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Archive for the ‘Labor Arbitration’ Category

Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner Weighs in on Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration

May 23rd, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration as a Matter of Consent, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Class Action Waivers, Contract Interpretation, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration, Labor Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, Presumption of Arbitrability, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Circuit Court Judge Richard A. Posner Weighs in on Federal Policy in Favor of Arbitration

Introduction

Ronald v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., No. 14-3478, slip op. (7th Cir. May 11, 2015) (Posner, J.)

Ronald v. Sprint Spectrum L.P., No. 14-3478, slip op. (7th Cir. May 11, 2015) arose out of a class action lawsuit brought in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois by a putative class of mobile phone customers—represented by Mr. and Ms. Andermann (the “Andermanns”)—against Sprint, which sought damages for alleged violations of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, 47 U.S.C. § 227.

Sprint moved to compel arbitration, but the district court denied its motion. Sprint appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit as authorized by 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit, in an opinion written by Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner, and joined in by Circuit Judge Diane S. Sykes and Chief District Court Judge Philip P. Simon of the Northern District of Indiana (sitting by designation), reversed and remanded with instructions to compel arbitration.

The Sprint Spectrum facts; the legal rules and principles that determined the outcome; and the outcome itself were not controversial.  Had the court limited its task to applying the material facts to the applicable law, then the case likely would not have warranted a reported opinion.

But occasionally appellate judges, particularly ones as prominent, skilled and engaged as Judge Posner, will use a case like Sprint to make a point in passing that might influence other judges in the future and perhaps provide valuable information to attorneys and their clients. Judge Posner, with the apparent blessing of the other two judges, used the case to make a couple of points, one purely legal, the other bearing on both the law and, and at least to some extent, on matters pertinent to court administration.

The purely legal issue concerned the  proper scope and practical significance of the federal policy in favor of arbitration, which a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court, Judge Posner and some other judges apparently believe lawyers and judges may misunderstand or misinterpret. In Sprint Spectrum Judge Posner, in dictum, raises the topic and shares some important insights about it.

The hybrid legal and judicial administration point concerned his view of the merits of the underlying Telephone Consumer Protection Act dispute.  While the Court acknowledged that it was for the arbitrators to decide the merits, it nevertheless explained why it believed the claim would likely fail, whether in arbitration or in court.

Sprint Spectrum: Background

yay-985888-digital---CopyIn 2000 the Andermanns entered into a two-year renewable mobile-phone service contract with U.S. Cellular, which was renewed continuously, and for the last time in 2012. The contract contained an arbitration agreement requiring arbitration of “any controversy or claim arising out of or relating to this agreement.” The parties agreed that the obligation to arbitrate would “survive[] the termination of [the] [mobile phone] service agreement[,]” and that “U.S. Cellular may assign this Agreement without notice to” the customer.

In 2013 U.S. Cellular sold the contract to Sprint, and notified the Andermanns of the sale in a letter sent months later. The letter informed the Andermanns that their service would be terminated effective January 2014  because of a compatibility problem between the Andermann’s mobile phone and the Sprint network. The letter explained that the Andermanns would have to obtain a new cell phone or find a new carrier, but “that Sprint was offering attractive substitutes for the terminated service,” and, if interested, the customer should contact Sprint by telephone. See slip op. at 2.

In December Sprint phoned the Andermanns to remind them that their service was about to expire, and added that Sprint had “a great set of offers and devices available to fit [their] needs.'” Slip op. at 3. Sprint called each of three members of the Andermann family twice (a total of six calls), but by the time the calls were made, the Andermanns had obtained cell phone service from another carrier.

yay-10331162-digitalThe Andermanns did not answer any of the six calls, except by commencing a class action lawsuit against Sprint, which contended that the unsolicited calls violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act. Sprint moved to compel arbitration, contending that the dispute arose out of and related to the contract renewed in 2012. Even though that contract was between U.S. Cellular and the Andermanns, U.S. Cellular had, as permitted by the contract, assigned its rights to Sprint, who had now stepped into U.S. Cellular’s shoes under the contract.

