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Pacific Coast District v. Liberty Maritime Corp.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 30, 2014


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For LIBERTY MARITIME CORPORATION, Defendant: Mary M. Lenahan, William G. Miossi, WINSTON & STRAWN LLP, Washington, DC.

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KETANJI BROWN JACKSON, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff District No. 1, Pacific Coast District, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO (" Plaintiff," " MEBA" or " the Union" ), is a labor organization headquartered in the District of Columbia that represents maritime industry employees working at ports throughout the United States. For more than 20 years, MEBA engaged in a collective bargaining relationship with Defendant Liberty Maritime Corp. (" Liberty," " Defendant," or " the Company" ), a shipping management company that employed MEBA-represented individuals in supervisory positions aboard Liberty-operated vessels pursuant to successive contracts with the Union. The parties' relationship soured in the fall of 2011, when MEBA and Liberty failed to negotiate a successor agreement for the first time since the Company's founding in 1988, and Liberty subsequently entered into a new collective bargaining agreement with one of MEBA's rival unions, the American Maritime Officers (" AMO" ). MEBA has brought the instant action against Liberty pursuant to section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § § 2201, 2202, alleging that the last successfully negotiated agreement between the parties--which includes an arbitration provision--remains in effect, and that Liberty breached this agreement. Accordingly, MEBA seeks an order from this Court compelling Liberty to arbitrate what MEBA contends is a contractual dispute. ( See Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ ¶ 1-3, 29-30, 32-33, 37.)

Before this Court at present are both parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ( See Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (" Pl.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 26; Def.'s Mot. for Summ. J. (" Def.'s Mot." ), ECF No. 27.) MEBA contends that it is entitled to an order compelling arbitration as a matter of law. ( See Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. (" Pl.'s Br." ), ECF No. 26-4, at 11.)[1] Liberty, in contrast, asserts that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the instant dispute because the gravamen of MEBA's claim is " representational" -- i.e., the aim of the Union's suit is to force Liberty to employ supervisors represented by MEBA and not by AMO--and, Liberty argues, only the National Labor Relations Board (" NLRB" ) may hear this type of

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claim. ( See Def.'s Statement of Facts & Mem. in Supp. of Def.'s Mot. (" Def.'s Br." ), ECF No. 27-1, at 7.) Moreover and in any event, Liberty argues that this Court cannot compel the parties to arbitrate under their last successfully negotiated agreement because that agreement was no longer in place at the time of the alleged violations. ( See id. at 7-8.)

Because this Court concludes that it has jurisdiction to hear MEBA's claims, and that the question of whether the parties' labor agreement was still in effect at the time of the alleged violations is a question for an arbitrator to decide, this Court will DENY Defendant's motion for summary judgment, GRANT Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, and compel the parties to arbitrate. A separate order consistent with this memorandum opinion will follow.


A. Legal Landscape

The dispute in this case is grounded in the complex statutory and legal framework governing labor law, including the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (" NLRA" ), 29 U.S.C. § § 151-169, and the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (" LMRA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq., also known as the Taft-Hartley Act, which was enacted as a series of amendments to the NLRA. See Int'l Longshoremen's Ass'n v. NLRB, 56 F.3d 205, 207, 312 U.S.App.D.C. 241 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (" Congress amended the NLRA with the enactment of the Labor Management Relations Act." (citation omitted)). Central to the instant case are section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185, which grants federal courts jurisdiction over suits for labor contract violations, and section 8 of the NLRA, 29 U.S.C. § 158, which governs unfair labor practices over which the NLRB has primary jurisdiction. Specifically, section 301 provides that

[s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce as defined in this chapter, or between any such labor organizations, may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties.

