weight of coal produced, without deducting for excess moisture. The Trustees further allege, that with a limited exception for certain employers in Alabama, it had always been the industry-wide practice nationally to calculate tonnage contributions without reduction for excess moisture. The Trustees brought these actions to enforce their claim that extraneous moisture should be included in Article XX(d) contribution calculations.
The defendants argue that, under the terms of Article XX(d) of the Agreement, their monthly tonnage-based contributions to the Funds should be based on the weight of the coal produced, and not on the weight attributable to extraneous moisture.
Two weeks after the Trustees filed this suit, A.J. Taft Coal Company ("Taft") brought suit in the Northern District of Alabama on behalf of a class of all Alabama coal producers who had been permitted to take deductions for excess moisture in calculating contributions due to the Funds, challenging the Trustees' interpretation of the National Agreement as applied to Alabama companies. A.J. Taft Coal Co. v. Connors, C.A. No. CV86-H-245-S (N.D. Ala. filed February 13, 1986). The Trustees filed a counterclaim requesting that Taft be ordered to calculate tonnage contributions without deduction of excess moisture.
On April 22, 1986, pursuant to a stipulation, this Court ordered the Trustees' claims against Drummond Company, Inc. ("Drummond") and Alabama By-Products Corporation ("ABC"), both Alabama coal producers severed from Connors v. Island Creek, C.A. No. 86-0299, transferred to the Northern District of Alabama so that the proceedings respecting those two companies could be consolidated with Taft. The litigation in the present case was stayed on December 15, 1986 pending the decision of the Eleventh Circuit in the Taft case.
On April 5, 1989, the District Court in Taft issued its Memorandum of Decision, holding that the Alabama producers could calculate tonnage contributions to the Funds by reducing the actual weight of the coal produced by an amount representing "excess moisture." The Court based its decision on three grounds. First, the Court held that "the terms of the [National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement] do not include 'extraneous moisture' within the definition of the word 'coal.'" Second, the Court stated that "the trustees have essentially waived their right to construe the contract to include extraneous moisture because they have long accepted the producers' practice." Third, the Court held that, given the Alabama past practice, the Trustees' interpretation of the tonnage contribution provision of the National Agreement was "arbitrary and capricious."
In affirming the District Court, the Eleventh Circuit only reached the first issue, and held that "'excess moisture' is not included within the meaning of the term 'coal' as used in the NBCWA." The Court of Appeals stated that in reading the Agreement, "'coal' means 'coal' and it is not an ambiguous term," and that the "words 'coal product' do not appear in Article XX of the NBCWA."
In the present case, the defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the issue of collateral estoppel, alleging that the issue before this Court, the meaning of the term "coal" in the Article XX provision, has been fully litigated and decided against the Trustees in A.J. Taft Coal, Inc. v. Connors, 906 F.2d 539 (11th Cir. 1990).
The Trustees oppose the motion, claiming that the issue before this Court is different from the issue litigated in the Eleventh Circuit because the defendants in this litigation have never been permitted to take a deduction in the past and, until learning of the Alabama practice, never sought to do so. Thus, the plaintiffs argue, the issue in this case is factually distinct from the issue in Taft and the meaning of the National Agreement as applied to non-Alabama producers was not "actually and necessarily determined" by the Court in Taft. In addition, the Trustees argue that application of the collateral estoppel doctrine would be unfair in this case.
Upon consideration of the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, the Plaintiffs' Opposition, the Defendants' Reply, and oral argument, it is
ORDERED that the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.
The doctrine of collateral estoppel provides that "once a court has decided an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision may preclude re-litigation of the issue in a suit on a different cause of action involving a party to the first case." Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308, 101 S. Ct. 411 (1980). The standard for applying collateral estoppel principles in the District of Columbia are articulated in Otherson v. Department of Justice, I.N.S., 228 U.S. App. D.C. 481, 711 F.2d 267, 273 (D.C. Cir. 1983):
First, the issue must have been actually litigated, that is, contested by the parties and submitted for determination by the court.
Second, the issue must have been actually and necessarily determined by a court of competent jurisdiction in the first trial.