Ms. Miller's failure to appear at the March 2, 1992 interview.
Plaintiff filed a grievance on April 7, 1992, challenging Ms. Miller's second Notice of Removal on the grounds that the January 1992 arbitration award precluded defendant from again attempting to terminate plaintiff's employment. That grievance is pending for disposition at the national level and has not yet been scheduled for arbitration. See Second Declaration of Thomas A. Neill ("Neill Decl.") P 6.
Plaintiff also filed a Complaint with this Court on July 16, 1992 for declaratory and injunctive relief to enforce Arbitrator Gold's decision of January 16, 1992. As in its second grievance, plaintiff contends that Arbitrator Gold's decision was a final decision on the merits and, therefore, one which this Court should, enforce. Presently before this Court are defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for Summary Judgment, and Motion for Summary Judgment.
It is well established that this Court has jurisdiction under Chapter 12 of the Postal Reorganization Act, 39 U.S.C. § 1208 (b), to enforce arbitration awards which are final decisions on the merits and are consistent with the terms of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. See W.R. Grace & Co. v. Rubber Workers Local 759, 461 U.S. 757, 764, 103 S. Ct. 2177, 76 L. Ed. 2d 298 (1982).
The central question before us, however, is whether the Arbitrator's decision was, in fact, such a final decision.
Plaintiff contends that the Arbitrator unambiguously held that there was no "just cause" for Ms. Miller's termination as a result of the procedural defect in reviewing her case. See Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Opposition to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment, and in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment ("Pl. Motion") at 2. This finding, plaintiff concludes, is a final decision which this Court must enforce and which bars defendant's second removal action. Id. at 3.
Defendant, on the other hand, maintains that the decision did not reach the merits of the case but merely pointed to a procedural error which the Arbitrator presumed would be cured. See Defendant's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment ("Def. Motion") at 3-4. Defendant further argues that whether or not the case reached the merits is a question for arbitration and not for this Court.
Id. at 5. We agree with defendant that this issue should be addressed by an arbitrator.
First, as a matter of policy, we are reluctant to determine the intent of Arbitrator Gold's opinion. Such a determination is better left to arbitration since that is the forum selected by the parties for resolving labor disputes. "Federal courts are bound to exercise the utmost restraint to avoid intruding on the bargained-for method of dispute resolution and when enforcement of an arbitration award or settlement agreement is sought under Section 301, the court must be able to say 'with positive assurance' that the award or settlement was intended to cover the dispute." United Mine Workers of America District No. 5 v. Consolidation Coal Co., 666 F.2d 806, 811 (3d Cir. 1981) (citation omitted).
We cannot say "with positive assurance" that the case was decided on the merits. Determination of "just cause" is a thorny issue. Many arbitrators, in reviewing prior findings of procedural deficiencies, have determined that there was no decision on the merits. In fact, plaintiff itself noted that four of the seven opinions it found on the subject determined that there was no decision on the merits where procedural deficiencies were found. See Neill Decl. P 2, 3 (citing Cases No. DR-31-88, S7C-3C-D 33937, and S7C-3C-D 18102 supporting the union's position, and Cases No. N1C-1J-D 24230/N1C-1J-D 24907, AC-C-26326-D, S7N-3N-D 38398, and SON-3W-D 6249 supporting defendant's position).
More importantly, we also find that plaintiff has failed to exhaust its administrative remedies in determining the intent of Arbitrator Gold's opinion. When a collective bargaining agreement contains a grievance and arbitration process, the employee must exhaust those procedures before resorting to the court with a claim of breach of that agreement. See Allis-Chalmers v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 220-21, 85 L. Ed. 2d 206, 105 S. Ct. 1904 (1985); Sanders v. Washington Metro. Area Transit Auth., 260 U.S. App. D.C. 359, 819 F.2d 1151, 1158 (D.C. Cir. 1987) ("employees who failed to exhaust the grievance and arbitration proceedings, available to them, may not seek redress in court on claims that could and should have been grieved.").
In this particular case, the APWU has raised a new question which was not before Arbitrator Gold. The first grievance was whether there was "just cause" for the grievant's removal. The second grievance concerns the import of Arbitrator Gold's decision, namely whether it was a decision on the merits. Because there is no identicality of issues, res judicata and collateral estoppel do not apply. There is no bar to litigating the second issue and plaintiff must exhaust the administrative process before presenting the issue to this Court.
Accordingly, we find that this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this action at this time. We therefore deny plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and grant defendant's Motion to Dismiss. An Order in accordance with the above has been entered this day.
JOHN H. PRATT
United States District Judge
Date 23 Aug 93
ORDER - August 23, 1993, Filed
Upon consideration of defendant's Motion to Dismiss or for Summary Judgment, plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment, and the opposition and replies thereto, and the entire record herein, and for the reasons stated in an accompanying Memorandum Opinion entered this day, it is by the Court this 23rd day of August, 1993,
ORDERED that defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted; and it is
ORDERED that plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is denied; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that the case shall be dismissed with prejudice.
JOHN H. PRATT
United States District Judge