29 U.S.C. § 185(a). The Supreme Court has recognized that section 301 " does more than confer jurisdiction in the federal courts over labor organizations[,]" the statute also " expresses a federal policy that federal courts should enforce" labor contracts, including " agreement[s] to arbitrate grievance disputes" in order to promote stability in the labor industry or, as the Court put it, to ensure " industrial peace[.]" Textile Workers Union v. Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. 448, 455, 77 S.Ct. 912, 1 L.Ed.2d 972 (1957); see also Local Union 1395, Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers v. NLRB, 797 F.2d 1027, 1030, 254 U.S.App.D.C. 360 (D.C. Cir. 1986) (" Congress has authorized the courts independently to entertain suits brought to enforce collective bargaining agreements under Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act[.]" (citing Lincoln Mills, 353 U.S. at 456-457)); Lee Modjeska et al., Federal Labor Law: NLRB Practice 25 (Feb. 2014 ed.) (explaining that section 301 " reflect[s] Congress'[s] intent to encourage and support the private arbitration of disputes arising under collective bargaining agreements, and to make arbitration agreements judicially enforceable" (footnote omitted)).

Section 8 of the NLRA, meanwhile, describes a host of " representational" issues, Carey v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 375 U.S. 261, 266, 84 S.Ct. 401, 11 L.Ed.2d 320 (1964), that may arise in the context of collective bargaining--including unfair labor

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practices related to employers, employees, and their respective representatives, see 29 U.S.C. § 158--and, in contrast to section 301 claims, " courts are not primary tribunals to adjudicate [section 8] issues[,]" San Diego Bldg. Trades Council v. Garmon, 359 U.S. 236, 244, 79 S.Ct. 773, 3 L.Ed.2d 775 (1959). For example, section 8(b)(1)(B) makes it an unfair labor practice for a union or its agents " to restrain or coerce" an " employer in the selection of [its] representatives for the purposes of collective bargaining[.]" 29 U.S.C. § 158(b)(1)(B). By the same token, it is an unfair labor practice under section 8(a)(5) for an employer " to refuse to bargain collectively with the representatives of [its] employees[.]" Id. § 158(a)(5). Indeed, under section 8(d), employers and representatives of their employees have a " mutual obligation" or " duty" to bargain collectively, id § 158(d), but it is well settled, that " it [is] an employer's duty to bargain collectively only with the duly recognized or accredited representative of the employees[,]" May Dep't Stores Co. v. NLRB, 326 U.S. 376, 383-384, 66 S.Ct. 203, 90 L.Ed. 145 (1945). Determinations such as who qualifies as a duly recognized representative for the purpose of section 8 are " left in the first instance to the National Labor Relations Board[,]" which has authority to prevent and remedy unfair labor practices, and not to the courts. Garmon, 359 U.S. at 244-245; see also 29 U.S.C. § 160 (describing Board's powers and procedures regarding unfair labor practices); Modjeska, supra, at 44-65 (describing unfair labor practice procedures).

B. Factual Background

The instant dispute arises out of the parties' lengthy collective bargaining relationship. In particular, this case concerns the parties' most recent successful labor agreement (in 2010) and their failed attempts to negotiate a successor agreement in 2011.

1. The Parties' History Of Collective Bargaining And Most Recent Successful Labor Agreement

MEBA is a labor organization that represents U.S. maritime industry employees including licensed deck officers and engineers. (Decl. of Mike Jewell, President of MEBA (" Jewell Decl." ), ECF No. 26-2, ¶ 2; see also Dep. of Thomas Keenan, Exec. Vice President of Liberty (" Keenan Dep." ), ECF No. 27-4, at 23:18-21.) Liberty is a corporation that manages a fleet of commercial shipping vessels--including " bulk carriers" and " pure car truck carriers" --that transport goods around the world. (Keenan Dep. at 19:14-20:8 (describing Liberty's ships); id. at 14:3-21 (describing Liberty's business activities); Jewell Decl. ¶ 3 (same).) For more than 20 years, Liberty and MEBA engaged in a collective bargaining relationship through which Liberty employed MEBA-represented engineers aboard Liberty-operated bulk carriers. (Jewell Decl. ¶ 4; Keenan Dep. at 14:22-15:1, 26:9-12; see also E-mail from Philip Shapiro, President & CEO of Liberty, to Jewell (Sept. 29, 2011, 4:08 p.m.) (" Sept. 29th Shapiro E-mail" ), ECF No. 27-20, at 2 (" Our company has been an MEBA contracted company since its founding in 1988." ).) Specifically, since 1988 the parties had entered into successive collective bargaining agreements (" CBAs" ) that set the terms and conditions of employment for MEBA members employed by Liberty.

