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LOCAL UNION NO. 570 INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS CHAUFFEURS WAREHOUSEMEN AND HELPERS OF AMERICA, Plaintiff
vs.
SUPERMARKET DISTRIBUTION SERVICES INC., Defendant.
 
Case:
Civil Action No. HAR 95-3253
 
Location:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
 
Date:
April 15, 1996, Decided
 
Attorneys:
Counsel(s) for Plaintiff or Petitioner: Patty L. Parsons Abato Rubenstein and Abato Baltimore MD.
Counsel(s) for Defendant or Respondent: Peter F. Healey Jr. Fulbright and Jaworski Washington D.C.
 
Court:
John R. Hargrove, Senior United States District Court
 
Author:
The Hon. Justice John R. Hargrove
 

Plaintiff Local Union No. 570 International Brotherhood of Teamsters Chauffeurs Warehousemen and Helpers of America ("the Union") brought this action against Defendant Supermarket Distribution Services Inc. ("SDS") pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA") as amended 29 U.S.C. SEC. 185 seeking an order vacating and declaring unenforceable a portion of an arbitration decision issued on September 25 1995.

Presently before Court are the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment. Court has reviewed the parties' memoranda and exhibits attached thereto and no hearing is deemed necessary. Local Rule 105(6) (D. Md. 1995). For the reasons set forth below Court will grant Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

FACTS

Defendant SDS is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company Inc. ("A&P") which operates a warehouse facility in Baltimore Maryland. Plaintiff is an un incorporated labor organization that represents certain employees of SDS at that warehouse facility. In April 1992 the Union and SDS entered into a collective bargaining agreement ("the CBA") which was in effect throughout all times relevant to this action. Article 13 of the CBA establishes a grievance and arbitration procedure to resolve disputes between the Union and SDS. Plaintiff's Motion Ex. 1 at 9.

Grievant Clarence Martin ("Martin") is an employee of SDS who has been employed by SDS since 1989. On February 27 1995 Martin's employment was terminated by SDS because he allegedly violated a company safety rule. Martin and the Union filed a grievance over the termination that could not be satisfactorily settled by the Union and SDS. The matter was referred to arbitration pursuant to Article 13 of the CBA and a hearing was subsequently held before Arbitrator Louis Aronin ("the Arbitrator") on August 7 1995.

After a full hearing and the parties' submission of testimony and exhibits the Arbitrator issued an opinion and award in the matter on September 25 1995. The Arbitrator determined that "the evidence does not establish a clear violation of published safety rules by Grievant" and that Martin's termination had not been based upon just cause. Id. Ex. 3 at 12 14 (emphasis in original). The Arbitrator converted the termination into a disciplinary suspension and ordered Martin to be reinstated with all rights and benefits and without back pay. Id. at 14. However the reinstatement was to be on a "last-chance" basis meaning that any future violation of any rule would be a basis for discharge without recourse to the parties' grievance procedure. Id. In limiting Martin's reinstatement to a last-chance basis the Arbitrator stated that he had considered Martin's past work record "including attendance problems a prior safety violation productivity problems and a last-chance agreement dated July 14 1994 providing for discharge for any 'dishonest act.'" The Union now seeks to vacate that portion of the award that limits Martin's reinstatement to a last-chance basis.

DISCUSSION

Both parties agree that there is no genuine issue of material fact in dispute in the present case and both sides have moved for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute of material fact and when the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc. 477 U.S. 242 250 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 106 S. Ct.2505 (1986). In considering a motion for summary judgment Court views all facts and draws all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment. Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp. 475 U.S. 574 587 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 106 S. Ct.1348 (1986).

According to Plaintiff the portion of the Arbitrator's award that limits Martin's reinstatement to a last-chance basis abrogates Martin's rights under the CBA by denying Martin future access to the grievance and arbitration procedures during the remainder of this employment with SDS. Plaintiff alleges that such a result is an impermissible modification of the CBA which is prohibited by Articles 13 and 17 and must be vacated. *fn1

In response SDS argues that the Arbitrator was not changing the terms of the CBA but instead was exercising the broad authority granted to arbitrators to formulate a remedy. SDS claims that the Arbitrator had the authority to award reinstatement to Martin on a last-chance basis by essentially returning Martin to the status of a probationary employee under Article 1 Section F. SDS emphasizes that under Article 13 of the Agreement the decision of an arbitrator "shall be final and binding upon the parties." Id. Ex. 1 at 9.

