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Hart v. Overseas National Airways

argued: June 8, 1976.

HUGH HART, APPELLANT,
v.
OVERSEAS NATIONAL AIRWAYS INC.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. District of Columbia Civil No. 73-2448

Seitz, Chief Judge, Aldisert and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Garth

Garth, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiff, Hugh Hart, brought this action in the district court against Overseas National Airways, Inc. (ONA) to enforce an arbitration award. Under the Award Hart's discharge from employment with ONA was held to be improper and the Award directed that he "be made whole for any and all wages, benefits and/or rights" to which he would have been entitled had he not been discharged. Both Hart and ONA moved for summary judgment. Despite its recognition that the Award "definitively states the discharge of plaintiff was without proper cause," the district court refused enforcement, holding the Award to be uncertain and indefinite and granted ONA's motion for summary judgment.

We reverse and remand to the district court with instructions for further proceedings.

I.

Hugh Hart was employed by ONA as flight navigator. On May 2, 1970 Hart served as navigator on Flight 980 which left New York for the Caribbean island of St. Maarten. As the aircraft approached its destination it was rerouted due to poor weather conditions. When the flight was finally cleared for landing on St. Maarten, the visibility was so poor that after four approaches which were unsuccessful, the flight captain attempted to land at the designated alternate airport at St. Thomas. However, the flight's fuel was sufficient for a flight time of only 4 hours and 34 minutes and 4 hours and 16 minutes had already elapsed since the flight's departure from New York.*fn1 After 4 hours and 35 minutes in flight, the aircraft crashed in the Caribbean killing twenty-three persons and injuring several others including Hart.*fn2

After the crash, Hart and the other members of the cockpit crew were discharged from ONA's employ. Hart contested his discharge invoking the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement between ONA and Local 295, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America.

Ultimately Hart's grievance came before the "Flight Navigators System Board of Adjustment" (SBA) established pursuant to Sec. 21 of the collective bargaining agreement and § 204, Title II of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 184.*fn3 The SBA held that Hart had been discharged without proper notification under § 24 of the collective bargaining agreement,*fn4 but deadlocked on the question of whether Hart had been discharged for just cause. A neutral referee, Melvin A. Rosenbloom, was selected by the National Mediation Board to serve on a three-man panel with one representative of the union and one representative of ONA to resolve this issue. The parties agreed that all disputed procedural and substantive issues would be decided solely by the referee. As a consequence an evidentiary hearing was held before Rosenbloom as referee and two members of the SBA in December, 1970 and the case was thereafter taken under advisement.

On June 23, 1972 Rosenbloom wrote to counsel for Local 295 and ONA setting forth reasons for the "extraordinary delay in . . . rendering a decision . . . ." Rosenbloom stated that he was at that time revising the fourth draft of his opinion but nevertheless felt constrained to release his "Findings, Conclusions and Award," with the full text of his opinion to be furnished shortly.*fn5 The body of the letter then set forth Rosenbloom's "Findings, Conclusions, and Award":

FINDINGS

Contrary to the theory of the Company, the evidence herein fails to establish the following concerning the conduct of Hugh Hart on May 2, 1970, in connection with his assignment as navigator on ALM Flight 980:

1. That his performance of his duties was below commonly accepted professional standards or contrary to Company requirements;

2. That he performed in a manner inconsistent with his training, scope of responsibilities or direct instructions from his superiors;

3. That the manner in which he performed his duties contributed to the aircraft reaching the condition of fuel exhaustion and therefore was a causative factor in the ditching of the aircraft;

4. That an oversight, omission or failure to perform a function which could reasonably have been expected of him under the circumstances prevailing at the time of the flight was responsible for the low fuel condition going undetected until it was too late to avoid the loss of the aircraft;

5. That an oversight, omission or failure to perform a function which could reasonably have been expected of him under the circumstances prevailing at the time of the flight was a factor in the various command decisions the results of which combined to make the ditching of the aircraft inevitable; and

6. That he was culpable of misconduct in the preparation of the cabin for ditching and in ...


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