In August of 2010, instead of negotiating a new CBA, the parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (" MOU" ) agreeing to a one-year extension of the existing CBA terms which, along with amendments in the MOU itself, the parties " deemed a New Agreement[.]" (MOU, ECF No. 26-2

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at 11-16, 11.) Specifically, the parties agreed in a provision of the MOU entitled " Duration of the Agreement" that this " New Agreement" would be effective from August 25, 2010, through midnight on September 30, 2011. ( Id.) The parties further stipulated in the duration provision that the New Agreement would automatically renew itself

from year to year thereafter unless either the Company or the Union shall give written notice to the other of its desire to amend the Agreement, which shall be given at least sixty (60) days, but no sooner than ninety (90) days, prior to the expiration date. In the event either the Company or the Union serves notice to amend the Agreement, the terms of the Agreement in effect at that time of the notice to amend shall continue in effect until mutual agreement on the proposed amendments or an impasse has been reached.

( Id.)

As for the substantive provisions of the prior CBA that the New Agreement incorporated by reference, at least three are important to the instant dispute. First, in the prior CBA, the parties had acknowledged " that all of the engineers to whom this Agreement is applicable are 'supervisors' within the meaning of the Labor Management Relations Act[.]" (District No.1--Pacific Coast District, M.E.B.A. Tanker Agreement (" CBA" ), ECF No. 27-2 at 2-7, 6.)[2] Second, Liberty had recognized MEBA " as the sole representative" of the Company's licensed engineers " for the purposes of collective bargaining" ( id. at 7), and further promised to hire only MEBA-represented engineers, ( id.). Third, the parties had agreed that " [a]ll disputes relating to the interpretation or performance of this Agreement shall be determined in accordance with" the binding grievance and arbitration procedures set forth at length in the CBA. (CBA, ECF No. 26-2 at 28-35, 30; see also Jewell Decl. ¶ 15 (describing grievance and arbitration provisions).) In particular, the CBA provided for the appointment of a mutually agreed upon arbitrator who would chair monthly meetings of a " Licensed Personnel Board consisting of two (2) persons appointed by the Union and two (2) persons appointed by the Company." (CBA, ECF No. 26-2, at 30.) The parties agreed to submit " any grievances that each party may have" to the arbitrator and the personnel board for resolution, and acknowledged that " [t]he decision of a majority of the Board or the Arbitrator . . . shall be final and binding upon the parties[.]" ( Id. at 30-31.)

2. The 2011 Negotiations

MEBA officials who participated in the 2011 negotiations with Liberty include: President Mike Jewell, Gulf Coast Vice President Jonathan Lincoln, and Secretary-Treasurer Bill Van Loo. ( See Jewell Decl. ¶ 7 (" On behalf of the Union, I bargained with Liberty[] . . . with the intent to reach a successor agreement to the parties' labor contract." ); Dep. of Mike Jewell (" Jewell Dep." ), ECF No.

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27-8, at 42:20-21 (identifying Lincoln as " chief negotiator" ); id. at 51:16-19, 55:14-22 (describing Van Loo's involvement in negotiations).) Liberty officials and representatives involved in the negotiations and subsequent grievances include: President and CEO Philip Shapiro, Executive Vice President for Marine Operations Thomas Keenan, Vice President for Operations Capt. David Hussey, and outside counsel William G. Miossi. ( See, e.g., E-mail from Shapiro to Jewell (Sept. 28, 2011, 2:18 p.m.) (" Sept. 28th Shapiro E-mail" ), ECF No. 27-18, at 2 (negotiating with Jewell); Decl. of Thomas Keenan (" Keenan Decl." ), ECF No. 27-17, ΒΆ 4 (" From July to September, 2011, I oversaw and participated directly in negotiations with [MEBA]." ); Letter from Lincoln to Hussey (July 8, 2011) (" July 8th Lincoln Letter" ), ECF No. 27-7, at 2 (notifying Hussey of ...

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