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Gocha v. National Railroad Passenger Corporation

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 12, 2014

RICHARD L. GOCHA, Plaintiff,
v.
NATIONAL RAILROAD PASSENGER CORPORATION (d/b/a AMTRAK), Defendant

Order Filed: July 1, 2013

Page 1305

For Richard L. Gocha, Plaintiff: Jennifer C. Robinson, Robinson & Associates Law Offices, LLC, Aurora, CO.

For National Railroad Passenger Corporation doing business as Amtrak, Defendant: Emily Anne Glunz, Ross Harlan Friedman, Morgan Lewis & Bockius, LLP-Chicago, Chicago, IL.

Page 1306

ORDER ADOPTING MAGISTRATE'S RECOMMENDATIONS (ECF No. 47) AND OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (ECF No. 51)

RAYMOND P. MOORE, United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on United States Magistrate Judge Craig B. Shaffer's Recommendation (" the Recommendation" ) (ECF No. 47) that the Court grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts I and II of Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 12) and that the Court deny Plaintiff's Partial Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 16). Plaintiff has timely objected to the Recommendation. (ECF No. 51). For the reasons below, Plaintiff's objections are OVERRULED, and the Recommendation is ADOPTED.

I. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Standards for Dismissal.

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a defendant may move to dismiss a claim for " failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). " [A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Rule 12(b)(1) empowers a court to dismiss a complaint for " lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1) is not a judgment on the merits of a

Page 1307

plaintiff's case, but only a determination that the court lacks authority to adjudicate the matter. See Castaneda v. INS, 23 F.3d 1576, 1580 (10th Cir. 1994) (recognizing federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only exercise jurisdiction when specifically authorized to do so). A court lacking jurisdiction " must dismiss the cause at any stage of the proceeding in which it becomes apparent that jurisdiction is lacking." Basso v. Utah Power & Light Co., 495 F.2d 906, 909 (10th Cir. 1974). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss " must be determined from the allegations of fact in the complaint, without regard to mere conclusory allegations of jurisdiction." Groundhog v. Keeler, 442 F.2d 674, 677 (10th Cir. 1971). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction. See Basso, 495 F.2d at 909. Accordingly, Plaintiff in this case bears the burden of establishing that this court has jurisdiction to hear his claims.

B. Judgment on the Pleadings.

A motion for judgment on the pleadings " should not be granted unless the moving party has clearly established that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Park Univ. Enters. v. Am. Cas. Co., 442 F.3d 1239, 1244 (10th Cir. 2006), abrogated on other grounds by Magnus, Inc. v. Diamond State Ins. Co., 545 F.App'x 750, 753 (10th Cir. 2013); see also 5A Charles A.Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1367 (3d ed. 2004). The Court accepts all facts pleaded by the non-moving party as true and grant all reasonable inferences from the pleadings in favor of the same." Park Univ. Enters., 442 F.3d at 1244.

C. Reviewing Previously Arbitrated Railway Labor Act Claims.

Section 153 First (q) of the Railway Labor Act (" RLA" ) allows for limited judicial review of a labor board's ruling. The statute provides:

On such review, the findings and order of the division shall be conclusive on the parties, except that the order of the division may be set aside, in whole or in part, or remanded to the division, for failure of the division to comply with the requirements of this chapter, for failure of the order to conform, or confine itself, to matters within the scope of the division's jurisdiction, or for fraud or corruption by a member of the division making the order.

45 U.S.C. § 153 First (q). " Only upon one or more of these bases may a court set aside an order" of a labor board. Union Pacific R.R. Co. v. Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 91, 99 S.Ct. 399, 58 L.Ed.2d 354 (1978). The scope of judicial review of a labor board's decision " is among the narrowest known to law." Robinson v. Union Pacific Railroad, 245 F.3d 1188, 1192 (10th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). See also LB& B Assocs. v. IBEW, Local No. 113, 461 F.3d 1195, 1197 (10th Cir. 2006) (arbitrator's discretion entitled to " profound deference" ) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

" The federal courts do not sit as super arbitration tribunals in suits brought to enforce awards of [the Public Law Board (" PLB" )]. They may not substitute their judgments for those of the Board's divisions. They need not inquire whether substantial evidence supports the Board's awards." Diamond v. Terminal Ry. Ala. State Docks, 421 F.2d 228, 233 (5th Cir. 1970); cf. Loveless v. E. Air Lines, Inc., 681 F.2d 1272, 1276 (11th Cir. 1982) (" It is thus firmly established that courts will not review the substance of a labor arbitration award for ordinary error and that courts will not vacate an award because a judge might have reached a different result." ). It is only when the arbitrator strays from

Page 1308

interpretation and application of the agreement and effectively " dispense[s] his own brand of industrial justice" that his decision may be unenforceable. Steelworkers v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 597, 80 S.Ct. 1358, 4 L.Ed.2d 1424 (1960).

The test " is not whether the reviewing court agrees with the Board's interpretation of the bargaining contract, but whether the remedy fashioned by the Board is rationally explainable as a logical means of furthering the aims of the contract." Brotherhood of Ry., etc. v. Kansas City T. R. Co., 587 F.2d 903, 906-07 (8th Cir. 1978) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Even " improvident...silly factfinding" does not provide a basis for a reviewing court to refuse to enforce an arbitration award. United Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, 484 U.S. 29, 39, 108 S.Ct. 364, 98 L.Ed.2d 286 (1987).

D. Review of the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation.

When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b)(3) requires that the district court judge " determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's [recommendation] that has been properly objected to." In conducting its review, " [t]he district judge may accept, reject, or modify the recommended disposition; receive further evidence; or return the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

II. RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The dispute between the parties in this matter has little to do with the facts. The dispute centers on the actions of a Special Board of Adjustment which heard the facts and issued a decision pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. No party has objected to the recitation of facts set forth in the Recommendation in that section captioned " Statement of the Case." That recitation is adopted by this Court and largely replicated below.

