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Perla v. United Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Texas

May 31, 2019

Carlos Perla, Plaintiff,
v.
United Airlines, Inc., and International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND RECOMMENDATION

          PETER BRAY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Carlos Perla sued Defendants United Airlines and International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers (“Union”) in a Texas court. Perla raised a state-law breach of contract claim against United Airlines (“United”). Because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it is recommended that Perla's claim against United be dismissed with prejudice.

         1. Background

         Perla worked in United's Houston location. He was a union member of the International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers organized pursuant to the Railroad Labor Act (RLA). See 45 U.S.C. §§ 152 Fourth, 181.

         Perla started working as a Ramp Service Agent in 2000. In 2004, he was promoted to Lead Agent. Perla maintained that position until 2013, when he engaged in a physical fight with another employee. United terminated both employees. Perla appealed the termination to District Lodge 141 of the Union pursuant to a Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

         Pursuant to the CBA, the System Board of Adjustment (“the Board”) arbitrated the matter. The Union, United, Perla, and the other employee reached a settlement agreement. Perla incorrectly refers to the settlement agreement as an “Arbitration Agreement.” (See D.E. 10.) The settlement agreement was memorialized in a consent award issued by the Board. (See D.E. 1-8.) Perla alleges that the settlement agreement guaranteed his return to full seniority as a Lead Agent after twenty-four months. He was not returned to his former position and alleges that United breached the settlement agreement.

         Perla filed suit in Texas court against United on September 26, 2018, claiming that United breached the settlement agreement. United removed the case to federal court. United reads Perla's state court petition as seeking to enforce the consent award. United sought to dismiss Perla's claim as untimely under the RLA's two-year statute of limitations. (D.E. 6.)

         Perla filed an amended complaint in federal court. (D.E. 7, docketed as Request for Issuance of Summons.) Apparently realizing that the statute of limitations to enforce the consent award has run, Perla clarified that he is seeking to enforce the settlement agreement through a state-law contract claim, which has a longer statute of limitations. Id.

         The court held a hearing on March 5, 2019. Perla's counsel reiterated that he is suing United for its breach of the settlement agreement under Texas contract law. On that basis the court ordered the parties to brief whether the RLA preempts Perla's state-law contract claim. Perla filed a brief, arguing that the RLA does not preempt his contract claim because it is independent of the CBA. (D.E. 18.) United filed a supplemental brief arguing that the RLA preempts Perla's claim and the court should dismiss Perla's claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (D.E. 19.)

         2. Standard of review

         Under Rule 12, a court may dismiss an action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction at any stage of the litigation. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). A party may also challenge the court's jurisdiction at any stage because “[p]roper jurisdiction for a federal court is fundamental and necessary before touching the substantive claims of a lawsuit.” See Arena v. Graybar Elec. Co., 669 F.3d 214, 223 (5th Cir. 2012).

         The complaint, undisputed facts, and the court's resolution of disputed facts can provide grounds for dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. See Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001); see also Vantage Trailers, Inc. v. Beall Corp., 567 F.3d 745, 748 (5th Cir. 2009) (the court need not resolve disputed facts in favor of the plaintiff in determining jurisdiction).

         The party defending federal jurisdiction, irrespective of their initial position, has the burden to allege a plausible set of facts that establishes federal jurisdiction. DaimlerChrysler Corp. v. Cuno, 547 U.S. 332, 342 n.3 (2006). Where, as here, a defendant removes the case to federal court and subsequently raises a motion to dismiss based on lack of ...


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