The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICARDO URBINA, District Judge
GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO HOLD THE CASE IN
This matter comes before the court on the motion of
Employee Representatives' Council (the "Union")
to hold this case in abeyance pending a ruling by a neutral
arbitrator with the System Board of Adjustment ("SBA"). The Union
represents employees of Gate Gourmet, Inc. (the
and alleges that the Company unlawfully
failed to pay employee health benefit contributions between July
and August of 2005. Because a ruling in the pending arbitration
proceeding may moot the remaining claims in this case or obviate the need for further judicial intervention, the court
grants the plaintiff's motion to hold this case in abeyance.
In April 2000, the parties executed a collective bargaining
agreement (the "National Master Agreement" or "NMA") that became
effective on June 1, 2000, and amendable on June 1, 2004. Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 5-12. The Company services airlines, and as the airline
industry has struggled in recent years, so has the Company.
Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. for Temp. Restraining Ord. ("Defs.'
Opp'n to TRO") at 7-9 & Goeke Decl. ("Goeke Decl.") ¶¶ 5-11. In
pursuing cost reduction programs, the Company endeavored to lower
its "single largest expense," labor costs. Goeke Decl. ¶ 13.
Beginning in December 2003, and in anticipation of the impending
amendability of the NMA, the Company entered into negotiations
with the Union to cut costs.*fn4 Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 10;
see also Am. Compl. ¶ 13 (describing the Company's proposals as
"deep, across-the-board-cuts in wages and benefits").
In May 2005, following unsuccessful negotiations, the Company
provided the Union with the Company's "final offer," a package of
reduced benefits and compensation representing the Company's last effort to negotiate with the Union.*fn5 Id.
¶ 18; Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 10 & Bralich Decl. ("Bralich Decl.")
¶ 5 & Ex. B. The Company then announced that if the Union did not
approve the proposal, the Company would require all employees
(i.e., Union and non-Union) under the plan to pay the full cost
of medical coverage, with no contributions from the Company. Am.
Compl. ¶ 20; Defs.' Opp'n to TRO at 14; Bralich Decl. ¶ 18. The
Union overwhelmingly rejected the offer, negotiations ended, and
the Company applied for mediation. Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Defs.' Opp'n
to TRO at 10.
The plaintiff filed a complaint in this court and moved for a
temporary restraining order ("TRO") and a preliminary injunction.
See generally, Am. Compl. The plaintiff sought to enjoin the
defendant from ceasing medical coverage contributions. See id.
Following expedited briefing, this court denied the plaintiff's
TRO request. Mem. Op. (July 1, 2005). The court ruled that this
case involves a "minor" dispute as defined by the Railway Labor
Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151, et seq., and that the Union
therefore cannot seek a "major" dispute injunction. Id. at
7-10. As planned, the Company terminated health coverage
contributions on July 1, 2005. Following this court's ruling, the
parties participated in arbitration in September 2005. Defs.'
Mot. to Dismiss at 4. The parties agreed to bifurcate the
arbitration so as to address liability first, and remedies, if
necessary, second. Pl.'s Mot. to Hold Case in Abeyance ("Pl.'s
Mot.") at 2. In addition, through ongoing negotiations, the
Company agreed to reinstate health coverage contributions as of September 1, 2005, at a rate equal to the
pre-July 1, 2005 contribution rate. Id. Although the arbitrator
handling this matter has not yet rendered a decision, the
plaintiff anticipates that the arbitrator will issue a ruling on
the issue of liability by the end of 2005. Id.
The defendants move to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the
court's June 30, 2005 ruling and the Company's reinstatement of
health coverage contributions moot the plaintiff's
claims.*fn6 Id. The Company makes two specific arguments
in support of this position. First, the defendants argue that
because the court ruled that this case involves a minor dispute
as defined under the RLA, the court does not have jurisdiction to
entertain the plaintiff's claims. Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 5-6
(citing July 1, 2005 Memorandum Opinion at 2, 7-8). The
defendants' interpretation of case law dictates that parties
engaged in minor disputes "must take their grievances to binding
arbitration, and each is free to act under its interpretation of
the collective bargaining agreement." Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot.
("Defs.' Opp'n") (quoting Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. E.
Airlines, Inc., 869 F.2d 1518, 1520 (D.C. Cir. 1989)). Second,
and as a corollary of the first argument, the defendants argue
that the jurisdiction of the SBA in these minor disputes is
"mandatory, exclusive and comprehensive." Defs.' Opp'n at 6
(quoting Bhd. of Locomotive Eng'rs v. Louisville & Nat'l Rail
Road Co., 373 U.S. 33, 38 (1963)).
The plaintiff makes two arguments in opposition. First, the
plaintiff argues that this case is not moot because the Company's
employees are entitled to compensation for the time period during
which the Company did not make health coverage contributions.
Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3. Second, the plaintiff argues that the
court, not the SBA, has jurisdiction to enforce the commands of
the RLA. Id. at 6.
In addition to filing an opposition to the defendants' motion
to dismiss, the plaintiff filed a motion to hold this case, and a
ruling on the defendants' motion to dismiss, in abeyance pending
a decision by the arbitrator. See generally, Pl.'s Mot. The
plaintiff argues that the arbitrator's decision may obviate, or
at least lessen, the need for further judicial involvement. Pl.'s
Mot. at 4 (stating that "neither the parties nor this Court can
state with assurance that further involvement of this Court will
or will not be needed to make the employees whole"). The court
turns to the plaintiff's motion.
A. Legal Standard for Stay
A trial court has broad discretion to stay all proceedings in
an action pending the resolution of independent proceedings
elsewhere. See Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299 U.S. 248, 254 (1936).
"The power to stay proceedings is incidental to the power
inherent in every court to control the disposition of the causes
on its docket with economy of time and effort for itself, for
counsel, and for litigants." Airline Pilots Ass'n v. Miller,
523 U.S. 866, 879 n. 6 (1998) (quoting Landis,
299 U.S. at 254-55). Indeed, "[a] trial court may, with propriety, find it is
efficient for its own docket and the fairest course for the
parties to enter a stay of an action before it, pending
resolution of independent proceedings which bear upon the ...