The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey dismissed and remanded a lawsuit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because plaintiff’s unspecified claim for breach of contract did not necessarily implicate Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“Section 301”).
Sharod Brown filed a lawsuit against his former employer, Parsons Inspection and Maintenance Corp. (“Parsons”), in New Jersey Superior Court alleging wrongful termination, discrimination, and breach of contract. Parsons removed the case to federal court based on federal jurisdiction pursuant to Section 301 and then filed a motion to dismiss. Pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, lawsuits brought to enforce the terms of a collective bargaining agreement can be brought in federal court, along with breach of contract claims relating thereto.
The District Court, sua sponte, dismissed the lawsuit and remanded it back to state court holding that defendant’s argument in support of federal jurisdiction was based on speculation. Federal courts have jurisdiction over breach of contract claims that involve interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement. In this matter, although the Complaint specified that plaintiff was a union member, his breach of contract claim did not identify a collective bargaining agreement that Parsons allegedly violated. Therefore, the Court concluded that it could not determine whether plaintiff’s breach of contract implicated the collective bargaining agreement. The Court noted that it could not exercise jurisdiction by assumption.
In many cases, employers may desire to remove to federal court claims involving their union employees. Because the window for removal is so short, it behooves a defendant to file removal papers as soon as a federal question becomes apparent. However, this case demonstrates that courts may be unwilling to permit removal based on a federal question involving Section 301 unless the complaint clearly sets forth a dispute regarding a collective bargaining agreement. If the breach of contract claim is vague, like it was in this case, employers may need to wait to remove the case until the plaintiff clearly identifies the collective bargaining agreement as the contract at issue.