United States District Court, District of Columbia
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Donna M.B. King, Law Offices of Donna M.B. King, Towson, MD, for Plaintiff.
Courtney Sheehan McNamara, Mitchell P. Zeff, U.S. Attorney's Office, Victoria Louise Bor, Sherman, Dunn, Cohen, Leifer & Yellig P.C., Washington, DC, for Defendants.
ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, District Judge.
Plaintiff Derrick Carrington was employed by the United States Postal Service (" USPS" ) until his termination on December 22, 2009. ( See Second Amended Complaint (" Compl." ) [ECF No. 1] ¶ 3.) On December 29, 2009, plaintiff provided the removal letter to his union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, AFL-CIO (the " Union" ). On August 19, 2010, the Union, acting on plaintiff's behalf, and the USPS entered into a grievance settlement agreement under which plaintiff would be reinstated to his position. ( See id. ) On August 21, 2010, the USPS notified plaintiff, without elaboration, that it considered the settlement to be " proce[dur]ally improper" and refused to reinstate plaintiff. ( Id. )
Plaintiff, through the Union, then filed a grievance, alleging that the USPS had violated the Collective Bargaining Agreement (" CBA" ) by refusing to comply with the August 19, 2010 settlement. ( See May 24, 2011 Arbitration Summary, Ex. D to Def. Mot. to Dismiss at 3.) An arbitration hearing was held on April 27, 2011, resulting in a written decision on May 24, 2011, in favor of the USPS. ( See Def. Mot. at 4; Ex. D to Def. Mot. at 1.) On November 14, 2011, plaintiff filed a " hybrid § 301/fair representation" suit against the USPS and the Union in the Court of Federal Claims, asserting claims against the USPS for breach of the August 19, 2010 agreement and of the CBA, and against the Union for breach of its duty of fair representation. ( See Def. Mot. at 5.) The Court of Federal Claims found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claims and transferred the case to this Court. ( See Carrington v. United States, 106 Fed.Cl. 129 (2012), Ex. 1 to Pl. Opp. to Def. Mot. to Dismiss [ECF No. 11].)
Defendant now moves to dismiss the complaint, arguing first, that plaintiff's claims against the USPS are barred because plaintiff is bound by the May 24, 2011 arbitration award, and second, that plaintiff's hybrid claim is untimely because it was not filed within six months after plaintiff knew or should have known of the final breakdown in the grievance process
regarding his removal from employment, as required by DelCostello v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 103 S.Ct. 2281, 76 L.Ed.2d 476 (1983). ( See Def. Mot. at 2, 13.) With respect to the first argument, defendant maintains that plaintiff could have filed suit in federal court to challenge the results of the first grievance, but instead chose to commence a second grievance process, and therefore he cannot now re-litigate issues that have already been decided in the USPS's favor through binding arbitration. ( See Def. Reply at 7.) As for the time bar, defendant urges the Court not to " permit[ ][p]laintiff two bites of the apple" by tolling the statute of limitations for the duration of the grievance proceedings, as plaintiff suggests. ( See id.; Pl. Opp. at 8.)
As defendant acknowledges, however, there are two exceptions to the general rule that courts are to avoid disturbing the results of arbitration. ( See Def. Mot. at 8.) The relevant exception for present purposes is when an alleged breach of the union's duty of fair representation " seriously undermines the integrity of the arbitral process," such that the results of the arbitration award must be overturned. Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.S. 554, 567, 96 S.Ct. 1048, 47 L.Ed.2d 231 (1976). Plaintiff's allegations fall into that exception: he alleges that the Union's failure to file his grievance in timely fashion " resulted in an unfavorable ruling in arbitration" and absent that failing, " [p]laintiff would have been reinstated in accordance with the Settlement Agreement." (Compl. ¶ 12.)
While generally " ‘ the employee must afford the union the opportunity to act on his behalf’ " through applicable grievance procedures established by labor contract, he may seek remedy in federal court by bringing a " hybrid" suit that " merge[s] [the duty of fair representation] with section 301 [of the Labor-Management Relations Act (" LMRA" ) ]," in which he " allege[s] that both the[ ] employer and the[ ] union have interfered with [his] rights under a collective bargaining agreement." O'Hara v. District No. 1-PCD, 56 F.3d 1514, 1520 (D.C.Cir.1995) (quoting Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 653, 85 S.Ct. 614, 13 L.Ed.2d 580 (1965) (citations omitted)). As the D.C. Circuit has stated, an employee's ability to bring suit directly against the employer in federal court is limited to this circumstance, in order to " protect[ ] the finality of arbitration awards and ensure[ ] that an employer will not twice be called to answer for the same conduct once it has prevailed in the grievance process, unless the union has tainted that process through a breach of its duty of fair representation. " Id. (emphasis added). Where such " taint" is alleged, as it is here, the plaintiff is not precluded from seeking to overturn the arbitration award in federal court.
In support of its time-bar argument, defendant contends that plaintiff is " attempt[ing] to avoid the statute of limitations by conflating two separate grievance proceedings." (Def. Mot. at 14.) Defendant argues that " once Plaintiff knew, or should have known, of the ‘ final breakdown’ in the first grievance proceeding concerning his removal from employment, he should have filed a hybrid Section 301 claim challenging Defendants' conduct," and that the " final breakdown" occurred " on August 20, 2010, when the Postal Service issued written notice to Plaintiff that it was withdrawing from the settlement agreement." ( Id. at 14-15.) There are two problems with this argument. First, assuming the veracity of all " ...