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Griffin v. Compass Group USA, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

June 30, 2017



          John A. Gibney, Jr. United States District Judge.

         The pro se plaintiff, Bernice B. Griffin, brings this breach of contract case against the defendant, Compass Group USA, Inc. ("Compass Group"). Griffin brings three breach of contract claims alleging entitlement to vacation and sick pay. Compass Group moved to dismiss Griffin's claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court grants the motion to dismiss. Federal law preempts Griffin's state law breach of contract claim, and her failure to exhaust the grievance procedures as required by the Labor Management Relations Act (the "LMRA") bars her second claim. Griffin's third claim under 41 U.S.C. § 6503 does not apply to the employment contract in dispute, so it also fails.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Griffin worked for Compass Group as a cashier from 1977 until 2015. In November 2015, Griffin underwent surgery for carpel tunnel in both hands. She remained absent from work until June 1, 2016, when she retired. A collectively-bargained Labor Agreement (the "CBA") between Compass Group and Griffin's union governed the terms of her employment. (Dk. No. 8-1.)[1] Griffin says Compass Group should have paid for her accumulated 45 vacation days and 55 sick days. In response, Compass Group says she should have brought her claim under the CBA's mandatory grievance procedure-a four-step process culminating in binding arbitration if necessary. Griffin does not claim to have followed this procedure in her complaint, and she ultimately concedes that she did not do so in her opposition to the motion to dismiss.

         II. STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require a plaintiffs complaint to contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). In cases where the plaintiff appears pro se, courts do not expect the pro se plaintiff to frame legal issues with the clarity and precision expected from lawyers. Accordingly, courts construe pro se complaints liberally. Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 11S F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). This principle of liberal construction, however, has its limits. Id. Courts do not need to discern the unexpressed intent of the plaintiff or to conjure up issues on the plaintiffs behalf. See Later v. Harvey, 438 F.3d 404, 413 n.3 (4th Cir. 2006); Beaudett, 775 F.2d at 1276.

         Compass Group has moved to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A Rule 12(b)(6) motion gauges the sufficiency of a complaint. Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd, 822 F.3d 159, 165 (4th Cir. 2016). When considering the complaint itself, courts must accept all allegations as true and must draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Nemet Chevrolet, Ltd. v., Inc., 591 F.3d 250, 253 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999)). The principle that a court must accept all allegations as true, however, does not apply to legal conclusions. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Considering the facts in light of these principles, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint must contain sufficient facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. Id. "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." Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 565 (2007)).


         Griffin brings three counts, all of which fail to survive the motion to dismiss. Count one, a breach of contract claim brought under state law, is preempted by the LMRA and thus fails. The second count, brought under § 301 of the LMRA, fails because Griffin does not plead exhaustion of the grievance procedures required by the CBA governing her employment. Count three, brought under 41 U.S.C. § 6503, concerns public contracts made with a United States agency and does not apply to this case.

         A. Federal pre-emption precludes Griffin's state law claim

         Griffin's state law breach of contract claim fails because it is preempted by § 301 of the LMRA. "[W]hen resolution of a state-law claim is substantially dependent upon analysis of the terms of an agreement made between the parties in a labor contract, that claim must ... be treated as a § 301 claim." Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 220 (1985). Further, "the preemptive force of § 301 is so powerful as to displace entirely any state cause of action for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization." McCormick v. AT&T Techs. Inc., 934 F.2d 531, 534 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Franchise Tax Bd. of the State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1 (1983)). Griffin claims that Compass Group owes her for vacation and sick time under the terms of the CBA. Deciding the merits of this claim would require the Court to interpret the language of the CBA to determine her eligibility. Nat'l Metalcrafters, Div. of Keystone Consol Indus, v. McNeil, 784 F.2d 817, 824 (7th Cir. 1986) (finding state law claims preempted where the "only basis of the state-law claim . . . [was] that the company broke its contract to grant vacation pay of a certain amount"). Griffin's state law claim is therefore preempted, and Count one fails.[2]

         B. The LMRA requires a good faith exhaustion of grievance procedures before bringing a claim

         Griffin's LMRA claim fails because she did not exhaust the grievance procedures required by the CBA. Before filing suit under § 301, an employee "must exhaust any exclusive grievance and arbitration" procedures contained within the governing CBA. Clayton v. International Union, 451 U.S. 679, 681 (1981). The complaint must allege facts to demonstrate the exhaustion of such remedies in order to survive a motion to dismiss. Kelly v. Philip Morris, Inc., No. 1:02CV00959, 2003 WL 168425, at *3 (M.D. N.C. Jan. 22, 2003) ("Plaintiffs fail to allege any facts showing that they have exhausted or even sought the grievance ...

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