This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Steven V. Geelan,
Mark Travel, Inc.,
Filed December 13, 2005
Wright County District Court
File No. C6-03-1820
Scott A. Johnson, Todd M.
Johnson, Johnson Law Group LLP,
Charles F. Webber, Martin S. Fallon, Faegre & Benson, LLP, 2200 Wells Fargo Center, 90 South Seventh Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Huspeni, Judge.*
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant appeals the state district court’s dismissal of his claims against respondent for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Because we find that appellant’s claims are preempted by the Railway Labor Act, we affirm.
Appellant Steven Geelan worked as a union pilot for Sun Country Airlines, Inc. A collective-bargaining agreement (CBA) governed the terms of Geelan’s employment. In December 2001, Sun Country laid off hundreds of its employees, including Geelan. Sun Country did not pay any accrued vacation or severance to Geelan. In January 2002, an involuntary bankruptcy proceeding was commenced against Sun Country, and a bankruptcy trustee began liquidating the company.
with a nonunionized coplaintiff who is not a party to this appeal, filed a complaint
in state district court, alleging causes of action of “alter ego,” “creditor
control – principal and agent,” and tortious interference with contract,
seeking damages for accrued vacation pay and severance pay. Geelan named Mark Travel, Inc., a
Wisconsin-based company, as the sole defendant, contending that it exercised
extensive control over Sun Country. The
state district court ruled that the Railway Labor Act preempted Geelan’s claims
and dismissed them for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, but the nonunion
coplaintiff’s claims remained before the court.
commenced a class-action lawsuit in federal district court in Minnesota,
realleging the three causes of action that were in his state court complaint
and adding two others: a wage claim under
Minn. Stat. § 181.13 (2004) and a claim that Mark Travel failed to timely
warn Geelan of his layoff under 29 U.S.C. § 2102 (2000). The state district court granted Mark Travel’s
motion to stay the state court proceedings pending the outcome of the federal
district court action. The federal
district court subsequently dismissed Geelan’s four state-law claims on
jurisdictional grounds. Geelan v. Mark Travel, Inc., 319 F. Supp.
2d 950, 953-55 (D.
On Geelan’s motion, the state district court vacated its earlier order staying the state court proceedings and directed that judgment be entered on Geelan’s claims. Geelan now appeals from the state district court’s dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction of Geelan’s claims of “alter ego” and “creditor control – principal and agent.”
Mark Travel argues that the federal district court’s
decision bars Geelan’s appeal on collateral-estoppel grounds. The federal court ruled that it lacked
jurisdiction over Geelan’s alter-ego and creditor-control claims because of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Geelan,
319 F. Supp. 2d at 953. The federal
court also stated that “even without the Rooker-Feldman
bar [it] would lack jurisdiction” because Geelan failed to exhaust the remedies
mandated by the CBA.
estoppel, also known as issue preclusion, prevents a party from relitigating an
issue that was determined in a prior action.
Nelson v. Am. Family Ins. Group,
651 N.W.2d 499, 511 (
Under the identical-issue prong, “[t]he issue on which
collateral estoppel is to be applied must be the same as that adjudicated in the
prior action and it must have been necessary and essential to the resulting
judgment in that action.” Hauschildt v. Beckingham, 686 N.W.2d
829, 837 (
Geelan argues that the state district court has subject-matter jurisdiction over his claims of alter ego and “creditor control – principal and agent” because they are independent state-law claims that do not require interpretation of the CBA. Mark Travel contends that the Railway Labor Act preempts state court jurisdiction because any right Geelan has to severance pay and vacation pay arises from the CBA.
The existence of
jurisdiction is a question of law subject to de novo review. Frost-Benco
Elec. Ass’n v.
state-law claims are preempted by federal labor law, however, “continues to
cause some bewilderment.” In re Bentz Metal Prods.
To determine whether Geelan’s state-law claims are
preempted by the RLA, this court must “look to the underlying state law and to
the specific allegations contained in [the] complaint to see whether the
allegations involve rights and obligations that exist independent of the CBA or
if they require interpretation of the CBA for their resolution.” Ferrell,
557 N.W.2d at 565. Simply labeling a
claim as one under state law is not enough to save it from the RLA’s mandatory grievance
provisions. Andrews, 406
Geelan provides no support for the proposition that his
alter-ego claim is a recognized cause of action. “[A]n alter ego claim is not by itself a
cause of action. Rather, it is a
doctrine which fastens liability.” In re RCS Engineered Prod. Co., 102 F.3d
223, 226 (6th Cir. 1996) (quotation omitted); accord Victoria Elevator Co. v. Meriden Grain Co., 283 N.W.2d 509,
Likewise, Geelan provides no support for the proposition
that “creditor control – principal and agent” is a recognized cause of action. “Principal and agent” is also a theory of
liability requiring an independent cause of action. See
Lewis v. St. Cloud State Univ., 693 N.W.2d 466, 471 (Minn. App. 2005) (stating
that the “basis for holding the publisher of a newspaper vicariously liable for
defamation . . . is the relationship of principal and agent between
the publisher and the newspaper”), review
Geelan also argues that his rights to accrued vacation
pay and severance pay arise from Minn. Stat. § 181.13, which imposes a
penalty on employers for not timely paying earned wages. But this claim was not before the state
district court, and we will not consider it on appeal. See
Thiele v. Stich, 425 N.W.2d 580, 582 (
Because Geelan does not allege recognized state-law causes of action, and because the CBA is the source of Geelan’s right to vacation pay and severance pay, the district court did not err by concluding that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction.
has moved to strike the affidavit of bankruptcy trustee Timothy Moratzka in the
appendix to Mark Travel’s appellate brief, contending it is not part of the district
court record. See
Affirmed; motion granted.
*Retired judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, serving by appointment pursuant to Minn. Const. art. VI, § 10.
Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine,
“lower federal courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction over claims
seeking review of state court judgments.”
Long v. Shorebank Dev. Corp.,
182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Rooker
v. Fid. Trust Co., 263
Because jurisdiction for Geelan’s federal complaint was based on diversity of
We note that the state district court dismissed Geelan’s complaint on
jurisdictional grounds, not for a failure to state a claim on which relief
could be granted. Compare