Labor & Employment Law I APRIL 15, 2019

Lacking Subject Matter Jurisdiction, Court's Earlier Dismissal of Case is Void

Sometimes judges are persuaded that they made a mistake.  This was one of those cases. 

David Johnson (on behalf of himself and similarly situated individuals), filed a complaint alleging a violation of the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act, against United Airlines, Inc. and United Continental Holdings, Inc.

United had utilized Johnson’s fingerprints to track when he signed in and out of work while he was employed as a baggage handler at O’Hare International Airport.

Johnson individually filed his complaint in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. United removed the action to federal court under a theory that the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”) preempted Johnson’s claim and that the Class Action Fairness Act (“CAFA”) provided the federal court with jurisdiction. United later moved to dismiss Johnson’s complaint.

The court granted United’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and entered judgment on July 31, 2018. The court provided alternative reasons for its holding—that Johnson’s claims were preempted by the RLA and that he lacked Article III standing. Johnson filed a motion for relief from judgment pursuant to Rule 60(b)(4) asking the court to vacate its prior judgment and to remand the case to state court. United filed its own motion for correction of the court’s order. United’s Rule 60 Motion sought relief solely on the issue of Article III standing.

As bears on the point of this article, Johnson sought relief from the court’s order granting United’s motion to dismiss--asserting that the order was void because the court had lacked subject-matter jurisdiction and was therefore precluded from rendering judgment. This was a winning argument.

Without jurisdiction a court cannot proceed at all. The question then became whether the court’s opining on the issue of preemption was an impermissible judgment on the merits.

The court ultimately denied United’s motion but granted Johnson’s motion. The court’s order and entry of judgment were deemed void due to lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. The matter was remanded to the Circuit Court of Cook County.

 David Johnson v. United Airlines, Inc., 2019 WL 1239723 (N.D. Ill., Mar. 18, 2019).