No. A-3502-14T1

May 8, 2017 (Date Decided)

Judge Espinosa

FOR APPELLANT: John P. Brennan.

FOR RESPONDENT: Jamie S. Felsen (Milman Labuda Law Group, PLLC, attorneys; Mr. Felsen, Netanel Newberger, and Robert. F. Milman, on the briefs).

Plaintiff appealed from the order of the trial court dismissing his complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff, a member of Teamsters Local Union 813, was employed by defendant as a CDL driver, when he suffered a work-related injury to his knee. After being examined, plaintiff was cleared to return to work light duty, but plaintiff alleged that despite this restriction, defendant asked plaintiff to continue driving. Plaintiff refused, orally demanded workers’ compensation, and left for home. Plaintiff was later examined by an orthopedic specialist, who concluded that plaintiff required surgery and without it would not be safe to work as a CDL driver. Plaintiff filed a workers’ compensation claim, but defendant denied that plaintiff “sustained a disabling injury while in the course and scope of his employment.” Plaintiff consulted with another orthopedic specialist, who concurred that plaintiff required surgery, but cleared him to work full duty. Defendant informed the union that plaintiff, pursuant to DOT regulations, had to be recertified by a medical examiner before returning to work. Plaintiff obtained a medical certificate from a family physician, but defendant rejected the certificate, accusing plaintiff of failing to inform the physician of his knee injury or provide his earlier evaluations. The union filed a grievance, which was denied by an arbitrator who concluded that defendant was legally required to follow DOT regulations, and ordered plaintiff on medical layoff until he could be properly certified. Plaintiff subsequently filed this complaint, asserting claims of disability discrimination and retaliatory discharge. Defendant moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing that plaintiff’s claims were pre-empted by §301 of the Labor Management Relations Act. The trial court agreed and granted defendant’s motion. On appeal, the court reversed. The court held that §301 could only pre-empt state law claims where resolution of those claims required interpretation of the parties’ collective bargaining agreement, and therefore reference to federal law. But the court found that neither of plaintiff’s claims required interpretation of the CBA for resolution, since the allegations that plaintiff was retaliated against for making a workers’ compensation claim, and discriminated against in employment opportunity because of a disability, made absolutely no reference to the terms of the CBA. Although defendant argued that the CBA obligated it to enforce DOT regulations, the court held that defendant’s obligation arose from the regulations themselves. Accordingly, the court reversed the grant of defendant’s motion to dismiss and remanded for further proceedings.