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National Air Traffic Controllers Association v. Federal Service Impasses Panel

October 23, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rosemary M. Collyer United States District Judge


The National Air Traffic Controllers Association ("NATCA") seeks to force the Federal Service Impasses Panel ("Panel") to assist them in resolving bargaining impasses with the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA"). Like a similar suit the NATCA brought before this Court in 2004, the NATCA asserts that the Panel improperly declined to exercise jurisdiction to resolve these impasses. This Court held previously, and now finds again, that the Federal Labor Relations Authority ("FLRA") is the appropriate forum to determine whether the Panel has jurisdiction. Because this Court lacks jurisdiction, NATCA's motion for summary judgment will be denied and the Defendants' motions to dismiss will be granted.


The NATCA is a labor union that represents FAA employees. It is a labor organization within the meaning of the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978, 5 U.S.C. §§ 7101 et seq. ("Chapter 71"). Under Chapter 71, Congress established the FLRA to protect the rights of federal employees to organize, bargain collectively, and participate through labor organizations. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 7104-7105. The Panel is an "entity within the Authority [whose] function . . . is to provide assistance in resolving negotiation impasses between agencies and exclusive representatives." 5 U.S.C. § 7119(c)(1). The federal sector process, whereby the Panel can impose contract terms if the parties fail to agree, replaces the traditional economic weapons of strike or lockout used in the private sector to resolve disputes.

After certain collective bargaining negotiations between the FAA and the NATCA failed to reach accord, in July 2003 the NATCA filed a request for assistance, asking that the Panel consider the impasses. The FAA asserted that 49 U.S.C. §§ 40122(a) and 106(l) divest the Panel of jurisdiction to review certain impasse claims, even though such claims were previously subject to the Panel's impasse procedures under 5 U.S.C. § 7119. See 49 U.S.C. § 40122(a) (establishing procedure for FAA to make changes to its personnel management system); 49 U.S.C. § 106(l) (giving authority to the FAA Administrator to fix compensation without collective bargaining). On January 9, 2004, the Panel declined to address the impasses, finding it unclear whether the Panel had the authority to resolve them.

The NATCA then filed suit in this Court against the Panel and the FLRA asking the Court to direct the Panel to assert jurisdiction over the impasses. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of the Panel and the FLRA, finding that the FLRA was the better forum for adjudicating the union's claim that the Panel should resolve the bargaining impasses. NATCA v. Federal Services Impasses Panel, No. 04-0138, 2005 WL 418016, *5 (D.D.C. Feb. 22, 2005), aff'd, 437 F.3d 1256 (D.C. Cir. 2006). The Circuit affirmed, agreeing that to determine whether the Panel is an available mechanism to resolve certain types of impasses, the union's proper course of action is to file an unfair labor practice charge against the FAA with the FLRA. NATCA, 437 F.3d at 1265.

In short, if the Union's interpretation of the disputed statutory provisions is correct, then it is clear that they have viable unfair labor practice charges that can be raised with and addressed by the FLRA. Thus, the Unions are not without possible redress for the alleged violations of their statutory rights.

It is also clear than any alleged unfair labor practices must be addressed in the first instance by the FLRA - not by the [Panel], the District Court, or this court.

Id. The union filed an unfair labor practice charge with the FLRA regarding these bargaining impasses. The FLRA's General Counsel unilaterally settled the charge.

The NATCA reached another impasse with the FAA in 2006 and again sought Panel assistance. The Panel again declined to exercise jurisdiction. It determined that the FAA "has raised arguable questions concerning whether the Panel has the authority to resolve collective bargaining disputes over changes to the FAA's [Personnel Management System], including the compensation and benefits of FAA's bargaining-unit employees. . . . [S]uch questions . . . must be addressed in an appropriate forum before the Panel commits its resources to assist in resolving the merits of their impasse." Pl.'s Compl., Ex. 2. As a result, the union filed another unfair labor practice charge with the FLRA. The FLRA Regional Director dismissed the 2006 charge, see FAA's Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. 2, and the NATCA administratively appealed. On January 29, 2008, the FLRA General Counsel denied the appeal, and on February 26, 2008, the General Counsel denied NATCA's motion for reconsideration. Id., Exs. 3 & 4.

The NATCA brought this suit against the FLRA and the Panel, as well as the Department of Transportation and its agency the FAA. The union seeks a declaratory judgment requiring the Panel to accept jurisdiction to resolve the parties' impasses. Defendants move to dismiss or for summary judgment. Because the Court lacks jurisdiction, the motion to dismiss filed by the Department of Transportation and the FAA and the motion to dismiss filed by the FLRA and the Panel will be granted.

II. Legal Standard for a Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that "a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89 (1938). Because "subject-matter jurisdiction is an 'Art. III as well as a statutory requirement[,] no action of the parties can confer subject-matter jurisdiction upon a federal court.'" Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d 970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003) (quoting Ins. Corp. of Ir., Ltd. v. Compagnie des Bauxite de Guinea, 456 U.S. 694, 702 (1982)). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court has subject matter jurisdiction. Rasul v. Bush, 215 F. Supp. 2d 55, 61 (D.D.C. 2002) (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-83 (1936)). Because subject matter ...

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