The Seventh Circuit’s Decision

The district court denied Sprint’s motion because its contract with the Andermanns had terminated prior to the allegedly offending telephone calls at issue in the lawsuit. The district court reasoned that the dispute did  not arise out of or relate to the terminated agreement.

But the Court  said “[a]ctually, there’s an intimate relation” between the dispute and the contract. “The contract,” said the Court, authorized an assignment, and because of the incompatibility of the assignor’s (U.S. Cellular’s) cellphones and the assignee’s (Sprint’s) mobile phone network, Sprint had had to terminate the U.S. Cellular customers, such as the Andermanns, whom it had acquired by virtue of the assignment.  .  .  .” Slip op. 4. Sprint made the calls, and “offer[red] substitute service[]”  “to prevent the loss of.  .  .  customers because of the incompatibility.  .  .  .” Slip op. at 4.

yay-10348120-digitalThe Andermanns attempted to support their argument by offering an “untenable interpretation” of Smith v. Steinkamp, 318 F.3d 775, 777 (7th Cir. 2003). See Slip op. at 4. Steinkamp explained “‘absurd results’ would ensue if the arising from and relating to provisions contained in a payday loan agreement defining what disputes would have to arbitrated rather than litigated, were cut free from the loan and applied to a subsequent payday loan agreement that did not contain those provisions.” Slip op. at 4-5 (quoting Steinkamp, 318 F.3d at 777).

The Andermanns argued that Steinkamp suggested that the same type of “absurd results” would ensue under the facts of this case. But Steinkamp, explained the Court, “is not this case[,]” which concerns a single contract containing an arbitration agreement, not two successive contracts, one with an arbitration agreement and one without an arbitration agreement. See slip op. at 5.

yay-2220659-digitalWhile the Andermanns received a mild (and perhaps well-deserved) rebuke, Sprint’s argument prompted the verbal version of a roll of the eyes coupled with a quiet sigh—not so much because there was anything really wrong with the argument, but presumably because it overstated the importance of the federal policy in favor of arbitration. But that gave Judge Posner an opportunity to make a somewhat subtle, but important point.

The Court  said “Sprint gilds the lily, however, in telling us that arbitration is a darling of federal policy, that there is a presumption in favor of it, that ambiguities in an arbitration clause should be resolved in favor of arbitration, and on and on in this vein.” Slip op. at 5. “It’s true,” said the Court, “that such language (minus the “darling”) appears in numerous cases.” Slip op. at 5 (citations omitted): “But the purpose of that language is to make clear, as had seemed necessary because of judges’ historical hostility to arbitration, that arbitration was no longer to be disfavored — especially in labor cases, see, e.g., Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 561 U.S. 287, 298­-99 (2010), where arbitration is now thought a superior method of dispute resolution to litigation.” Slip op. at 5.

Noting that “[t]he Federal Arbitration Act is inapplicable to labor disputes,  .  .  . and merely makes clauses providing for the arbitration of disputes arising out of transactions involving interstate or foreign commerce.  .  . enforceable in federal and state courts[,]” the Court said it was “not clear that arbitration, which can be expensive because of the high fees charged by some arbitrators and which fails to create precedents to guide the resolution of future disputes, should [in commercial cases] be preferred to litigation.” Slip op. at 5-6. Continue Reading »

What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

May 5th, 2015 Appellate Practice, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Arbitration Risks, Awards, ERISA, Federal Arbitration Act Enforcement Litigation Procedure, Federal Courts, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Managing Dispute Risks, MPPAA Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Comments Off on What can a Federal Arbitration Act Practitioner Learn from an ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Arbitration Case?

 Fourth Circuit Says Proceeding to Overturn ERISA MPPAA Pension Plan Dispute Arbitration Award is Commenced by Filing a Complaint—not a Federal Arbitration Act Application, Petition or Motion

Introduction

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“Sorry, I’m a bit of a stickler for paperwork. Where would we be if we didn’t follow the correct procedures?”

