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Jensen v. Delta Air Lines, Inc.

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

May 10, 2018

Stewart Jensen, Plaintiff,
Delta Air Lines, Inc., Defendant.


          Hon. Gershwin A. Drain United States District Court Judge

         I. Introduction

         Presently before the Court is Defendant Delta Airlines, Inc.'s (“Delta”) Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff brought a breach of contract claim and a claim under the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act after Defendant required Plaintiff to retire due to alcoholism. Defendant asserts that this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims because the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”) preempts his claims. Additionally, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff fails to plead sufficient facts to support his claims. For the reasons discussed below, this Court will grant Defendant's Motion.

         II. Factual Background

         Plaintiff, Stewart Jensen, is a former airline pilot. On June 3, 1985, Republic Airlines hired Plaintiff as an airline pilot. Dkt. No. 1, pg. 2 (Pg. ID 2). In 1986, Northwest Airlines acquired Republic, and Northwest retained Plaintiff as a pilot. Id. at pg. 3 (Pg. ID 3). In 1989, Plaintiff was diagnosed as being chemically dependent on alcohol. Id. Plaintiff then agreed to participate in the Northwest Airlines Pilot Assistance Program (NAPAP) as a part of his recovery. Id. In May 2002, Plaintiff relapsed. Id. As a result of the relapse, Plaintiff entered into an agreement with Northwest Airlines in August 2002 to submit to unannounced tests to detect the consumption of alcohol and illicit drugs in his system. Id.

         In 2008, Northwest merged with Delta-Defendant. Id. Thereafter, Plaintiff became a pilot for Defendant. Id. As a Delta employee, Plaintiff was represented by a union called the Air Line Pilots Association (“ALPA”). Dkt. No. 5, pg. 10 (Pg. ID 38). After the merger, Plaintiff's agreement with Northwest was superseded by two contracts with Delta. Dkt. No. 1, pg. 3 (Pg. ID 3). The first contract (“Contract A”) conditioned Plaintiff's continued employment with Delta on his agreement to submit to blood alcohol tests or drug screens at any time. Id. at pg. 4 (Pg. ID 4). The second contract (“Contract B”), a Last Chance Agreement (“LCA”), incorporated Contract A into it. Id. Contract B stated that any failure by Plaintiff to comply with the contracts would constitute just cause for his discharge. Id. at pg. 18 (Pg. ID 18). Plaintiff signed these contracts on or about July 28, 2010. On or about October 10, 2014, Delta subjected Plaintiff to a phosphatidylethanol (PEth) test, which detected alcohol in Plaintiff's system. Id. at pg. 5 (Pg. ID 5). On November 13, 2014, Defendant's Managing Director then required Plaintiff to choose between retirement and termination. Id. at pg. 8 (Pg. ID 8). Plaintiff requested an extension to make his decision; however, the Managing Director denied this request and commanded Plaintiff to submit retirement paperwork. Id. at pg. 9 (Pg. ID 9). Plaintiff's resignation became effective on November 17, 2014. Id.

         On October 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant. Dkt. No. 1. In the complaint, Plaintiff alleges two counts: breach of contract and a violation of the Michigan Persons with Disabilities Civil Rights Act (“PWDCRA”). Id. at pg. 4, 10 (Pg. ID 4, 10). On January 12, 2018, Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. No. 5. Plaintiff filed a response on January 30, 2018 opposing the Motion. Dkt. No. 8. Defendant filed its reply on February 12, 2018. Dkt. No. 9.

         III. Legal Standard

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) governs motions to dismiss. The court must construe the complaint in favor of the plaintiff, accept the allegations of the complaint as true, and determine whether plaintiff's factual allegations present plausible claims. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “allege enough facts to make it plausible that the defendant bears legal liability.” Agema v. City of Allegan, 826 F.3d 326, 331 (6th Cir. 2016). The facts need to make it more than “merely possible that the defendant is liable; they must make it plausible.” Id. “Bare assertions of legal liability absent some corresponding facts are insufficient to state a claim.” Id. A claim will be dismissed “if the facts as alleged are insufficient to make a valid claim or if the claim shows on its face that relief is barred by an affirmative defense.” Riverview Health Inst., LLC v. Med. Mut. Of Ohio, 601 F.3d 505, 512 (6th Cir. 2010).

         IV. Discussion

         A. Breach of Contract

         Count I of Plaintiff's complaint alleges breach of contract. Dkt. No. 1, pg. 4 (Pg. ID 4). Plaintiff asserts that the PEth test Defendant used to test the presence of alcohol detected alcohol that was in Plaintiff's system due to working on a construction job with denatured alcohol. Id. at pg. 6-7 (Pg. ID 6-7). Therefore, Defendant fired Plaintiff without just cause. See Id. Further, Plaintiff also asserts that Defendant tested him for alcohol after the sixty-month period from his original return to duty in April 2003, in violation of Contract B. Dkt. No. 1, pg. 8 (Pg. ID 8).

         1) Preemption

         Defendant argues that the RLA preempts Plaintiff's breach of contract claim. Dkt. No. 5, pg. 21 (Pg. ID 49). Plaintiff argues that his claim is ...

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