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Martin v. AK Steel Corp.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

February 16, 2017

DAVID D. MARTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
AK STEEL CORPORATION and UNITED AUTO WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION, Defendants.

         ORDER (1) OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS TO THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION (ECF #42), (2) ADOPTING THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION, (3) DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (ECF #31), (4) GRANTING DEFENDANT UAW'S MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF #16), AND (5) DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S CLAIMS AGAINST UAW

          MATTHEW F. LEITMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this action, Plaintiff David Martin (“Martin”) alleges that his union, the United Autoworkers International Union (the “UAW”), breached the duty of fair representation imposed by the National Labor Relations Act when it chose to settle, rather than arbitrate, a grievance that had been filed against Martin's employer on Martin's behalf. (See Compl., ECF #1 at 4, Pg. ID 4.) The UAW has moved to dismiss Martin's claim (ECF #16), and Martin has moved for summary judgment (ECF #31).

         On October, 262016, the assigned Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation (the “R&R”) in which he suggested that the Court (1) grant the UAW's motion and deny Martin's motion. (See ECF #41.) Martin filed timely objections to the R&R (the “Objections”). (See ECF #42.) The Court has conducted a de novo review of the portions of the R&R to which Martin has objected. For the reasons below, the Court OVERRULES the Objections, ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's recommended disposition of the case, GRANTS the UAW's Motion to Dismiss, and DENIES Martin's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         RELEVANT FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         In 2013, AK Steel Corporation (“AK Steel”) terminated Martin's employment on the ground that Martin engaged in a theft of time scheme. (See Compl., ECF #1 at 4, Pg. ID 4.) AK Steel concluded that as part of this scheme, Martin left work in the middle of his shift and then returned to “clock out” minutes before the end of his shift. (See Third Stage Grievance Fact Sheet, ECF #16-1 at 163-164, Pg. ID 448-449.)

         After AK Steel fired Martin, the UAW then filed a grievance against AK Steel on Martin's behalf under the controlling collective bargaining agreement (the “CBA”). (See Id. at 6-8, Pg. ID 6-8.) The UAW assigned one of its representatives, Reggie Ransom (“Ransom”), to handle the grievance on Martin's behalf. (Id.) Ransom ultimately negotiated a settlement of the grievance. (See Settlement Letter, ECF #16-1 at 167-68, Pg. ID 452-53.) The settlement provided for Martin's reinstatement to a different position at AK Steel, restoration of certain seniority rights, and $12, 897 in back pay. (See id.)

         Martin did not accept the settlement because he believed that the UAW should have pursued arbitration of his grievance on his behalf. (See Compl., ECF #1 at 7, Pg. ID 7.) Martin appealed Ransom's decision to settle his grievance to the UAW's Internal Executive Board (the “IEB”). The IEB held an evidentiary hearing on Martin's appeal and denied relief in a written decision dated April 30, 2015 (the “IEB Decision”). (See ECF #16-1 at 171-88, Pg. ID 456-73.) The IEB Decision stated, among other things, that:

Representative Ransom, after a thorough review of the grievance record, concluded he could not prevail before an Arbitrator and we see no reason to disagree with that decision.
Based on the case record and testimony received at the evidentiary hearing, the decision of the National UAW Ford Department was proper and not devoid of rational basis. In addition, there is no evidence that collusion with management, discrimination, or fraud improperly motivated the decision.

(Id. at 188, Pg. ID 473.)

         Martin then appealed the IEB Decision to the UAW's Public Review Board (PRB), and that board affirmed the decision on September 29, 2015. (See PRB Decision, ECF #16-1 at 190-203, Pg. ID 475-88.) The PRB found that:

