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06/13/78 DAVID BERMAN v. DRAKE MOTOR LINES

June 13, 1978

DAVID BERMAN
v.
DRAKE MOTOR LINES, INC.



Suffolk. Civil action commenced in the Superior Court on March 1, 1976. A motion for summary judgment was heard by Lynch, J.

Hale, C.j., Goodman, & Grant, JJ.

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

Labor Union. Arbitration. Jurisdiction, Preemption by Federal agency. Contract, Arbitration.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hale

An allegation in a complaint that an arbitration award was invalid because the arbitration panel as constituted under the provisions of a labor agreement was not an impartial tribunal failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. [442-443]

An allegation in a complaint that an arbitration award was invalid because the arbitrators exceeded the authority delegated to them under a labor agreement failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted where the award appeared on its face to be within the arbitrators' authority and the plaintiff's allegation to the contrary was vague and conclusory. [443]

A court had jurisdiction to consider alleged wrongdoings of a labor union in connection with grievance proceedings instituted under a labor agreement despite a prior decision of the National Labor Relations Board refusing to issue an unfair labor practice complaint against the union on the basis of the same allegations of wrongdoing. [443-445]

An allegation in a complaint that an arbitration award under a labor agreement was invalid because of misconduct by the plaintiff's union representative failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted where the plaintiff failed to allege any facts indicating that the union representative's conduct was arbitrary, in bad faith, or discriminatory. [445-446]

In this action the plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief for an alleged breach of contract arising out of the defendant's termination of his employment. The plaintiff also seeks a determination by the court whether a prior arbitration award denying a grievance brought by the plaintiff on the matter of his discharge was final and binding on the parties. A Superior Court Judge granted summary judgment dismissing the action, and the plaintiff has appealed. The question presented is whether, provided the pleadings and affidavits disclose no genuine issue as to any material fact, the plaintiff's claim for damages is barred as a matter of law by the arbitrators' decision denying the plaintiff's grievance.

From the pleadings and affidavit which were before the Judge it appears that during the summer of 1975 the plaintiff was employed by the defendant pursuant to the terms of a labor agreement entered into between the defendant and Local 25 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America (the union). The plaintiff's employment was terminated by the defendant on or about August 1, 1975. The plaintiff considered that his discharge was in violation of the labor agreement because he had been employed by the defendant for a sufficient period of time to acquire seniority status. The defendant took the position that the plaintiff had been hired solely as a "vacation replacement"; therefore, under the terms of the agreement he could not achieve seniority status. The defendant contended that in compliance with the requirements of the labor agreement the plaintiff had been notified of his "vacation replacement" status by a letter sent to both the plaintiff and the union during the probationary phase of the plaintiff's employment. The plaintiff claimed that he had received no notice of his employment status until after the expiration of the supposed probationary period.

The labor agreement under which the plaintiff was employed provided for the creation of a permanent "New England Joint Area Committee" (the committee) which maintained jurisdiction over disputes and grievances involving local unions. The committee members were appointed in equal numbers by the employers and by the local unions involved in the labor agreement. The agreement provided that "here the , by a majority vote, settles a dispute, no appeal may be taken. . . . Such a decision will be final and binding on both parties." At the plaintiff's request the union brought before the committee a grievance challenging the plaintiff's discharge. The committee held a hearing on the grievance, at which the plaintiff was represented by the union. The plaintiff was also given an opportunity at the hearing to state his own position on the discharge which he took advantage of. After the hearing he told a union official that, as far as he could tell, the proceeding went "fine." The committee decided that the plaintiff's discharge was not in violation of the labor agreement, and the grievance was denied.

The plaintiff instituted this action after the denial of his grievance. At approximately the same time he brought charges against the union before the National Labor Relations Board (N.L.R.B.), alleging that the union had violated sections 7 and 8 of the National Labor Relations Act (N.L.R.A.), 29 U.S.C. § 157 (1970), and § 158 (1970 & Supp. V 1975), by failing in its duty to represent him fairly in the arbitration of his grievance. The acting regional director of the N.L.R.B. refused to issue an unfair labor practice complaint against the union. As reasons for that decision the acting director noted that the N.L.R.B. investigation had revealed neither sufficient evidence to establish that the union had acted in an arbitrary, unfair, or invidious manner in processing the plaintiff's grievance nor any evidence in support of the allegation that the denial of the grievance by union-affiliated committee members was in bad faith. The plaintiff attempted to appeal from that decision to the general counsel of the N.L.R.B. The general counsel denied the plaintiff's application for appeal for the same reasons given by the acting director.

In the present action the defendant brought a motion to dismiss the action for failure of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In support of its motion the defendant alleged that the fact that the plaintiff's discharge was not in breach of the labor agreement had been conclusively determined by the committee and that under the terms of the agreement the parties were bound by that decision. The Judge treated the defendant's motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Mass.R.Civ.P. 56, 365 Mass. 824 (1974). He ruled that the committee's decision, if found to have been validly rendered, was binding on the parties as a final determination of the propriety of the discharge. The Judge then examined and rejected the plaintiff's allegations of procedural infirmity in the proceedings before the committee. He concluded that, as the plaintiff had failed to allege sufficient facts to indicate that the committee's decision was invalid, the present action is barred by the committee's finding of no contractual breach. We concur in the result reached by the Judge although, for the reasons set out in part 3 of this opinion, we arrive at that result by a somewhat different route.

Although State courts have jurisdiction to entertain actions for damages for the wrongful termination of employment covered by a labor agreement, Humphrey v. Moore, 375 U.S. 335, 343-344 (1964), they will ordinarily not exercise such jurisdiction until the grievance procedures provided for in the labor agreement have been exhausted. United Steelworkers of America v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 566-569 (1960). Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 652 (1965). Courts in turn should not undertake to review the merits of the grievance decision rendered by the arbitrator. Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.S. 554, 563 (1976). Green v. Mari & Sons Flooring Co., 362 Mass. 560, 563 (1972). The courts do, however, retain the power and obligation to determine whether the grievance decision has been rendered in a procedurally fair manner. Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 185 (1967). Balsavich v. Local 170, Intl. Brotherhood of Teamsters, 371 Mass. 283, 286 (1976). If the court finds that the grievance process has been undermined by unfair procedure or misconduct of the parties, then the employee is relieved of the ...


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