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May 8, 1990


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Frederick H. Weisberg, Trial Judge

Before Rogers, Chief Judge, and Ferren and Farrell, Associate Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Farrell

This is an appeal from an order of the Superior Court granting summary judgment in favor of appellee, defendant below, CSX Transportation, Inc. (CSXT). *fn1 The action was brought by appellants Stephen Rastall and Timothy Cowdey, Canadian employees of CSXT, on behalf of themselves and all past, present and future Canadian employees, *fn2 and alleged a breach of provisions of a collective bargaining agreement between the company and its Canadian employees whereby CSXT purportedly had agreed to pay the wages, pensions and other benefits of the employees in United States dollars. *fn3

Shortly after the complaint was filed, CSXT removed the case to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia asserting federal question jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1982), *fn4 on the grounds that either the Railway Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-88 (1982), or the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 185 et seq., applied to the dispute and required the parties to submit disputes such as this one to arbitration. *fn5 The district court, however, remanded the case to the Superior Court after concluding that neither the RLA nor the LMRA has extraterritorial effect so as to apply to CSXT's Canadian employees. Rastall v. CSX Corp., (supra) note 4, 696 F. Supp. at 684-85.

CSXT renewed its motion to dismiss in the Superior Court, again asserting that arbitration of this dispute is mandated by either the RLA or the LMRA, thus depriving the courts of jurisdiction to rule on the breach of contract claim. *fn6 CSXT also contended that if United States labor law did not apply to Canadian employees, then the Canadian Labour Code applied and similarly required arbitration. The trial court declined to rule on the application of federal or Canadian law to the dispute, but instead concluded that the dispute resolution provisions of the labor contracts themselves required the parties to submit to binding arbitration. He therefore granted CSXT's motion for summary judgment. *fn7

On appeal, the employees contend that the trial court erred in failing to heed the plain language of the collective bargaining agreements which, they assert, expressly gives Canadian employees the choice of submitting their grievances to arbitration or bringing an action in court. CSXT, on the other hand, while defending the trial court's contract interpretation, urges that the court lacked jurisdiction to rule on the matter to begin with because the RLA deprives the courts of jurisdiction oven "minor disputes" such as this one in favor of mandatory arbitration. In the alternative, CSXT contends that either the LMRA, federal common labor law, or the Canadian Labour Code applies to the present dispute and equally compels arbitration.

For the reasons set forth below, we reverse the grant of summary judgment in CSXT's favor and remand the case for further proceedings.


Before dealing with the interpretation of the dispute resolution provisions, we must address CSXT's argument that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to reach the contractual issues. Any such action, it contends, is preempted by the requirement of arbitration imposed by the RLA, the LMRA, or Canadian labor law. We are unpersuaded.

With regard to the RLA, we agree with United States District Judge Gesell that it does not apply to foreign employees performing services entirely outside the United States. 696 F. Supp. at 684. Indeed, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit expressly so held in Air Line Dispatchers Ass'n v. National Mediation Bd., 89 U.S. App. D.C. 24, 29, 189 F.2d 685, 690 (1951), a holding that would appear to bind us. See M.A.P. v. Ryan, 285 A.2d 310, 312 (D.C. 1979). Even if we were not bound by Air Line Dispatchers, our own reading of the statute is in accord with its holding. *fn8 We are confirmed in that reading by the consistent body of federal law elsewhere holding that the RLA has no extraterritorial effect. See Air Line Stewards & Stewardesses Ass'n v. Northwest Airlines, 267 F.2d 170, 175 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 361 U.S. 901, 4 L. Ed. 2d 156, 80 S. Ct. 208 (1959); Vollmar v. CSX Transp., Inc., (supra) note 8, 705 F. Supp. at 1164-65; General Comm. on Adjustment v. United States, 102 L.R.R.M. 2869, 2871 (D. Minn. 1979), aff'd, 620 F.2d 161 (8th Cir.), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 826, 66 L. Ed. 2d 29, 101 S. Ct. 88 (1980); Air Line Stewards & Stewardesses Ass'n v. Transworld Airlines, 173 F. Supp. 369, 374-78 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 273 F.2d 69 (2d Cir. 1959), cert. denied, 362 U.S. 988, 4 L. Ed. 2d 1021, 80 S. Ct. 1075 (1960).

With regard to the LMRA, its application to foreign employees is doubtful, Windward Shipping Ltd. v. American Radio Ass'n, 415 U.S. 104, 110, 39 L. Ed. 2d 195, 94 S. Ct. 959 (1974); Benz v. Compania Naviera Hidalgo, 353 U.S. 138, 144, 1 L. Ed. 2d 709, 77 S. Ct. 699 (1957).

We need not stop to consider that issue, however, because even if applicable in the present context, the LMRA contains no language requiring arbitration in the face of an agreement providing otherwise, nor does CSXT so contend. It merely asserts that, "under the LMRA, the Appellants would certainly be required to arbitrate under any agreement which called for arbitration . . ." Since, as we demonstrate later, the present agreement does not require Canadian employees to submit their disputes to arbitration, the argument that arbitration is mandated by the LMRA is without merit. *fn9

Lastly, we reject CSXT's argument that the Canadian Labour Code, R.S.C. 1970, c. L-1, requires the parties to submit to binding arbitration. It is unnecessary to consider the employees' contention that, under choice of law principles, it is not Canadian law but the law of Maryland, Michigan, and the District of Columbia that governs whether this dispute was required to be arbitrated. Assuming arguendo that ...

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