The company's records confirmed that Martin habitually left the plant and returned to check out toward the end of his shift. Time theft is a dischargeable offense. Despite powerful evidence of Martin's severe misconduct, Representative Ransom convinced the Company not only to reinstate him, but also to pay him a cash settlement. Martin's response to the settlement achieved on his behalf is difficult to understand. We do not know what else Martin hoped to achieve through arbitration of his grievance. He cannot reasonably have expected an arbitrator to order a continuation of the practices that had been discovered in the slab yard.
* * *
Nothing in this record supports a conclusion that Martin was singled out for disparate treatment. Representative Ransom testified before the IEB that the company's assessment of relative fault was reasonable. Martin's examples of employees who might have received more severe penalties do not establish selective application of penalties. These examples would also have been unlikely to persuade an arbitrator to order Martin's reinstatement, particularly in a situation where the company was less than enthusiastic about having this employee back.
* * *
The only basis Martin can assert for relief from this Board is that Ransom's decision to settle the grievance was so irrational it constituted a failure of the union's duty to represent him. The record will not support that claim because the settlement obtained by Representative Ransom was not only rational; it was excellent under the circumstances. The chance of obtaining any remedy from an arbitrator was remote in light [of] Martin's clear violation of the company's rules. It was entirely responsible for the union to decide it would not risk Martin's reinstatement in order to pursue arbitration of the kinds of arguments he has raised.

(Id. at 202-203, Pg. ID 487-88.)

         On February 3, 2013, Martin filed suit in this Court against AK Steel and the UAW under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185 (hereinafter, “Section 301”). (See Compl., ECF #1 at 4, Pg. ID 4.) Martin claims that (1) AK Steel wrongfully terminated his employment in violation of the CBA and (2) the UAW breached its duty of fair representation by pursuing his wrongful termination grievance against AK Steel in a “perfunctory fashion.” (Id. at 4-8, Pg. ID 4-8.)[1] Martin sets forth his criticisms of the UAW in the following paragraphs of his Complaint:[2]

I received a phone call from Reggie Ransom telling me he would be handling my grievance from that point to its conclusion. I never met him until after he settled my grievance and he never asked a single question about my situation. On our first phone conversation he asked me what I wanted. I told him I wanted nothing short of arbitration. He told me he would consider my opinion but that the Union had the final decision. The next phone call I got from him he told me the offer I had already rejected was still on the table. Once again I rejected it and told him all I wanted was for a judge to hear the facts of the case and decide, no matter what I may possibly lose. A few months later, out of nowhere, I received another call from Reggie Ransom telling me he had settled my grievance, and that the matter was done. He gave no expanation or reasoning for his decision.
The terms he agreed to were almost identical to the offer I had twice rejected. The Union told me my only options were to adhere to the terms of the settlement, or I could appeal his decision to the International Executive Board (IEB). I appealed to them and they eventually sided with Reggie Ransom. I then made my last appeal to the Public Review Board (PRB) who did the same.
In his briefing to the IEB in response to my appeal, Regie Ransom claims my case lacked merit. He cites three court precedents granting the Union leeway in settling grievances, then one case similar to mine yet under much different circumstances, a case he himself lost. He also claims I was in violation of rule twenty five in the Code of Conduct.
What Reggie Ransom, the IEB, and the PRB seem to have forgotten is that the Union is only granted this great leeway once minimum standards have been met. They satisfied none of them.
As a Union member in good standing, I had the right to expect that the CBA be fairly and uniformly administered. If that was not to be the case. the grievance process was there to protect against any abuses or inequality in its administration. During the grievance process, I had the right to expect that an investigation would be conducted on my behalf, that due process would be followed, and that it would be conducted with care as my livelihood and future were at stake.
Reggie Ransom and the UAW cannot claim there was a rational basis for concluding that my case lacked merit. He was supposed to conduct an investigation, investigate the facts, then draw his conclusions based on the particulars on my individual case. Instead he cites case law and a grievance unrelated and not germane to my case because he conducted no investigation whatsoever. And in so doing, Reggie Ransom did handle my grievance in a perfunctory fashion and did breach his duty and my right to fair representation.
By citing Rule twenty five, a rule the Company did not claim I violated, by willfully ignoring the positions of both Local 600 and Region 1A, and being unable to point to a single act they performed on my behalf, Reggie Ransom and the UAW International did act against and not for my best interests. For these reasons Reggie Ransoms decision to settle must be considered arbitrary.

         On April 14, 2016, the UAW moved to dismiss Martin's claims (the “Motion to Dismiss”). (See ECF #16.) Martin responded to the Motion to Dismiss on April 26, 2016. (See ECF #19.) On August 31, 2016, Martin also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in which he asks the Court to enter a judgment in his favor in excess of $1, 200, 000. (See ECF #31.)

