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A group of 370 union workers who claim they were subjected to illegal surveillance at a factory in Reading, Penn., have won the right to pursue their wiretap and invasion of privacy claims in the Pennsylvania courts now that the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the federal judge who dismissed their case never had jurisdiction. In Kline v. Security Guards Inc. and Dana Corp., a unanimous three-judge panel held that the lower court erred in one of its first rulings by failing to send the case back to the Berks County Court of Common Pleas. Defense lawyers had removed the suit to U.S. District Court on the grounds that the entire dispute was governed by federal labor law. The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Joseph Roda of Roda & Nast, moved to have the case remanded to state court, but U.S. District Judge Franklin S. Van Antwerpen refused. Van Antwerpen (who is now a 3rd Circuit judge) later granted summary judgment in favor of the defendants on all of the plaintiffs’ claims, finding there was no proof that the defendants had intentionally intercepted the workers’ private conversations. Now the 3rd Circuit has ruled that Roda was right and that Van Antwerpen never should have reached the merits of the case because it was not governed by federal labor law. Senior 3rd Circuit Judge Walter K. Stapleton found the federal courts had no subject matter jurisdiction over the dispute because all of the workers’ claims arose under Pennsylvania law and “do not involve rights or duties created by the collective bargaining agreement.” Stapleton, who was joined by 3rd Circuit Judges Thomas L. Ambro and Ruggero J. Aldisert, said, “Our analysis indicates that the state laws invoked by [the workers] confer upon them substantive rights that are independent of any rights available under the CBA.” The ruling effectively revives the entire case and clears the way for the workers to pursue their claims in the Pennsylvania courts. The suit stemmed from events that began in September 1998 when Dana Corp., a manufacturer of truck and auto parts, installed an audio and video surveillance system in an entryway at its Reading factory. According to the suit, the surveillance system consisted of two cameras with built-in microphones, a monitor with a built-in speaker and a 24-hour videocassette recorder. The system enabled Dana to monitor the entryway, which was the location at which its hourly employees were required to “punch-in.” The cameras automatically sent video and audio signals to the monitor, which was located in a guard booth adjacent to the entryway, according to court papers. The guard booth was operated by employees of Security Guards Inc. About a week after the system was installed, two union workers — Terry Kline and Daulph Kline — were told by SGI guards that the surveillance system was transmitting the conversations that took place in the entryway, according to the opinion. The Klines reported the news to their union and union officials demanded an explanation from Dana’s management, according to the suit. The discussions led to the removal of the surveillance system by the end of October 1998. The Klines then filed a proposed class action suit in state court, alleging that the interception of the workers’ private conversations in the entryway violated Pennsylvania’s wiretap statute. The suit also alleged claims of invasion of privacy, negligent or reckless supervision, and claims under the Pennsylvania Private Detective Act of 1953. In court papers, Roda argued that workers in the entryway “naturally assumed that the guards … could not hear what they were saying, and many persons thus discussed personal and sensitive matters in the entryway, such as drug and alcohol problems.” Roda moved for the suit to be certified as a class action, but Van Antwerpen refused. Soon after, Roda filed an amended complaint that added 370 individual workers as co-plaintiffs. Van Antwerpen later granted summary judgment and dismissed the entire case, finding that the plaintiffs failed to show that the defendants had acquired the “contents” of their conversations and also failed to show that any interception was “intentional.” On appeal, the 3rd Circuit asked the lawyers for additional briefs that focused on the issue of jurisdiction. The defense lawyers — Scott F. Cooper and Scott A. Mayer of Blank Rome for Dana, and Scott L. Vernick, Joshua Horn and Emil J. Kiehne of Fox Rothschild for SGI — argued in court papers that the case was properly removed to federal court because the workers’ claims were completely pre-empted by Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act But Roda insisted that the LMRA was not implicated in any of the plaintiffs’ claims and that subject matter jurisdiction was therefore lacking. Now the 3rd Circuit has sided with Roda, finding that Van Antwerpen erred in holding that the case was completely pre-empted because none of the plaintiffs’ state tort claims require any interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement. Defense lawyers argued that the workers’ tort claims implicated the “core” of Dana’s management rights, a subject of collective bargaining, as well as the “shop rules” clauses of the CBA, according to court papers. As a result, they argued, the claims cannot be analyzed without reference to the CBA. Stapleton disagreed, saying the workers “have not alleged a violation of any term or condition of the CBA. Nor does it appear from the face of their complaint that any of their state claims are founded upon rights created by the CBA.” Although the suit focuses on conduct by the defendants in the workplace, Stapleton found that all of the plaintiffs’ claims were “grounded in substantive rights granted under state law.” The CBA, Stapleton noted, “makes no mention of the use of video cameras, microphones or other surveillance of any kind.” In deciding whether such claims are pre-empted by the LMRA, Stapleton found that “the essential question is not whether [the workers'] claims relate to a subject — management’s rights — contemplated by the CBA… . Rather, the dispositive question here is whether [the] state claims require any interpretation of a provision of the CBA.” The defense arguments failed, Stapleton found, because they were unable to point to “any specific provision of [the CBA] that must be interpreted in order to resolve [the workers'] claims. Nor can we identify any provision that would require interpretation.” Dana and SGI insisted in their briefs that the wiretap claim was completely pre-empted because it requires a court to assess the workers’ “justifiable expectations” — an issue that, they said, cannot be determined without reference to Dana’s bargained-for management rights to direct the supervision of employees. Stapleton disagreed, saying the workers’ justifiable expectations “can be determined by a state court simply by considering the conduct of Dana and the facts and circumstances of [the] workplace. Dana has provided no reason to believe that such a determination will require the resolution of any dispute concerning rights or obligations contained in the CBA, and we are unable to perceive one.”

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