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Railway Labor Act Does Not Pre-empt State Law Wage Claim

Because the Railway Labor Act is subject to ordinary rather than complete pre-emption, a wage-and-hour claim brought by employees of Alaska Airlines under state law does not arise under federal law and is not removable. Moore-Thomas v. Alaska Airlines (9th Cir. 2009) __ F.3d __. 

In March 2006, several Alaska Airlines employees filed a class-action complaint in Oregon state court. They alleged that the airline willfully failed to pay them all wages due on termination of their employment, in violation of Oregon Revised Statutes § 652.140. The plaintiffs sought statutory penalties, costs and disbursements, pre- and post-judgment interest, and reasonable attorneys’ fees on behalf of a putative class.

Alaska removed the action to the District Court and brought a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss on the ground that the Railway Labor Act completely pre-empts the employees' state law claim, and that they had not complied with the RLA’s mandatory arbitration provisions. The district court ruled that the RLA completely pre-empted the claims because the claims required interpretation of the CBA. Accordingly, the District Court concluded that removal was proper and remand improper, and then granted Alaska’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in light of the parties’ failure to arbitrate the claim pursuant to the RLA.

On appeal, the 9th Circuit held that, because the claims under state law were not pre-empted, the District Court erred in denying the plaintiffs' motion to remand and erred in granting the defendant's motion to dismiss. The judgment is reversed and remanded with instructions to vacate the judgment and remand the action to state court for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

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