Miranda v. Natl Postal Mail ( 2007 )

  •                                                        United States Court of Appeals
                                                                    Fifth Circuit
                                                                 F I L E D
                   IN THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS         January 30, 2007
                             FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT           Charles R. Fulbruge III
                                 No. 06-50460
                               Summary Calendar
    NATIONAL POSTAL MAIL, National Postal Mail Handlers Union;
               Appeal from the United States District Court
                     for the Western District of Texas
                              No. MO-06-CV-012
    Before DeMOSS, STEWART, and PRADO, Circuit Judges.
    Per Curiam:*
         Plaintiff-Appellant Manuel Banles Miranda (“Miranda”)
    appeals a district court order granting summary judgment to
    Defendants-Appellees National Postal Mail Handlers Union
    (“NPMHU”) and its Local 311 (collectively, “Defendants”). For the
           Pursuant to 5TH CIRCUIT RULE 47.5, the court has determined
    that this opinion should not be published and is not precedent
    except under the limited circumstances set forth in 5TH CIRCUIT
    RULE 47.5.4.
    reasons that follow, we AFFIRM the judgment of the district
         Miranda has been an employee of the United States Postal
    Service (“USPS”) since 1981. He began there in a mail handler
    position in the Odessa, Texas post office and in 1989 was
    transferred to a mail handler position at the Midland Processing
    and Distribution Facility. Defendant NPMHU is the exclusive
    bargaining representative for members of the mail handler craft
    employed by USPS, and Defendant Local 311 represents the mail
    handlers at the Midland facility.
         In June 2001, Miranda voluntarily transferred to a letter
    carrier position in Odessa, Texas, a position outside the mail
    handler craft. In January 2002, however, he returned to a mail
    handler position in Midland, Texas. Sometime after Miranda’s
    return, he discovered that he had lost his seniority due to his
    transfer. Because he returned to a mail handler position within
    one year of his transfer out, Miranda believed that he should
    have retained his seniority. Miranda filed a grievance through
    his union steward. USPS initially complied with Miranda’s
    request, restoring his seniority date to 1981.
         Sometime in the fall of 2003, however, Local 311 official
    Robert Rodriguez (“Rodriguez”) contacted USPS management,
    claiming that the restoration of Miranda’s seniority had been in
    error. According to Rodriguez, the collective bargaining
    agreement between NPMHU and USPS provided that seniority could be
    restored only for persons in management positions. Miranda’s
    seniority was again rescinded, and a seniority list reflecting
    this correction was posted on the employee bulletin board in
    November 2003. Miranda claims that the loss of his seniority has
    prevented him from obtaining vacation time during Thanksgiving
    week and has precluded him from successfully bidding on certain
    jobs. Miranda also claims that Rodriguez “used intimidation
    tactics against him” by convincing management to schedule Miranda
    for work on December 25, 2004, after Miranda had initially be
    given that day off.
         Miranda filed suit against the Defendants for breach of
    fiduciary duty in Texas state court on December 27, 2005.
    Defendants filed a notice of removal to federal court on January
    20, 2006. Subsequently, Defendants moved for summary judgment on
    the basis of untimeliness. Defendants argued that Miranda’s state
    law claim was preempted by the National Labor Relations Act
    (NLRA), 29 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., and that a six-month statute of
    limitations applied. The district court determined that removal
    to federal court was proper under this court’s holding in
    Richardson v. United Steel Workers of America, 
    864 F.2d 1162
    1170 (5th Cir. 1989). Finding that Miranda’s claim was cognizable
    only as a duty of fair representation claim under the NLRA, the
    district court concluded that a six-month limitation period
    applied. Because none of the instances of Defendants’ purported
    breach of duty occurred within six months of the date Miranda
    filed his suit, the district court granted the Defendants’ motion
    for summary judgment.1 On appeal, Miranda does not renew his
    objection to the removal of his suit, and only challenges the
    district court’s granting of summary judgment.
         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court has jurisdiction
    over an appeal from a grant of summary judgment. We review a
    district court’s grant of summary judgment de novo. Dallas County
    Hosp. Dist. v. Assocs. Health & Welfare Plan, 
    293 F.3d 282
    , 285
    (5th Cir. 2002). Summary judgment is proper when the pleadings,
    discovery responses, and affidavits show that there is no genuine
    issue of material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a
    judgment as a matter of law.    FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c).   A dispute
    about a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a
    reasonable fact-finder could return a verdict for the non-moving
    party.    Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 
    477 U.S. 242
    , 248
    (1986).    When deciding whether there is a genuine issue of
    material fact, this court must view all evidence in the light
    most favorable to the non-moving party.    Daniels v. City of
    246 F.3d 500
    , 502 (5th Cir. 2001).
