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Rueli v. Baystate Health, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

August 23, 2016

CATHERINE RUELI, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellants,


          Shannon Liss-Riordan, with whom Lichten & Liss-Riordan, P.C. was on brief, for appellants

          Robert Morsilli, with whom Douglas J. Hoffman and Jackson Lewis P.C. were on brief, for appellees.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, and Lynch and Lipez, Circuit Judges.

          LIPEZ, Circuit Judge.

         Plaintiffs are a putative class of unionized nurses who sued their employer in state court for unpaid wages and overtime pay for work performed outside their approved shifts. Their employer removed the case to federal court, citing the doctrine of complete preemption, under which claims requiring interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") are reclassified as federal claims. The district court, finding that this case is controlled by our opinion in Cavallaro v. UMass Memorial Healthcare, Inc., 678 F.3d 1, 3-4 (1st Cir. 2012), determined that complete preemption applies and therefore denied plaintiffs' motion to remand. Separately, it granted the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiffs appeal, challenging both orders.

         We must decide whether there is a plausible argument, as defendants contend, that adjudicating plaintiffs' claims will require the resolution of a genuine interpretive dispute about one or more provisions of the CBA. If so, the putative state law claims are completely preempted, and removal was proper. Separately, we must determine whether the plaintiffs, in agreeing to a CBA containing a grievance and arbitration provision, were precluded from bringing this suit, requiring the district court to grant judgment on the pleadings to defendants.

         We affirm.


         Catherine Rueli and seven other named plaintiffs are employed by defendants-appellees Baystate Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice, Inc. and Baystate Health, Inc. ("Baystate"). Plaintiffs are visiting nurses, i.e., nurses responsible for traveling to patients' homes to provide care. As members of a union, the Massachusetts Nurses Association, plaintiffs concede that they are subject to the terms of a CBA between that union and Baystate. The agreement's provisions include:

• A preamble stating that "[i]t is the intent and purpose of this Agreement to promote orderly collective bargaining and the settlement of all differences or disputes through the grievance and arbitration procedures established herein."
• A salary schedule based on seniority, CBA § 3.1, App'x A, separate pay provisions for per diem nurses, id. art. XXXV(5)-(6), and a separate "per visit" compensation scheme, id. art. XXXVI.
• A number of provisions for premium pay, including time-and-a-half pay for hours worked beyond the standard 37 1/2-hour work week, id. § 4.2, pay for on-call time, id. §§ 4.4(B), 5.3, 6.3(A), 31.1(3), and evening differential pay, id. §§ 4.7(E), 4.8(D), 5.4.
• A scheduling provision requiring that "[a] definite reporting time, working schedule and staffing schedule . . . shall be established by [Baystate], " and that "schedules shall not be changed without prior discussion between both parties." Id. § 4.1(B).
• A requirement that "[a]ll patient documentation shall be completed at the point of care or prior to the end of the employee[']s shift. Any variations from either of these requirements are subject to the employee's request and approval of the clinical manager which shall not be unreasonably withheld. To assist the manager in making her/his reasonable determination, a conversation shall take place in which the employee's and patient[']s needs will be discussed." Id. § 4.1(C).
• A management rights clause, giving Baystate management "the recognized reserved right" "to schedule and assign work to employees; to determine the means, methods, processes, materials and schedules of operations; . . . to establish standards and to maintain the efficiency of employees; [and] to establish and require employees to observe [Baystate's] rules and regulations." Id. § 16.1.
• A grievance and arbitration provision allowing that "[g]rievances may be filed by a nurse, a group of nurses, the Unit Representative or Massachusetts Nurses Association." The provision requires that grievances first be submitted to an immediate supervisor, then, if not resolved, escalated to the President of Baystate, and, if still not resolved, grievances "shall be submitted to arbitration in accordance with the voluntary rules of the American Arbitration Association. The decision of the Arbitrator shall be final and binding upon the employees[.]" Id. The term "grievances" is not defined in the agreement.

         Plaintiffs brought suit in Hampden County Superior Court, claiming that the volume of work required them to work before and after their scheduled shifts and they were not paid for that time. In seeking wages owed and other relief under the Weekly Wage Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 149, § 148, and the Overtime Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151, § 1B, they sue for themselves and on behalf of a broad putative class: "all others similarly situated, namely all other individuals who are, and who have been, employed as nurses by Defendants who have not received all wages and overtime payments due to them." Compl. ¶ 10.

         Plaintiffs alleged the following facts in their complaint, which we accept as true:

• "In their employment with Baystate, visiting nurses such as the named plaintiffs have been paid an hourly wage (ranging from approximately $28 to $38 per hour)." Id. at ¶ 13.[1]
• "Due to the volume of work assigned to them, the nurses are regularly required to work outside of their regularly scheduled shifts." Id. at ¶ 15.
• "This unpaid work has included preparatory work before they have visited a patient and follow-up work after they have visited a patient." Id. at ¶ 16.
• "As a result, the nurses often do not receive overtime payments to which they are entitled." Id. at ¶ 17.
• "This unpaid work frequently consists of computer work in preparation for a visit with a patient, and computer work following up after a visit. Thus, much of this unpaid work is completed by the nurses while they are logged onto the Baystate computer system. Defendants are therefore aware of the work performed by the nurses outside of their regularly scheduled shifts for which they are not compensated." Id. at ¶ 18.

         Plaintiffs do not allege that any of the nurses informed Baystate about this additional unpaid work, or that they followed the ...

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