Sam Lowry (played by Jonathan Pryce ), Brazil (1985)

Dystopian-future bureaucratic procedure may be one thing, but federal court litigation procedure is quite another—not because of where we might or might not be if we don’t follow it—but simply because not following it can have disastrous consequences. That is true in spades in Federal Arbitration Act enforcement litigation, where proceedings to enforce arbitration agreements and awards are governed by a strange amalgam of procedural rules derived from the Federal Arbitration Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and district court local rules. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 1, 2, 3, 6(c), 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 15, 43(c) & 81(a)(6)(B); 9 U.S.C. §§ 6, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13; see, e.g., IFC Interconsult v. Safeguard Int’l Partners, 438 F.3d 298, 308-09 (3rd Cir. 2006); Productos Mercantiles Industriales, S.A.  v. Faberge USA, Inc., 23 F.3d 41, 46 (2d Cir. 1994).

On April 21, 2015 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided Freight Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 557 Pension Fund v. Penske Logistics LLC,  ___ F.3d ___, No. 14-1464, slip op. (4th Cir. April 21, 2015), a case that helps illustrate the risks associated with assuming that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure’s liberal pleading and amendment rules apply to applications for relief under the Federal Arbitration Act. As it turns out, the appellant did nothing wrong by assuming that the Federal Arbitration Act’s procedural rules did not trump Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, because the case fell under the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”), and the district court erred by interpreting the MPPAA to require compliance with Federal Arbitration Act litigation procedure rules.

The MPPAA was enacted to strengthen the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”)’s provisions designed to protect multi-employer pension plans (i.e., collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, which are generally participants in the same industry).  It features a mandatory arbitration requirement applicable to disputes about collectively bargained pension plans funded by multiple employers, including disputes about an employer’s withdrawal liability—that is the amount an employer must contribute to  the fund when it stops participating in it.

It requires a party seeking judicial review of an award to do so in 30-days and, as we’ll see, it contains a provision that at first glance appears to make the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedure rules applicable to judicial review of an MPPAA arbitration award. The Court held that under the MPPAA, the Federal Arbitration Act governed only arbitration procedure, not litigation procedure, and that accordingly, the award challenger’s amended complaint related back to the timely-filed original one.

yay-608942-digitalEndingFreight Drivers illustrates how important compliance with Federal Arbitration Act procedures can be, especially given the short limitation periods applicable to motions to confirm, vacate, modify and correct awards.  Had the Federal Arbitration Act’s litigation procedures applied, then the plaintiff’s “amended complaint” might have been deemed time-barred on the ground that Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)’s relation-back provisions apply to pleadings only, and under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Federal Arbitration Act, the amended complaint had to be deemed to be a motion, not a pleading. As we’ll see, that’s what the district court concluded, and the Fourth Circuit decided the case on the sole ground that the Federal Arbitration Act did not apply to MPPAA litigation procedure. Continue Reading »

The Tenth Tells us Time (Usually) Waits for No One: United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc.

May 7th, 2014 Appellate Practice, Arbitrability, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, State Arbitration Law, State Arbitration Statutes, State Courts, Statute of Limitations, United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on The Tenth Tells us Time (Usually) Waits for No One: United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc.

Introduction

Arbitration is supposed to be a speedy alternative to litigation, and that is supposed to be true as respects commercial or employment arbitration governed by the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) and labor arbitration arising under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151, et. seq., or Section 301 of the Taft-Hartley Act (a/k/a the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”)), 29 U.S.C. § 185. Arbitration awards are generally presumed to be valid, which puts the burden on challengers to establish their invalidity, at least provided the challenging party entered into a valid and enforceable arbitration agreement with the defending party.

Adjudicating a non-frivolous award challenge usually takes time, and if the challenge turns out to be valid, an order vacating the award does not usually resolve the underlying dispute, which, absent a settlement, must be resolved through further ADR or judicial proceedings. Delay is inevitable and delay undermines arbitration’s ability to compete with litigation.