          The district court also granted Defendants’ summary
    judgment motion as to a claim for retaliation that Miranda
    alleged for the first time in his response. Miranda has not
    raised this issue on appeal.
                             III. DISCUSSION
         Miranda maintains that his claim against the Defendants is a
    state law claim for breach of fiduciary duty. It is clear from
    Supreme Court and this court’s caselaw, however, that Miranda’s
    claim is cognizable only as a duty of fair representation claim
    under the NLRA. As such, it is timed barred under the applicable
    six-month statute of limitations.
    A.   Preemption Under the Duty of Fair Representation
         The duty of fair representation is a duty held by the
    Supreme Court to be implied in the NLRA. See, e.g., Ford Motor
    Co. v. Huffman, 
    345 U.S. 330
     (1953); Steele v. Louisville &
    Nashville R.R. Co., 
    323 U.S. 192
     (1944). Because the NLRA
    empowers a union to become the exclusive bargaining agent of all
    employees in a bargaining unit, whether or not members of the
    union, it correspondingly implies a duty of fair representation
    by the union of all those employees. Bass v. Int’l Bhd. of
    630 F.2d 1058
    , 1062 (5th Cir. 1980). The duty of
    fair representation requires the union “fairly to represent all
    of those employees, both in its collective bargaining with [the
    employer] . . . and in its enforcement of the resulting
    collective bargaining agreement” and “to serve the interests of
    all [bargaining unit] members without hostility or discrimination
    toward any.” Vaca v. Sipes, 
    386 U.S. 171
    , 177 (1967).
         In Richardson v. United Steel Workers of America, 
    864 F.2d 5
    1162, 1166 (5th Cir. 1989), this court interpreted Vaca as
    holding that the federal duty of fair representation preempts
    state substantive law. In Richardson, as in the instant case, we
    faced an appeal by plaintiffs who brought a claim against their
    representative union for breach of a “Texas common-law tort duty
    owed by a union to its members.” Id. at 1164. We explained that
    “[b]ecause the plaintiffs in this case alleged that the Union
    breached a duty that arose from its status as their exclusive
    collective bargaining agent under the NLRA, Vaca requires that
    this duty be defined by federal law.” Id. at 1166-67. We held
    that “[t]he Union’s right to act as plaintiffs’ bargaining agent
    is conferred by the NLRA, and . . . the duties corresponding to
    this right conferred by federal labor law are likewise defined
    solely by federal labor law.” Id. at 1165. Thus, though the
    appellants had depicted their claims as state law claims, we
    affirmed the district court’s characterization of those claims as
    “NLRA duty of fair representation claims.” Id. at 1167.
         The circumstances of this case and those in Richardson are
    fundamentally alike. As in Richardson, the duty allegedly
    breached by the Defendants arises from their status as Miranda’s
    collective bargaining representatives, thus compelling the
    conclusion that Miranda’s claims are also properly characterized
    as duty of fair representation claims.
    B.   Attempts to Distinguish Richardson
         Miranda does not address Richardson directly, but he does
    make arguments that appear to be implicit attempts to distinguish
    that case.
         1.   Defendants’ Conduct as Bargaining Agent
         In Richardson, the plaintiffs acknowledged explicitly that
    the union’s duties stemmed from its status “as the bargaining
    agent for Plaintiffs.” Id. at 164. Miranda, however, argues that
    he “is not complaining of the Union’s representation against him
    against the employer” and that “the Union was not acting as the
    exclusive bargaining representative on conditions of employment
    for Miranda.” Rather, Miranda proposes that he “is complaining of
    the insular conduct of the Union” and that “[Rodriguez] acted
    unilaterally to rescind the seniority to [his own] advantage.”
    This characterization of Miranda’s claim is inaccurate. Rodriguez
    was acting in his capacity as collective bargaining agent when he
    persuaded USPS management to rescind Miranda’s seniority in
    accordance with Rodriguez’s interpretation of the collective
    bargaining agreement. That Rodriguez’s action may have been
    improperly motivated by hostility, bias, or self-interest does
    not imply that Rodriguez did not act as collective bargaining
    representative. Rodriguez’s motivations go to the merits of
    Miranda’s claim but do not change the fact that this claim is
    properly characterized as a duty of fair representation claim.
         2.   Independent State-Law Duty
         Our opinion in Richardson acknowledged that that case did
    not “present the question of whether the Union was subject to an
    independent state-law duty of care . . . arising simply from the
    relationship of the union to its members” and not preempted by
    the NLRA.   Id. at 1167 (internal quotation marks omitted).2 The
    Richardson plaintiffs’ petition “did not even allege that
    plaintiffs are or were members of the union.” Id.
