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LOCAL UNION 26, IBEW v. CWS ELEC.

November 24, 1986

Local Union 26, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, AFL-CIO, Plaintiff,
v.
CWS Electric, et al., Defendants


Louis F. Oberdorfer, United States District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: OBERDORFER

LOUIS F. OBERDORFER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 This action was filed by Local Union 26 on April 23, 1986 to confirm and enforce an arbitration award against the defendant CWS Electric, Inc. The matter is now before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. The facts will be set forth briefly below.

 I.

 On November 5, 1979 and again on September 16, 1981, Conrad W. Stonebanks signed a "letter of assent" on behalf of his unincorporated propietorship, CWS Electric. These letters of assent purported to authorize the Washington D.C. Chapter of the National Electrical Contractor's Association ("NECA") to enter into a collective bargaining agreement (the "Inside Wire Agreement") on behalf of CWS Electric. The letter also provided that the delegation of authority to NECA could be terminated by giving Local 26 and NECA written notice 150 days before the anniversary date of the labor agreement. In April 1985, a dispute arose between Local 26 and CWS Electric, Inc. over that company's obligations under the Inside Wire Agreement. Local 26 submitted this dispute to the Labor Management Committee in accordance with Article II of the collective bargaining agreement. An attorney for CWS Electric, Inc. made an appearance before the Committee to contest its jurisdiction on the grounds that Mr. Stonebanks had incorporated as CWS Electric, Inc. in October, 1982 and that this new corporation had signed no letters of assent. No other objection was made to the Committee's jurisdiction. On November 6, 1985, the Committee issued a decision which found that CWS Electric, Inc. was the "alter ego" of CWS Electric and that it had violated the collective bargaining agreement. As a remedy, the Committee determined that CWS Electric, Inc. must make fringe benefit contributions from 1982 to the date of the award and must adhere to the requirements of the Inside Wire Agreement in the future. When CWS Electric, Inc. did not respond to the demands by Local 26 that it comply with this decision, the union filed the complaint in this action under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("the Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 185.

 II.

 The defendant has moved to dismiss on the grounds that this action is precluded by the applicable statute of limitations. For the reasons discussed below, this motion to dismiss the complaint will be denied.

 The Labor Management Relations Act does not specify a statute of limitations for actions brought pursuant to Section 301. However, the Supreme Court has held, in United Automobile Workers v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., 383 U.S. 696, 86 S. Ct. 1107, 16 L. Ed. 2d 192 (1966) that the timeliness of such actions should be determined by reference to the appropriate state limitations period. *fn1" Id. at 704. In that case, for example, a union sued an employer for vacation pay allegedly due the employees under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement. Because proof of the breach and measurement of damages depended on proof of the existence of separate oral contracts with each employee, the Court applied the six year statute of limitations period applicable to suits upon oral contracts. Id. at 706-09.

 In actions under the Act where arbitration has been employed, a different statute of limitations may be appropriate. For example, when the plaintiff who sues under § 301 of the Act seeks to avoid the effect of a decision by a grievance committee, courts have applied the state statute of limitations applicable to actions to vacate or modify arbitration awards. See, e.g., Chauffeurs, Teamsters, Warehousemen and Helpers, Local Union No. 135 v. Jefferson Trucking Co., 628 F.2d 1023, 1026-27 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1125, 67 L. Ed. 2d 111, 101 S. Ct. 942 (1981). Defendant here seeks to extend the holding in those cases by arguing that the statute of limitations for actions challenging arbitration awards applies to all actions which allege violations of a collective bargaining agreement as long as the arbitration mechanism of the collective bargaining agreement has been utilized. Defendant therefore requests that this Court apply the 90 day limitations period applicable to actions to challenge arbitration awards to this action to enforce an arbitration award. See 16 D.C. Code §§ 4311, 4312.

 As plaintiff persuasively demonstrates, the statute applicable to actions to vacate arbitration awards is not the most closely analogous state statute in this case. Plaintiff here seeks to confirm and enforce an arbitration award. The language of D.C. Code § 16-4310 strongly suggests that such actions are subject to a different limitations period than actions to modify such awards. That statute provides, in part:

 
Upon application of a party, the Court shall confirm an award, unless within the time limits hereinafter imposed grounds are urged for vacating or modifying or correcting the award . . . .

 This provision appears to contemplate that a motion to enforce an arbitration award may be brought after the time limit on a motion to alter or vacate has expired.

 Furthermore, application of the very brief limitations period applicable to motions to vacate is not necessary or appropriate in suits to enforce. As the Supreme Court noted in United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 67 L. Ed. 2d 732, 101 S. Ct. 1559 (1981), "'the grievance machinery under a collective bargaining agreement is at the very heart of the system of industrial self-government . . . .' This system . . . could easily become unworkable if a decision which has given 'meaning and content' to the terms of the agreement, and even affected subsequent modifications of the agreement could suddenly be called into question as much as six years later." Id. at 63-64 (quoting Steelworkers v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 581, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1409, 80 S. Ct. 1347 (1960)). A brief limitations period for actions to vacate arbitration awards is therefore consistent with national labor policy. However, such a brief opportunity to litigate is not necessary, or even desirable, for actions like the one here, which merely seek to confirm an arbitration decision. Applying a 90 day limitations period for such actions might discourage voluntary cooperation and unnecessarily burden the court system.

 Indeed, the argument advanced by the defendant has already been rejected by another judge of this Court. In Service Employees International Union Local 722 v. Washington Hospital Center, 115 LRRM 3581 (D.D.C. 1983), a suit brought to confirm an arbitration award, Judge Joyce Green held "as a preliminary matter, the Court can readily dismiss the [defendant's] contention that plaintiff's claim is time barred. Plaintiff filed its complaint on October 19, 1982, well within the statutory period applicable to actions to enforce arbitration awards. However, actions to vacate or modify awards must be brought 'within 90 days after delivery of a copy of the award to the applicant.' 16 D.C. Code §§ 4311, 4312." Id. at 3582 n.2 (emphasis in the original). Judge Green correctly determined that 12 D.C. ...


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