During the period relevant to his suit, Richard L. Gocha (" Plaintiff" ) was a Colorado employee of Defendant, National Railroad Passenger Corporation, d/b/a Amtrak (" Amtrak" ). (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 13). In May 2009, he served as Lead Service Attendant (" LSA" ) with Amtrak's Los Angeles On Board Services Crew Base. ( Id. at ¶ 20). As the LSA, Plaintiff was responsible for accounting for an inventory list that tracks the sale of food and beverages that coach passengers buy aboard the train. ( Id. at ¶ ¶ 23-24). Per Amtrak's rules, the " LSA and the Chef are responsible for ensuring that all paperwork and reports are complete and accurate before submitting to the crew base in the proper report envelope." ( Id. at ¶ 48). Plaintiff was accountable to Amtrak for the difference between the value of the stock at the beginning and the end of the trip. ( Id. at ¶ 22-¶ 24). LSAs and other crew members account for sleeping car passengers' meals on an accounting form by noting a credit for the meal. ( Id. at ¶ 25). Food and beverage items on a sleeping car passenger's meal check reduced the amount of cash an LSA remitted to Amtrak at the end of a trip. ( Id.). Because LSAs were not " charged" for food given to sleeping car passengers, an LSA falsely reporting selling food to a sleeping car passenger could retain the charged item's monetary value.

To guard against this potential for employee theft, Amtrak hires revenue protection consultants to ride its trains posing as sleeping car passengers and report their observations. ( See ECF No. 1 at ¶ 29). On May 7, 2009, Kaye Stewart, a revenue

Page 1309

protection consultant, posed as a sleeping car passenger on an Amtrak route from Los Angeles to Chicago. ( Id. at ¶ 28). Her job was to observe how the crew handled meal checks and dining room procedures. ( Id. at ¶ 29). On May 8, 2009, Stewart alleged that the claim check for her lunch order included a slice of cheesecake which she did not order. Stewart also alleged that she ordered a baked potato, vegetables, and a glass of milk for dinner, but her check showed a steak that she did not order. ( Id. at ¶ 31). Stewart alleges that Plaintiff took her dinner order. ( Id. at ¶ 31, ¶ 32). On or about May 15, 2009, Stewart turned in her report on the May 8, 2009, trip, claiming that she did not order the referenced cheesecake or steak. ( Id. at ¶ 38). Plaintiff was then investigated for the May 8th incident, and found culpable in connection with the submission of altered paperwork which reduced the amount of cash remitted to Amtrak at the end of the trip. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 42). Amtrak subsequently terminated his employment on March 26, 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 50).

A collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ) governs many of the terms of Plaintiff's employment. (ECF No. 1-2). " Section 3 of the RLA establishes a framework for resolving disputes between an employee and carrier over the interpretation of such agreements; first through the grievance procedure in the collective bargaining agreement, and then through mandatory arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board or a special board of adjustment established by the railroad carrier and the union." Reed v. Norfolk S. Ry. Co., No. 12 cv 873, 2013 WL 1791694, at *2 (N.D.Ill. Apr. 26, 2013) (citing 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (i), Second, Union Pac. R.R. v. Bhd. Of Locomotive Eng'rs & Trainmen Gen. Comm. of Adjustment, Cent. Region, 558 U.S. 67, 72, 130 S.Ct. 584, 175 L.Ed.2d 428 (2009)). Plaintiff appealed his termination before Public Law Board (" PLB" ) No. 6896--a Special Board of Adjustment--in accordance with the RLA. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 52). See also Watts v. Union Pac. R. Co., 796 F.2d 1240, 1243 (10th Cir. 1986) ( " Reinstatement actions are within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Railroad Board or special boards of adjustment such as the Public Law Board in this case." ).

The PLB found that " other crew members could have made the marks on the receipts and meal checks that were suspicious." (ECF No. 1-1 at 2). Accordingly, the Board ruled that Plaintiff had been found guilty " on less than solid evidence." ( Id.). The PLB then found that Plaintiff should not have been dismissed and reinstated him, but did so without granting him backpay or benefits. (ECF No. 1-1 at 3). Not satisfied with this result, Plaintiff initiated the instant lawsuit on December 3, 2012, alleging jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (ECF No. 1 at 3 ¶ 11). He proceeds " pursuant to Section 3 First of the Railway Labor Act (" RLA" ), which grants aggrieved parties the right to seek to set aside and remand, in whole or in part, a decision of an arbitral system board (here, the PLB) for 'failure to conform, or confine itself, to matters within the scope of the [board's] jurisdiction.'" ( See ECF No. 1 at 1 (citing 45 U.S.C. § 152 First (q)).

Plaintiff originally set forth three claims in his lawsuit: (1) that the PLB exceeded its jurisdiction by denying him backpay and benefits; (2) that the PLB was without jurisdiction to adjudicate the merits of the charges against him because they were not timely submitted; and (3) that Amtrak discriminated against him because of his race, violating 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a). (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 61-¶ 87). Since Plaintiff filed his Complaint, the parties have stipulated that claim three--Plaintiff's racial discrimination claim--be dismissed, and the Court has so ordered. (ECF Nos. 52 & 53). On

Page 1310

January 14, 2013, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts I and II of Plaintiff's Complaint. (ECF No. 12). On January 22, 2013, Plaintiff responded by written response and by filing his Partial Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment. On July 1, 2013, Magistrate Judge Craig Shaffer issued a recommendation that Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Counts I and II be dismissed pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which ...


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