         By contrast, Miranda’s complaint and appeal do state that he
    is a member of the NPMHU and its Local 311. To the extent that
    Miranda attempts to establish an independent state-law duty of
    care on this basis, however, his argument is woefully
    unsupported. Miranda claims that the Defendants “breached a
    fiduciary duty” toward him. To demonstrate that this duty exists,
    Miranda cites to a single Texas case, Fitz-gerald v. Hull, 
    237 S.W.2d 256
    , 261 (Tex. 1951), for the proposition that “Texas
    courts have found a fiduciary duty when one person trusts or
    relies in another.” However, in addition to being an older case
    that concerns the relationship of parties to a joint venture,
    rather than that of union member to union, Fitz-gerald nowhere
    indicates that subjective trust and reliance alone are sufficient
    to create a fiduciary relationship under Texas law. Miranda has
    failed to establish an independent state tort duty that would
          We also noted that state law actions that involve strong
    state interests such as “the health and well-being of its
    citizens” and are only peripherally related to the NLRA are not
    preempted by the NLRA. Id.
    escape preemption by the NLRA.
         3.   Preemption Under § 301
         Finally, Miranda proposes a standard for preemption
    different from that established by this court in Richardson.
    Miranda argues that whether a state law claim is preempted by
    § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C.
    § 185, depends upon whether “resolution of the state claim
    requires interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement.”
    Wells v. Gen. Motors Corp., 
    881 F.2d 166
    , 173 (5th Cir. 1989)
    (emphasis omitted). Arguing that his claim against the Defendants
    does not require interpretation of the collective bargaining
    agreement between the union and USPS, Miranda therefore contends
    that his state law claim is not preempted.
         While Miranda correctly articulates the standard for
    preemption under § 301, he fails to recognize that this standard
    does not apply to his case. LMRA § 301 provides a cause of action
    for suits to enforce the provisions of a collective bargaining
    agreement. Miranda’s suit is not correctly categorized as a § 301
    breach-of-contract claim, as he is not suing USPS for a failure
    to uphold its responsibilities under the collective bargaining
    agreement. Instead, Miranda’s claim is properly characterized as
    a duty of fair representation claim, as he is suing his union for
    its failure to represent him faithfully in its dealings with
    USPS. See, e.g., DelCostello v. Teamsters, 
    462 U.S. 151
    , 164
    (1983) (distinguishing between a § 301 claim against an employer
    and a duty of fair representation claim against a union).3
    Consequently, the appropriate standard for preemption is whether
    Miranda is alleging that “the Union breached a duty that arose
    from its status as [his] exclusive collective bargaining agent
    under the NLRA.” Richardson, 864 F.2d at 1167. Despite his
    protestations to the contrary, Miranda is indeed alleging the
    breach of such a duty.
    C.   Statute of Limitations for Duty of Fair Representation Claim
         In DelCostello, the Supreme Court held that the six-month
    statute of limitations of NLRA § 10(b), 29 U.S.C. § 160(b),
    applies to a “hybrid § 301/fair representation claim,” that is, a
    suit that combines a § 301 claim against the employer with a duty
    of fair representation claim against the union. 462 U.S. at 163-
    64, 171-72. In Richardson, 864 F.2d at 1167, and in Smith v.
          In DelCostello, the Supreme Court acknowledged that a duty
    of fair representation suit against a union was “inextricably
    interdependent” with a § 301 suit against the employer, for “the
    case [the employee] must prove is the same whether he sues one,
    the other, or both.” 462 U.S. at 164-65. In order to prove injury
    in a duty of fair representation suit against the union, an
    employee must show that the employer violated the collective
    bargaining agreement, and an employee normally cannot bring a
    § 301 action against his employer unless he can show that the
    union breached its duty of fair representation in handling his
    grievance. Teamsters v. Terry, 
    494 U.S. 558
    , 564 (1990).
    Nevertheless, Richardson did not adopt the § 301 standard for
    preemption analysis for duty of fair representation claims, and
    we are bound to follow Richardson’s approach here.
         Even if we did apply the § 301 standard to Miranda’s claims,
    however, it would be clear that his claims are preempted. In
    order to show injury from the Defendants’ actions, Miranda would
    have to demonstrate that USPS’s adjustment of his seniority
    violated the collective bargaining agreement. This demonstration
    would require interpretation of the collective bargaining
    agreement, thus satisfying the test for preemption under § 301.
    International Organization of Masters, 
    296 F.3d 380
    , 382 (5th
    Cir. 2002), this court held that the same statute of limitations
    applies to duty of fair representation claims brought
         Miranda filed suit against the Defendants on December 27,
    2005. Each of the supposed instances of breach of duty by the
    Defendants, the last of which is alleged to have occurred in
    December 2004, took place more than six months before Miranda
    filed suit. Miranda’s claims are therefore untimely. See 29
    U.S.C. § 160(b).
                             IV. CONCLUSION
         Because we agree with the district court that Miranda’s
    claims against the Defendants are time barred, we AFFIRM the
    order of the district court granting summary judgment to the