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Lewis v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

June 27, 2013

JOSEPH LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON METROPOLITAN AREA TRANSIT AUTHORITY et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WILLIAMS, Jr., District Judge.

Pending before the Court are Defendants' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment and Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court has reviewed the record and deems a hearing unnecessary. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is natural person who resides in Rockville, Maryland. Defendant Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is a transportation agency that, inter alia, provides bus services in the DC metro area. Defendant ATU Local 689 (ATU) is the local branch of the Amalgamated Transit Union. ATU is the bargaining representative for WMATA employees.

On October 29, 2007, WMATA hired Plaintiff, whereupon Plaintiff started training as a bus driver. Doc. No. 49-2. On December 30, 2007, Plaintiff completed his training and became a bus driver. See Doc. No. 49-3. WMATA and ATU are parties to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) that generally sets the terms, benefits, and conditions of employment for WMATA employees.

Defendants allege that, on February 18, 2008, Plaintiff was involved in a verbal altercation with another WMATA bus driver. WMATA alleges that Plaintiff "approached an operator... [and began] yelling obscenities, racial slurs, and making violent threats of harm and sexual gestures at him, while in the presence of customers." Doc. No. 49-3. Plaintiff disputes that he engaged in an altercation and asserts that the allegations of the other bus driver "were disproven by a witness." Doc. No. 52 at 1. On March 11, 2008, WMATA terminated Plaintiff based on the foregoing allegations. See id. In WMATA's March 11, 2008 Memorandum terminating Plaintiff, WMATA stated that Plaintiff was not entitled to file a grievance because it was dismissing him prior to the completion of his 90-day probationary period. See id. at 2. ATU also maintains that Plaintiff was "still in his 90-day probationary period at the time of his termination." Doc. No. 50 at 2.

Thereafter, Plaintiff asked ATU to grieve his termination. See Doc. No. 51-4; Doc. No. 52 at 2. Plaintiff asserts that he made repeated requests to this effect and that multiple ATU representatives refused them, including "its President and [its] Counsel" Doc. No. 52 at 2. On June 30, 2009, ATU informed Plaintiff that it would not be filing a grievance disputing his discharge. Doc. No. 51-4.

On or around March 11, 2011, Plaintiff filed this action in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. Defendants removed the case on April 21, 2011. Through counsel, Plaintiff filed a Complaint containing seven Counts. Nominally, they are: (1) breach of contract; (2) specific performance; (3) reformation; (4) unjust enrichment; (5) promissory estoppel; (6) intentional misrepresentation; and (7) constructive fraud. Although the Complaint is ten pages long, it is redundant and boils down to the following allegations: (1) Plaintiff lost the money he paid ATU because ATU failed to represent him; (2) Plaintiff lost his job and associated benefits because ATU failed to represent him; (3) Plaintiff wants Defendants to arbitrate his termination; (4) Defendants misrepresented that Plaintiff could grieve his termination; (5) Defendants maliciously and/or recklessly disregarded his rights under the CBA; and (6) ATU should refund his union dues. Apparently, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint while the action pended in state court. Doc. No. 10-1. The Amended Complaint is substantively the same as the Complaint.

WMATA answered on April 21, 2011. Doc. No. 8. Before ATU answered, the Court granted Plaintiff's counsel's Motion to Withdraw. See Doc. Nos. 18, 21. Subsequently, Plaintiff, acting pro se, served process on ATU, after which ATU answered. Doc. No. 25. Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (IFP Motion) and a Motion to Appoint Counsel. In an Order issued on October 10, 2012, the Court granted Plaintiff's IFP Motion and denied his Motion to Appoint Counsel. Doc. No. 38.

At the close of discovery, the Parties cross-moved for summary judgment. Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is a short document in which Plaintiff argues that, based on the language of the CBA and relevant extrinsic evidence, he was entitled to union representation and grievance procedures when WMATA terminated him. See Doc. No. 49-1. ATU lodged its Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment on April 22, 2013. See Doc. No. 51-1. ATU characterizes Plaintiff's case as a hybrid wrongful discharge/breach of duty of fair representation action and argues that the six-month statute of limitations applicable to such cases bars Plaintiff's claims. ATU also argues that Plaintiff's claims fail because (1) he failed to exhaust an internal appeals process; (2) ATU's decision not to represent him was not arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith; and (3) Plaintiff's grievance had no merit. WMATA filed a Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment in which it raises essentially the same arguments. Doc. No. 50.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate only "if the movant shows that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). The Court must "draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, including questions of credibility and of the weight to be accorded to particular evidence." Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must come forward with affidavits or similar evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A disputed fact presents a genuine issue "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Material disputes are those that "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id. Although the Court should believe the evidence of the nonmoving party and draw all justifiable inferences in his or her favor, the nonmoving party cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact "through mere speculation or the building of one inference upon another." See Beal v. Hardy, 769 F.2d 213, 214 (4th Cir. 1985). Further, if a party "fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact as required by Rule 56(c), the court may consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2). Finally, hearsay statements or conclusory statements with no evidentiary basis cannot support or defeat a motion for summary judgment. See Greensboro Prof'l Firefighters Ass'n, Local 3157 v. City of Greensboro, 64 F.3d 962, 967 (4th Cir. 1995).

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

Although Defendants have raised various arguments in support of their respective Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment, the case boils down to two basic issues: (1) whether Defendants had a contractual duty under the CBA to participate in a grievance process; and (2) whether the statute of limitations has expired on Plaintiff's allegedly hybrid breach of contract/breach of fair duty of ...


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