (Id. at p. 4; doc. 20, p. 3.) According to the Amended Complaint, his grievance was considered by the “Port Grievance Committee.” (Doc. 16, p. 5.) The collective bargaining agreement establishes that the Port Grievance Committee is a dispute-resolution entity comprised of four individuals. (Doc. 20-2, p. 4.) GSA and ILA each have one representative on the committee. (Id.) On February 13, 2018, Plaintiff and both Defendants attended a grievance hearing where the Port Grievance Committee informed Plaintiff that his grievance would be “tabled due to pending litigation.” (Doc. 16, p. 5.) According to Plaintiff, there was no litigation pending at that time. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on August 9, 2018, alleging that ILA breached its duty of fair representation in violation of Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”) and requesting attorney's fees. (Doc. 1.) After ILA filed its first Motion to Dismiss, (doc. 10), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, adding GSA as a defendant and alleging that both ILA and GSA violated Section 301 of the LMRA by breaching their duties of fair representation (Count I). (Doc. 16, p. 5.) Plaintiff also reasserted his claim for attorney's fees (Count II). (Id. at p. 6.) ILA then filed its second Motion to Dismiss, which is presently before the Court. (Doc. 20.) In that Motion, ILA argues that when a duty of fair representation claim is brought pursuant to Section 301 of the LMRA, a plaintiff must plausibly allege both: “(a) that his employer breached the collective bargaining agreement; and, (b) that the union breached its duty of fair representation.” (Id. at p. 5.) ILA contends that Plaintiff has failed to make either showing. (Id. at pp. 5-8.) ILA also maintains that attorney's fees are not recoverable for this type of claim. (Id. at pp. 9-10.)

         In his Response, Plaintiff first argues that courts may grant attorney's fees when there is an equitable basis to do so. (Doc. 27, p. 4.) The Response also contains Plaintiff's Request for Leave to Amend Complaint, wherein Plaintiff “concede[s]” that GSA was “mislabeled” in the Amended Complaint and requests permission to remedy the error. (Id. at p. 4.) In his proposed Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff again relies on Section 301 of the LMRA and reasserts the duty of fair representation claim against ILA. (Doc. 27-1.) However, Plaintiff asserts a separate claim against GSA for breach of the collective bargaining agreement. (Id.) GSA then filed its first Motion to Dismiss, reiterating ILA's contentions that Plaintiff has not adequately pled his claim. (Doc. 30, p. 4-6.) Additionally, GSA and ILA both filed Responses in opposition to Plaintiff's Request to Amend. (Docs. 34, 35). Defendants argue that Plaintiff should not be granted leave to amend because the proposed amendments would be futile. (Doc. 34, p. 5; doc. 35, p. 4.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         As noted above, Defendants move for dismissal of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Docs. 20, 30.). However, Plaintiff requests leave to amend the Amended Complaint to remedy the deficiencies raised by ILA in its Motion. (Doc. 27, p. 4.) If the Court were to give Plaintiff leave to amend, the proposed Second Amended Complaint would “supersede[] the initial complaint and become[] the operative pleading in the case.” Lowery v. Ala. Power Co., 483 F.3d 1184, 1219 (11th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). In that instance, the Court could not rule on Defendants' Motions “because the motion[s] [would] seek[] to dismiss a pleading that has been superseded.” Wimberly v. Broome, No. 6:15-CV-23, 2016 WL 3264346, at *1 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 29, 2016) (collecting cases). Accordingly, the Court must resolve Plaintiff's Request for Leave to Amend prior to ruling on Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a), a plaintiff may amend once as a matter of right-here, Plaintiff exercised that right by filing the Amended Complaint. (Doc. 16.) As to all other amendments, a plaintiff may only amend “with the opposing party's written consent or with the court's leave” which the court “should freely give . . . when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). “The district court, however, need not ‘allow an amendment . . . where amendment would be futile.'” Corsello v. Lincare, Inc., 428 F.3d 1008, 1014 (11th Cir. 2005). According to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, “[a] proposed amendment may be denied for futility ‘when the complaint as amended would still be properly dismissed.'” Coventry First, LLC v. McCarty, 605 F.3d 865, 870 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted); see Christman v. Walsh, 416 Fed.Appx. 841, 844 (11th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (explaining that a proposed amendment would be futile where “the amended complaint would not survive a motion to dismiss.”). Thus, a court considering whether an amendment would be futile must assess the proposed amendments under the same standard as would be applied to a motion to dismiss. See Christman, 416 Fed.Appx. at 844 (reciting Rule 12(b)(6) standard of review when considering lower court's denial of a motion to amend); Stripling v. Jordan Prod. Co., 234 F.3d 863, 873 (5th Cir. 2000) (“[T]o determine futility, [courts should] apply “the same standard of legal sufficiency as applies under Rule 12(b)(6).”).

         A court reviewing the sufficiency of a pleading under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must “accept[] the allegations in the complaint as true and constru[e] them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Belanger v. Salvation Army, 556 F.3d 1153, 1155 (11th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). “A complaint must state a facially plausible claim for relief, and ‘[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'” Wooten v. Quicken Loans, Inc., 626 F.3d 1187, 1196 (11th Cir. 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action'” does not suffice. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). While a court must accept all factual allegations in a complaint as true, this tenet “is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, ” are insufficient. Id. Rather, the complaint must “give the defendant fair notice of what the [plaintiff's] claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citation and internal quotations omitted).

         Here, the facts that Plaintiff asserts in the proposed Second Amended Complaint are identical to those in the Amended Complaint. (Docs. 16, 27-1.) The only material difference between the two pleadings is the addition of a claim against GSA for breach of the collective bargaining agreement in the proposed Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. 27-1, p. 5.) As such, the Court's determination as to whether the proposed Second Amended Complaint would survive a motion to dismiss necessarily applies to the Amended Complaint as well. Therefore, the Court's analysis will refer to both pleadings where possible and will focus on the proposed Second Amended Complaint where it differs from its predecessor. To the extent that the proposed Second Amended Complaint successfully states a claim for relief, the Court will grant Plaintiff's request to amend and deny Defendants' Motions as moot. To the extent that the proposed Second Amended Complaint's amendment would be futile, the Amended Complaint would similarly ...


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