Generally in labor arbitration cases a reviewing court will defer to an arbitrator's reasoning. Island Creek Coal Co. v. District 28 United Mine Workers of America 29 F.3d 126 129. Absent any fraud by the parties or dishonesty by the arbitrator an arbitrator's findings should not be overturned. United Paperworkers Int'l Union v. Misco Inc. 484 U.S. 29 38 98 L. Ed. 2d 286 108 S. Ct.364 (1987). As for an arbitrator's award it should be overturned only if the award violates well settled and prevailing public policy fails to draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement or reflects the arbitrator's own notions of right or wrong. Mountaineer Gas Co. v. Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers International Union 76 F.3d 606 608 (4th Cir.1996) (citing Misco supra at 36.)

In the present case neither side challenges the Arbitrator's finding that there was not just cause for Martin's dismissal. The Union challenges only that portion of the award that limits Martin's reinstatement to a last-chance basis. To determine whether an arbitrator exceeded the scope of his authority a court must examine three things: "(1) the arbitrator's role as defined by the CBA; (2) whether the award ignored the plain language of the CBA; and (3) whether the arbitrator's discretion in formulating the award comported with the essence of the CBA's proscribed limits." Mountaineer Gas 76 F.3d at 608 (4th Cir.1996).

The CBA in the present case defines the role of the arbitrator broadly by stating that "the Arbitrator shall decide cases in issue solely upon the provisions of this Agreement and shall have no power to add to delete from modify or alter the provisions of this Agreement." Plaintiff's Motion Ex. 1 at 9. The Union uses this language as the basis for its argument asserting that in limiting Martin's reinstatement to a last-chance basis the Arbitrator modified the provisions of the CBA. Court does not agree. The CBA gave the arbitrator the authority to decide cases in issue. The Arbitrator here defined the issue before him as "Was the termination of Grievant based on just cause? If not what is the remedy?" Id. Ex. 3 at 2. The Arbitrator then determined that Martin's termination had not been based on just cause and awarded the remedy he deemed appropriate. Court can not say that in doing so the Arbitrator acted outside his properly defined role.

Court must then address whether the award ignored the plain language of the CBA. Nowhere in the CBA is there language that sets forth the type of remedies an arbitrator may award. Likewise the CBA neither grants nor denies an arbitrator the authority to limit an employee's reinstatement to a last-chance basis. The Arbitrator therefore clearly did not ignore the plain language of the CBA.

The final question Court must address is whether the Arbitrator's award comported with the essence of the CBA's proscribed limits. Court rarely vacate arbitration awards because of the great deference they must accord to the arbitration process. See United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel and Car Corp. 363 U.S. 593 597 4 L. Ed. 2d 1424 80 S. Ct.1358 (1960). In Mountaineer Gas one of the few cases where the Fourth Circuit upheld the vacating of an arbitration award an employee was discharged for failure to pass a random drug test. 76 F.3d at 607 609. The company's drug policy which was issued under its reserved power under the collective bargaining agreement to manage the business and direct the work force gave the employer authority to immediately discharge any employee who failed a drug test. Id. Although the arbitrator found that the employee had violated the drug policy he converted the termination into a disciplinary suspension because he had "great difficulty" with the policy. Id. at 610. The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court's order vacating the arbitrator's decision because it found that the arbitrator "blatantly ignored the unambiguous language of the Drug Policy and fashioned a modified penalty that appealed to his own notions of right and wrong." Id. The present case does not present the same sort of extraordinary circumstances that justified the vacating of the arbitrator's award in Mountaineer Gas. No unambiguous language has been ignored here and the CBA can be read to grant the Arbitrator the authority he exercised here. Although nothing in the CBA specifically grants the Arbitrator the power to make the award he did nothing prohibits his actions either. Court therefore finds that the award in dispute comported with the essence of the CBA's proscribed limits.

For the foregoing reasons Court will not vacate that portion of the Arbitrator's award that limits Martin's reinstatement to a last-chance basis. Accordingly Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment will be granted. It will be so ordered.

John R. Hargrove

Senior United States District Court

ORDER

For the reasons set forth in the accompanying Memorandum Opinion IT IS this 15th day of April 1996 by the United States District Court for the District of Maryland hereby ORDERED:

1) That Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment BE and the same hereby IS GRANTED;

2) That Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment BE and the same hereby IS DENIED;

3) That the Clerk of Court CLOSE this case;

4) That the Clerk of Court mail copies of this Memorandum Opinion and Order to all parties of record.

John R. Hargrove

Senior United States District Court

 
Notes:

*fn1 Article 13 Section C of the CBA provides that "the Arbitrator shall decide cases in issue solely upon the provisions of this Agreement and shall have no power to add to delete from modify or alter the provisions of this Agreement." Id. Ex. 1 at 9. Article 17 states that "no agreement understanding alteration variation waiver modification of this Agreement terms provision [sic] covenants or conditions contained herein shall bind the parties hereto unless made and executed in writing by the parties herewith and made part hereof." Id. at 11.