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Allied Pilots Association v. American Airlines

August 17, 2009

ALLIED PILOTS ASSOCIATION, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alexander Williams, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff Allied Pilots Association ("APA") brings this action against Defendant American Airlines, Inc. ("American") seeking a declaratory judgment. Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Declaratory Judgment and Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court has reviewed the entire record, as well as the pleadings and exhibits, with respect to the instant motions. On August 7, 2009, the Court conducted a hearing on the pending motions. For the reasons stated more fully below, the Court will grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and deny Plaintiff's Motion for Declaratory Judgment.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

APA is the union that represents pilots employed by American. The collective bargaining agreement, including its amendments, between APA and American is known as the "Green Book." The most recent Green Book contains amendments that took effect on May 1, 2003. While the amendable date of the most recent Green Book is May 1, 2008, the contract contained an "Early Opener" provision, which allowed either party to force a new round of contract negotiations under the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188 ("RLA") at any time after May 1, 2006, upon 60 days notice. On July 21, 2006, American exercised its right under the Early Opener provision. The parties are still in formal contract negotiations. In addition, the parties have been in mediation before the National Mediation Board since April 14, 2008.

American essentially has two types of pilots on staff: lineholder pilots and reserve pilots. To understand the difference between these two types of pilots, a brief, and admittedly simplified, explanation of flight schedules is necessary. American arranges flights into schedules that are referred to as a "lines." Lineholder pilots are pilots that are allowed to bid on lines. This presumably allows these pilots to have predictable and full-time schedules that they can control. Reserve pilots are pilot that choose not to bid on lines or lack the seniority necessary to bid on lines.

After flights are arranged into lines, there are certain flights that are not covered for a variety of reasons. For example, flights might not be covered due to pilot illness or due to a pilot already working the maximum permissible flight hours in a month. These uncovered flights are referred to as "open time." American has approximately 500 hours of open time per day.

Lineholder pilots, in order of seniority, have the right to cover open time before those flights are awarded to reserve pilots. Reserve pilots, however, fly the majority of American's open time, but they are not able to cover all of it. When lineholder pilots cover open time, it is frequently referred to as "make-up time." Under the Green Book, a lineholder pilot's decision to fly open time is voluntary, and a lineholder pilot typically receives overtime compensation for doing so.

If additional open time remains, the Green Book permits American to exercise several options for covering that open time. For example, American can cover open time by assigning management or instructor pilots; offering premium overtime pay to lineholder pilots; involuntarily assigning pilots with a low amount of flight hours for the month; involuntarily reassigning lineholder pilots in reverse seniority order; or hiring additional pilots.

On July 15, 2008, American informed APA that up to 200 pilots might need to be furloughed starting in October 2008. Following that announcement, the parties attempted to negotiate a furlough mitigation plan. American proposed a furlough mitigation plan that APA found unacceptable. In turn, APA proposed a furlough mitigation plan that was unacceptable to American. On August 14, 2008, the parties essentially ceased negotiations of a furlough mitigation plan.

On August 1, 2008, prior to the cessation of furlough mitigation plan negotiations, APA filed this case. APA seeks a declaratory judgment stating that the RLA permits APA to encourage its members to exercise their individual rights under the Green Book not to fly voluntary open time, and that APA's providing of this advice is part of the status quo between the parties.

To date, American has not furloughed any pilots since the July 15, 2008 notice. Rather, on January 9, 2009, American announced that it planned to recall 24 previously furloughed pilots. There are, however, 1900 pilots still on furlough.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, a federal court can issue a judgment declaring the rights and legal relations between interested parties if the facts of a case "'show that there is a substantial controversy, between parties having adverse legal interests, of sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant the issuance of a declaratory judgment.'" MedImmune, Inc. v. Genentech, Inc., 127 S.Ct. 764, 771 (2007) (internal citations omitted). This requirement insures that the Court addresses an actual case or controversy, as required by Article III of the U.S. Constitution, rather than issuing an advisory opinion. Id. The Court agrees with the parties that the there is an actual case or controversy at issue in this matter.

A party can seek declaratory judgment through summary judgment. See United Christian Scientists v. Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs., 829 F.2d 1152, 1158-71 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (affirming district court's issuance of a declaratory judgment pursuant to a motion for summary judgment). In this case, APA seeks such a ruling. In response, American seeks summary judgment on the grounds that APA has not shown that it is entitled to a declaratory judgment.

Summary judgment is only appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986). The court must "draw all justifiable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, including questions of credibility and of the weight to be accorded to particular evidence." Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S. 496, 520 (1991) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986)). When parties file cross motions for summary judgment, the court must view each motion in a light most favorable to the non-movant. Quigley v. Giblin, 569 F.3d 449, 453 (D.C. Cir. 2009); Mellen v. Bunting, 327 F.3d 355, 363 (4th Cir. 2003). To defeat a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must come forward with affidavits or other similar evidence to show that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). While the evidence of the nonmoving party is to be believed and all justifiable inferences drawn in his or her favor, a party cannot create a genuine dispute of material fact through mere speculation or compilation of inferences. See Hutchinson v. Cent. Intelligence Agency, 393 F.3d 226, 229 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Crockett v. Abraham, 284 F.3d 131, 135 (D.C. Cir. 2002); Deans v. CSX Transp., Inc., 152 F.3d 326, 330-31 (4th Cir. 1998). ...


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