The FAA and most or all state arbitration statutes try to minimize delay by not only by restricting t he scope of judicial review of awards, but also by imposing short limitation periods for vacating awards—for example, three months under the FAA and 90 days under many state arbitration statutes. See 9 U.S.C. § 12; see, e.g., N.Y. Civ. Prac. L.& R. § 7511(a); Fla. Stat. § 682.13(2); Wash. Rev. Code § 7.04A.230(2). Some state statutes impose shorter periods. See, e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-420(b) (30 days); Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 251, § 12(b) (30 days); but see Cal. Code Civ. P. § 1288 (100 days).

By contrast, a motion or petition to confirm an award is usually subject to a longer statute of limitations. Cases governed by Chapter 1 of the FAA (e.g., domestic arbitrations between domestic parties), for example, are subject to a one-year limitation period. See 9 U.S.C. § 9.

Under the FAA, and presumably under many or most state arbitration statutes, if a party does not bring a timely petition to vacate, and the other moves to confirm after the time period for vacating an award has elapsed, then the challenging party cannot raise grounds for vacatur as defenses to confirmation, even if it does not seek an order vacating the award. See, e.g., Florasynth, Inc. v. Pickholz, 750 F.2d 171, 175-76 (2d Cir. 1984) (FAA); Kutch v. State Farm Mutual Auto. Ins. Co., 960 P.2d 93, 97-98 (Colo. 1998) (Colorado law); but see Lyden v. Bell, 232 A.D.2d 562, 563 (2d Dep’t 1996) (Where a confirmation proceeding “is commenced after the 90-day period, but within the one-year period. . . .[,] a party may, by cross motion to vacate, oppose the petition for confirmation on any of the grounds in CPLR 7511 even though his time to commence a separate proceeding to vacate or modify under CPLR 7511(a) has expired.”) (citations omitted) (New York law); 1000 Second Avenue Corp. v. Pauline Rose Trust, 171 A.D.2d 429, 430 (1st Dep’t 1991) (“an aggrieved party may wait to challenge an award until the opposing party has moved for its confirmation”) (New York law).

In United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union v. King Soopers, Inc., No. 12-1409, slip op. (10th Cir. Feb. 28, 2014), the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reminds us that the same rules apply to LMRA Section 301 labor-arbitration-award enforcement actions. Section 301 does not specify limitation periods for vacating arbitration awards, and as a general rule, courts “borrow” the most analogous state statute of limitations. See, e.g., Local 802, Assoc. Mus. of N.Y. v. Parker Meridien Hotel, 145 F.3d at 88-89 (2d Cir. 1998). In King Soopers the Tenth Circuit borrowed Colorado’s 90-day statute of limitations for vacating an award.[1]

King Soopers might be looked at as a refresher course in how important it is to act quickly and decisively when one finds oneself at the wrong end of an arbitration award that might not meet the modest criteria for summary confirmation or enforcement. While roughly nine years elapsed between the date the employee filed the grievance and the date the arbitrator issued the award, the Court, reversing the district court’s decision to the contrary, held (quite correctly) that King Sooper’s just-over-90-day delay in asserting grounds to vacate the award foreclosed it from opposing the union’s suit to enforce the award. Continue Reading »

Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part II.A

August 16th, 2013 Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Class Action Waivers, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, Practice and Procedure, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part II.A

Part II.A:  What to Make of Oxford?

In our last post (here) we discussed the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, slip op. (U.S. June 10, 2013), which, among other things, reaffirmed that Section 10(a)(4) of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) authorizes judicial review of FAA-governed-arbitration-award outcomes based on the labor-arbitration-derived “manifest disregard of the agreement” standard.  This post, which has been divided into three segments, discusses what to make of Oxford.  This part A addresses the scope of Oxford, including whether it undermines Stolt-Nielsen and whether it authorizes arbitrators to disregard or modify the clear terms of the parties’ agreement. Continue Reading »

Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part I

July 19th, 2013 Arbitrability, Arbitration Agreements, Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Class Action Arbitration, Consolidation of Arbitration Proceedings, Contract Interpretation, Grounds for Vacatur, Judicial Review of Arbitration Awards, Labor Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter—SCOTUS Reaffirms FAA Section 10(a)(4) Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Outcome Review Standard and Elaborates on Its Scope: Part I

On June 10, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court in Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, slip op. at 4-5 (U.S. June 10, 2013) (Kagan, J.), unanimously reaffirmed that Section 10(a)(4) of the FAA authorizes courts to vacate awards that are not even arguably based on an interpretation of the parties’ agreement.