         The Court referred the parties' motions to the assigned Magistrate Judge. On October, 262016, the Magistrate Judge issued the R&R, in which he recommended that the Court grant the UAW's motion and deny Martin's motion. (See ECF #41.) The Magistrate Judge determined that “several portions of Martin's complaint - as well as documents referenced therein - undermine his conclusory allegation that the [UAW]'s decision to settle his grievance was arbitrary.” (Id. at 11, Pg. ID 667.) On October 31, 2016, Martin filed the Objections, which consist of ten individually-numbered objections to the R&R. (ECF #42.)

         LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING REVIEW OF OBJECTIONS

         When a party has objected to portions of a Magistrate Judge's R&R, the Court reviews those portions de novo. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3); see also Lyons v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 351 F.Supp.2d 659, 661 (E.D. Mich. 2004). The Court has no duty to conduct an independent review of the portions of the R&R to which a party has not objected. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149 (1985).

         LEGAL STANDARDS FOR A MOTION UNDER RULE 12(b)(6)

         Rule 12(b)(6) provides for dismissal of a complaint when a plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). “To survive a motion to dismiss” under Rule 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, 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). A claim is facially plausible when a plaintiff pleads factual content that permits a court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct. Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). When assessing the sufficiency of a plaintiff's claim, a district court must accept all of a complaint's factual allegations as true. See Ziegler v. IBP Hog Mkt., Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 512 (6th Cir. 2001). “Mere conclusions, ” however, “are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While the Court must liberally construe documents filed by a pro se plaintiff, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), a complaint filed by such a plaintiff must still plead sufficiently specific factual allegations, and not just legal conclusions, in support of each claim. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-679.

         LEGAL STANDARDS GOVERNING A CLAIM UNDER SECTION 301 OF THE LMRA

         “The National Labor Relations Act imposes a duty of fair representation on unions that are selected as the exclusive representatives of employees in a bargaining unit.” Renner v. Ford Motor Co., 516 Fed.Appx. 498, 502-03 (6th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). “This duty is not expressly stated in the statute, but derives from ‘the union's status as the employees' exclusive bargaining representative.'” Id. (quotation omitted). Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. 185, authorizes a union member to bring a claim against his union for breach of the duty of fair representation.

         To prevail on his Section 301 claim against the UAW, Martin must prove both that AK Steel breached the CBA and that the UAW breached its duty of fair representation. See DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 164 (1983). A union breaches its duty of fair representation when its “conduct toward a member . . . is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith.” Vaca v. Sipes, 385 U.S. 171, 190 (1967). “Each of these wrongs is mutually independent, meaning, that ‘the three named factors are three separate and distinct possible routes by which a union may be found to have breached its duty.” Garrison v. Cassens Transport Co., 334 F.3d 528, 538 (6th Cir. 2003) (quotation omitted).

         Here, Martin is proceeding solely under the theory that the UAW's decision to settle his grievance was “arbitrary.” (See Compl., ECF #1 at 8, Pg. ID 8.) In order to prevail on such a claim of arbitrariness, a union member must establish that “in light of the factual and legal landscape at the time of the union's actions, the union's behavior [was] so outside ‘a wide range of reasonableness' as to be irrational.” Id. (quotation omitted). In reviewing for arbitrariness, the Court's “substantive examination of a union's performance . . . must be highly deferential.” Air Line Pilots Ass'n Int'l v. O'Neill, 499 U.S. 65, 78. “Mere negligence on the part of the union does not satisfy this requirement. Moreover, ordinary mistakes, errors, or flaws in judgment also will not suffice.” Garrison v. Cassens Transport Co., 334 F.3d 528, 538 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal citations omitted). “Even an unconsidered decision by the union is not necessarily an irrational decision.” Id. at 540 (citing Walk v. P*I*E Nationwide, Inc. 958 F.2d 1323, 1326 (6th Cir. 1992.)). Finally, “[u]nion representatives are not held to the same standard as lawyers.” Baker v. Lear Corp., 2016 WL 4493669, at *8 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 26, 2016) (citing Garrison, 334 F.3d at 539).

         ANALYSIS

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