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Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l v. Federal Express Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

September 28, 2015

AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION, INT'L, Petitioner,
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ROYCE C. LAMBERTH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

In this case, plaintiff, Air Line Pilots Association, Int'l ("ALPA"), brings an action against Federal Express Corporation ("FedEx") seeking to compel FedEx's compliance with an arbitration award issued by a System Board of Adjustment ("System Board" or "Board"). Compl. 1. FedEx responds with a counterclaim against ALP A, seeking a declaratory judgment that its current dispute with ALPA qualifies as a "minor dispute" under the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq., which the System Board has exclusive jurisdiction to resolve under Section 204 of the RLA, 45 U.S.C, § 184. This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs motion for judgment on the pleadings, or for summary judgment in the alternative, and on defendant's motion for summary judgment.

For the following reasons and after consideration of the parties' briefing and relevant legal standards, ALPA's motion for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment will be DENIED, and FedEx's motion for summary judgment will be GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

Defendant FedEx is a corporation engaged in the business of worldwide package delivery and is considered a "common carrier by air" engaged in the business of providing air services in interstate commerce under the RLA, 45 U.S.C. § 181. Compl. 1-2; Answer 5.

Plaintiff ALPA is an unincorporated labor organization and is the exclusive bargaining representative of pilots employed by FedEx. Compl. 1; Answer 5. ALPA and FedEx are parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), effective 2011, which establishes the wages, benefits, and working conditions of FedEx pilots. Compl. 3; Answer 2. The CBA specifically governs the assignment of flying duties to all active pilots at FedEx. Def's SOMF 1, ¶2.

In furtherance of Section 204 of the RLA, Section 21 of the CBA establishes an arbitration panel-the System Board-to issue final and binding decisions regarding disputes "growing out of grievances, or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions." Pl.'s SOMF 2, ¶ 6.

FedEx hired Captain Patricia Ahneman as a pilot in 1990 and terminated her employment in June 2013 for (1) "operating FedEx aircraft without being in possession of a valid medical certificate during 2008 and 2009" in a manner "'without justification, inexcusable and constituted intentional or reckless disregard' of FAA regulations, FedEx rules and the CBA, " and (2) providing "dishonest testimony" in the internal hearing prior to her termination. Def's SOMF 2, ¶7.

Ahneman challenged her termination, and the System Board heard the dispute in September 2013. Compl. 4, ¶ 14; Answer 8, ¶14. The Board issued a final Decision and Award ("Award") in November 2013 and sustained Ahneman's grievance. Compl. 4, ¶ 15; Answer 6, ¶ 7. It held that "[t]he grievant shall forthwith, no later than 10 days from the date of this decision, be reinstated to her former position and made whole." Id.

Within the 10-day period, FedEx presented Ahneman with a baseline payment and reinstated her to her former position: an active pilot in not operationally qualified ("NOQ") status, under which pilots are paid but not assigned flying duties. Def.'s SOMF 3-4. Ahneman had entered NOQ paid status in December 2012 after failing a line check and remained in this position until her termination in June 2013. Id.

Since the Board's Award, FedEx has also allowed Ahneman to bid for and be awarded "pay only" schedules that provide around $20, 000 in wage-based compensation each month. Id. at 5, 2. In sum, as of the initiation of this litigation, Ahneman has received over $100, 000 in backpay and over $250, 000 in ongoing compensation. She has also received all benefits to which active pilots are entitled. Id. at 6, ¶ 23.

Around two months after the Board issued the Award, an ALPA representative asked FedEx when Ahneman could enter a training program and exit paid NOQ status. Id. at 6, ¶27. FedEx promptly responded that the issue was "still under review" (Tice Supp. Dec. ¶ 10) and later informed ALPA that FedEx was discussing whether it would be willing to assign Ahneman flight duties due to safety concerns. Id. ¶ 11.

In late February 2014, FedEx made the decision not to retrain Ahneman or assign her flight duties for the remainder of her career because of safety and operational concerns. Id. ¶15; see also Id. ¶ 20 (noting that Ahneman will turn sixty-five in October 2016 and thus will become legally ineligible to pilot the aircraft used in FedEx's operations). FedEx asserts that these concerns were based on Ahneman's "employment and training record" and were "distinct from the basis of her June 2013 termination and the System Board Award." Def.'s SOMF 7, ¶ 33.

The current dispute between ALPA and FedEx arose from this decision by FedEx to not assign Ahneman flying duties and to leave Ahneman in her former position of paid NOQ status. ALPA contends that Ahneman has not been fully reinstated because she has not been permitted to fly. In later memoranda before this Court, ALPA also argues that Ahneman has not been "made whole" because FedEx's refusal to assign her flights duties has supposedly caused a diminution of her potential earnings. See Pl.'s Opp'n Def's Mot. Summ. J. 6 ("As a FedEx pilot flying its aircraft, Captain Ahneman could have earned additional compensation under various provisions of the CBA.").

After FedEx informed ALPA of its decision to not assign Ahneman flying duties, the parties engaged in a settlement discussion in attempt to resolve all claims and issues. Tice Supp. Dec. ¶19. No agreement was reached, however, and ALPA initiated this litigation in June 2014.

II. JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that "[a]fter the pleadings are closed ... a party may move for judgment on the pleadings." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). A motion for judgment on the pleadings should only be granted "where it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief" Schuchart v. La Taberna Del Alabardero, Inc., 365 F.3d 33, 35 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted); see also Konah v. District of Columbia, 915 F.Supp.2d 7, 18 (D.D.C. 2013) ("A motion for judgment on the pleadings will be granted if the movant ...


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