While the Court broke no new ground, Associate Justice Elena Kagan’s well-written opinion—together with Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito’s opinion in Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 130 S. Ct. 1758 (2010)—defines in fairly clear terms the scope of contract-based judicial review Section 10(a)(4) authorizes. Justice Kagan’s opinion raises not only some issues specific to class and consolidated arbitration, but also some relevant to Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)-governed arbitration in general. Continue Reading »

How Will Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp. Change Reinsurance Arbitration Practice?

June 1st, 2010 Arbitration Practice and Procedure, Authority of Arbitrators, Awards, Grounds for Vacatur, Labor Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on How Will Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. Animalfeeds Int’l Corp. Change Reinsurance Arbitration Practice?

Part II

A.   Introduction

In Part I (here) we explained why the standard for challenging an award based on its outcome is important in reinsurance arbitration practice.  And, after briefly reviewing pre-Stolt-Nielsen law on outcome-based standards of review, we explained how Stolt-Nielsen has established a fairly searching, standard of review.  This Part II explores the legal and practical implications of that standard of review.    

B.   Legal Implications of the Stolt-Nielsen Decision’s Manifest Disregard of the Agreement Standard of Review

1.  Courts May Interpret Stolt-Nielsen’s Outcome-Based Standard of Review Liberally

Reinsurance-  and other commercial-arbitration awards are now subject to the same standard of review as labor-law awards – and in Stolt-Nielsen, the Court applied that standard of review pretty liberally.  The Court has put to rest the notion that Federal Arbitration Act Section 10(a)(4) vacatur is limited to questions concerning whether the arbitrators decided a matter falling within the scope of the parties’ arbitration agreement or submission.   The outcome of the arbitration is now subject to at least some, limited scrutiny. 

The focus will now be on whether the arbitrators interpreted, applied and enforced the contract, and applied applicable law or norms.  Express or implied reliance on extra-contractual considerations, such as public policy, may spoil an award, unless those extra-contractual considerations are grounded in applicable law.  Not heeding clear and unambiguous contract language, effectively deleting or disregarding contractual provisions or otherwise rewriting the contract may also subject the award to vacatur.  Continue Reading »

International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Newsletter Features Philip J. Loree Jr. Cover Story on Rent-A-Center and Granite Rock

March 16th, 2010 Arbitrability, Authority of Arbitrators, Labor Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution Newsletter Features Philip J. Loree Jr. Cover Story on Rent-A-Center and Granite Rock

The March 2010 issue of Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation, the excellent newsletter of the International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution (“CPR”), featured as its cover story an article I wrote on Rent-A-Center West v. Jackson, No. 09-497, and Granite Rock Co. v. Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters, No. 08-1214, two of the three cases pending before the United States Supreme Court this term.  The article is entitled “It’s Time for Doctrines: The Supreme Court Wrestles with ‘Severability’ and the ‘Clear and Unmistakable’ Standard.” 

These two cases involve, to some degree, the Buckeye Check Cashing/Prima Paint doctrine of severability—a/k/a “separability.”  Rent-A-Center also examines the “clear and unmistakable doctrine,” under which arbitrators can decide arbitrability questions if the parties clearly and unmistakably so agree. 

Rent-a-Center, which arises under the Federal Arbitration Act,  raises the question whether courts or arbitrators get to decide whether an arbitration agreement is unconscionable if the parties clearly and unmistakably agree to submit arbitrability questions to arbitration.  (See our prior posts here, here and here.)   Granite Rock, which arises under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, concerns whether, on the facts presented, arbitration must go forward and what it should encompass.  (See our prior post here.)

