United States District Court, District of Columbia
District No. 1, Pacific Coast District, Marine Engineers' Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO, Plaintiff,
Liberty Maritime Corporation, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION [DKT. # 8]
RICHARD J. LEON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
District No. 1, Pacific Coast District, Marine Engineers'
Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO ("MEBA" or
"Union") brings suit against Liberty Maritime
Corporation ("Liberty" or "Company")
pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act
("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185, challenging the
Company's appointment of an arbitrator to resolve
disputes under the parties' labor contract. The Union
seeks a declaratory judgment and related injunctive relief,
including that this Court order Liberty to remove the current
arbitrator and order the parties to appoint a new arbitrator.
See Complaint [Dkt. # 1] ("Compl.")
¶¶ 70-78. Before this Court is Liberty's Motion
to Dismiss for failure to state a claim. See
Def.'s Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. # 8] ("Def.'s
Mot."). For the following reasons, the defendant's
motion [Dkt. # 8] is GRANTED.
MEBA is a labor union that represents employees in the United
States maritime industry. Compl. ¶ 6. Liberty is a
commercial shipping company that employs individuals
represented by the Union on several of its seagoing vessels.
Compl. ¶ 7. The dispute here grows out of the
30-year-old collective bargaining agreement (hereinafter
"agreement" or "labor contract") between
the Union and Liberty, which has been the source of numerous
disputes before this court and others. Compl.
¶¶ 12, 14 (referencing Liberty's 1988 signature
to the Union's 1986-1990 Tanker Vessels Master Agreement
and the 1986-1990 Dry Cargo Vessels Master Agreement).
Section 2 of the labor contract, titled "Grievance
Procedure and Arbitration," "[a]ll disputes
relating to the interpretation or performance of [the]
Agreement shall be determined in accordance with the
provisions of this Section." Compl. ¶ 13 (citing
ECF No. 1-1, at Section 2(a), p. 19; ECF No. 1-2, at Section
2(a), p. 18). The agreement then lays out specific
procedures for adjudicating grievances:
of the Licensed Personnel Board: "There shall be a
Licensed Personnel Board consisting of two (2) persons
appointed by the Union and two (2) persons appointed by the
Company," which shall "resolve any grievance
either by majority vote or by mutual agreement." ECF No.
1-1, at Section 2(b), p. 19; ECF No. 1-2, at Section 2(b), p.
19. In the event that the four-member Licensed Personnel
Board (hereinafter "LPB") cannot resolve the
grievance by mutual assent or a majority vote, a designated
Arbitrator, acting as LPB Chair, is authorized to render a
binding decision. Id.
of Arbitrator: "The Arbitrator will be appointed by
mutual agreement for a one (1) year period, renewable for one
(1) year periods by mutual consent." ECF No. 1-1, at
Section 2(d), p. 20; ECF No. 1-2, at Section 2(d), p. 19.
Meetings of LPB Board: "A fixed date in each
calendar month...shall be designated for the meeting of the
Licensed Personnel Board with respect to any grievances that
each party may have. The Company and the Union agree that in
order to properly have a grievance submitted to the Licensed
Personnel Board at its regular monthly meeting, at least a
five (5) days' notice in writing must be given to the
other party, setting forth the nature of the grievance and
the relief requested, unless such time limitation is
waived." ECF No. 1-1, at Section 2(e), p. 20; ECF No.
1-2, at Section 2(e), p. 19-20.
Meetings of LPB Board: "Either party may, in
addition to such fixed meetings, have the right, by
telegraphic notice to the other party and to the Arbitrator,
to request a convening of the Licensed Personnel Board to
consider a grievance, the nature of which requires immediate
disposition. In such event, the Board shall meet as
expeditiously as possible, but in no event later than
twenty-four (24) hours after receipt of said notice."
ECF No. 1-1, at Section 2(f), p. 21; ECF No. 1-2, at Section
2(f), p. 20.
contractual provision is also relevant here. The Supplemental
Memorandum of Understanding ("Supplemental MOU"),
expressly incorporated into the parties' agreement,
see Compl. ¶¶ 14-15, states that the
arbitrator shall be designated by either "the United
States Secretary of Labor or the American Arbitration
Association." ECF No.1-1.atpp. 123-24, ECF No. 1-2, at
Union submitted "a number of grievances under the
parties' labor contract" in April 2018, alleging
"contract violations the Union alleged were committed by
Liberty concerning the manning of its vessels, among other
things." Compl. ¶ 16. After the parties failed to
resolve the grievances, see Compl. ¶ 18,
Liberty moved for implementation of the grievance procedure
provided for in Section 2 of the agreement on June 12, 2018,
to initiate the process of appointing a LPB to hear the
parties' contractual disputes. See ECF No. 1-10,
at p. 2. Liberty named its two LPB members and suggested a
meeting date of June 18, 2018. Compl. ¶ 23.
when communications between the parties broke down. In
response to Liberty's request, the Union rejected the
proposed June 18 meeting date and opposed the use of what it
called "defunct" LPB procedures, insisting that the
parties instead "follow the practice of seeking an
arbitrator" outside of the labor agreement. ECF No.
1-11, at p. 2. After several communications back and
forth, Liberty proposed a new meeting date of June 26, 2018,
ECF No. 1-14, at p. 2, but the Union rejected that date as
well on the grounds that the Union's legal counsel was
going to be out of town. Compl. ¶¶ 34-36. Liberty
notified the Union of its intention to go forward with the
meeting nonetheless, stating that there was "[n]o
provision" in the parties' labor contract "for
counsel to be present during the LPB's internal
deliberations or to advise the LPB when it undertakes its
deliberations." ECF No. 1-18, at p. 2. The meeting took
place on June 26, 2018, without any Union representatives in
attendance. Compl. ¶ 59. After the meeting, Liberty
notified the Union that the Company's two LPB members had
voted to appoint an arbitrator. Compl. ¶¶ 63-64.
The Union strongly objected to the arbitrator's
appointment, arguing that "he had no authority to act as
the arbitrator of the parties LPB because he had not been
mutually appoint[ed]." Compl. ¶ 65.
9, 2018, the Union filed suit in this Court seeking
declaratory and injunctive relief, asking me to both enjoin
any arbitration from proceeding under the appointed
arbitrator and to also compel Liberty to participate in the
selection of a new arbitrator. See generally Compl.
The Union argues that it is entitled to such relief as a
matter of law based on the terms of the collective bargaining
agreement. Compl. ¶¶ 70-78. Namely, the Union
maintains that because Liberty failed to follow the grievance
procedures in Section 2 of the parties' labor contract,
the arbitrator's appointment is invalid and he has no
authority to resolve their contractual disputes. Compl.
¶¶ 70-75. On July 18, 2018, Liberty filed a motion
to dismiss the Union's complaint, arguing that the
agreement's arbitration provisions govern this procedural
dispute over the appointment of the arbitrator, and that
parties' compliance with any of the grievance procedures
in the agreement is a matter for the arbitrator, not the
court, to decide. Def.'s Mot. at 1-2.