Wolfe v. BNSF

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Employment Law
  • Date Filed: 04-23-2014
  • Case #: 12-35054
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Pregerson for the Court; Circuit Judges Murguia and Christen
  • Full Text Opinion

An employee’s state law claim alleging injury caused by misconduct in employee disciplinary proceedings under a collective bargaining agreement is preempted by the federal Railway Labor Act while an employee’s state law claim concerning alleged negligent mismanagement resulting in a head-on collision is not preempted by the ACT because it is independent of a collective bargaining agreement and therefore did not require interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement.

Scott Wolfe ("Wolfe") was an employee of the BNSF Railway Company (“BNSF”). He brought an action alleging railway mismanagement and misconduct surrounding an accident that occurred while he was on the job working as a track inspector when his hi-rail truck collided head-on with a freight train. Wolfe is a member of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees union (“Union”) that has a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) with BNSF. Wolfe was dismissed from work, which was ultimately deemed a long-term suspension without back-pay. In Wolfe’s action the district court found that Wolfe’s claims were preempted because the facts surrounding his claims appeared to be “inextricably intertwined with the grievance procedures controlled by the CBA.” The panel applied the framework from Norris to determine that Wolfe’s state claim concerning the collision was not preempted because it did not depend on an interpretation of the CBA. Further, the panel noted that it has consistently held that claims for employer negligence are not preempted by the Railway Labor Act when the right involved is independent of a CBA, as is present here. When a duty of care owed to the employee derives solely from a CBA, the claim is preempted. A claim does not involve interpretation of a CBA where the CBA is “silent” on how the employer may address the issues raised by an employee’s claim. AFFIRMED as to Wolfe’s claim alleging injury caused by BNSF’s misconduct in proceedings pursuant to the CBA is preempted. REVERSED as to Wolfe’s claim that he suffered injury as a result of BNSF’s and its employees’ alleged negligence and mismanagement leading up to the collision is preempted and REVERSED as to Wolfe’s punitive damages claim. REMANDED for further proceedings. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part and REMANDED

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