In the article I argue that both cases were wrongly decided by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and that, in Granite Rock, the Ninth Circuit reached the right result (an order compelling arbitration) for the wrong reasons.  I predict that the United States Supreme Court will reverse the Rent-A-Center decision and vacate the Granite Rock decision.

Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation is a subscription-only publication.   Anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the article can request one at this page.  Subscription information is available at that page, too, as well as publisher John Wiley & Sons, here.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank CPR, and Russ Bleemer, Editor of Alternatives, for their kind assistance and support in featuring my article.  Russ is not only a keen, professional editor, but a pleasure to work with as well.

United States Supreme Court Update: Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (08-604)

December 10th, 2009 Labor Arbitration, United States Supreme Court Comments Off on United States Supreme Court Update: Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (08-604)

On October 11, 2009 we reported on two labor arbitration cases pending before the United States Supreme Court:  Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (08-604) (arising under the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”), 45 U.S.C. §§151 et seq.) and Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (08-1214) (arising under Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”) Section 301).  (Post here)  On December 8, 2009 the Supreme Court issued its unanimous opinion in Union Pacific (here).

The Court affirmed the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit to the extent it held that the National Railroad Adjustment Board (the “Board”)  failed “to conform or confine” its orders “to matters within … the [Board’s] jurisdiction.  .  .  .”  See 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (q).  As readers may recall from our previous post, the Board had denied for lack of subject matter jurisdiction certain employee grievance claims on the ground that the claimants had not complied with a Board rule requiring them to prove that the pre-grievance, statutory requirement of a “conference” between the parties had been met, even though there was no bona fide dispute that conferences had taken place.  See 45 U.S.C. §§ 152.  The Seventh Circuit ruled that the Board not only acted outside its jurisdiction, but violated due process.  The Court ruled that the Seventh Circuit should not have reached the due process question, including whether an RLA arbitration award can be overturned solely on the ground that it violated due process.  

As we observed in our October 11, 2009 post, Union Pacific is not a contractual arbitration case, but effectively an administrative law one, and the Court’s ruling will likely have little or no effect on Federal Arbitration Act jurisprudence.  The Granite Rock case – which does involve contractual arbitration, albeit under Section 301 of the LMRA – is still pending before the Court, with oral argument slated for January 19, 2009.

United States Supreme Court Update: Union Pacific and Granite Rock Labor Arbitration Cases

October 11th, 2009 Authority of Arbitrators, Labor Arbitration, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, United States Supreme Court 1 Comment »

Introduction

So far the United States Supreme Court has agreed to hear only one arbitration case governed by the Federal Arbitration Act:  Stolt-Nielsen, S.A. v. AnimalFeeds Int’l Corp., 548 F.3d 85 (2d Cir. 2009), petition for cert. granted June 15, 2009 (No. 08-1198), which has been set for oral argument at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, December 9, 2009.   (See Russ Kunkel’s LawMemo Arbitration Blog  here.)  We have written extensively on Stolt-Nielsen, which concerns whether class arbitration may be imposed on parties whose contracts are silent on that point.  (Posts available here,  here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.)

The Supreme Court has also agreed to hear two labor arbitration cases.  The first is Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers & Trainmen (08-604), which is governed by the the Railway Labor Act (“RLA”), 45 U.S.C. §§151 et seq.  The RLA, among other things, requires arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board (“the Board”) of labor disputes involving railway workers.  Union Pacific, for all practical purposes, is therefore not a contractual arbitration case, but an administrative law one, and the outcome will likely have  little or no effect on Federal Arbitration Act jurisprudence.  The Court held oral argument on October 7, 2009.  (Oral argument Tr. here

The second is Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters (08-1214), which arises under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act.  The Court is expected to set argument for later this Fall.  (See Russ Kunkel’s LawMemo Employment Law Blog here.)   Though not governed by the Federal Arbitration Act, Granite Rock, unlike Union Pacific, is a contractual arbitration case.  And the outcome may be relevant to cases falling under the Federal Arbitration Act. 

We briefly summarize below the issues the Court will presumably address in these labor arbitration cases and discuss why Granite Rock may be more controversial than it appears at first blush.    Continue Reading »