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AIELLO v. APEX MARINE CORP.

May 14, 1985

DAVID AIELLO
v.
APEX MARINE CORPORATION, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SCIRICA

SCIRICA, J.

 MEMORANDUM

 This case involves a dispute over an employment agreement between the plaintiff, David Aiello, and the defendants, Apex Marine Corporation and Westchester Marine and Shipping Co., Inc. (hereinafter referred to as "Apex"). The other defendant is Marine Engineers Beneficial Association (hereinafter referred to as "MEBA"), the union representing all of the licensed engineers employed by Apex.

 The collective bargaining agreement provides that in the normal course of hiring engineers aboard Apex vessels, the following procedure applies:

 
"The company agrees that when hiring any licensed engineer other than the chief engineer, the employee shall be obtained through the offices of the association (MEBA); provided that the engineers so named by the association shall be qualified to fill the available position, and further provided that the company shall have the right to select men whom the company considers qualified and satisfactory." Tanker Agreement (1981-1984), Section 1(b), p. 3.

 The normal hiring procedures, however, do not apply to the first crew of any vessel. Apex and MEBA agreed that:

 
"The company shall have the right to select the first crew on each vessel provided such employees are members of the association in good standing." Agreement of July 15, 1982, Section 1, p. 2.

 In June, 1982, Apex was the shipping agent for the vessel "Groton". Plaintiff, a marine engineer, applied directly to the maritime personnel manager of Apex for the position of Third Assistant Engineer on the first crew of the "Groton", and entered into an oral employment agreement with Apex for a period of 15 months. MEBA was advised of this agreement and on June 17, 1982, issued its clearance card to plaintiff for service on the "Groton" for 15 months.

 Plaintiff worked aboard the "Groton" until August 17, 1982, when Apex discharged him. Plaintiff alleges that MEBA unlawfully coerced Apex to terminate him and that he was replaced by another engineer selected by MEBA.

 Plaintiff contends that he was wrongfully discharged and that Apex breached its employment agreement. He seeks damages from Apex for wages he would have received to the end of the contract. Plaintiff also asserts two tort claims against MEBA: first, that by procuring his discharge, MEBA tortiously interfered with his employment contract with Apex; and second, claiming to be a member of MEBA, that MEBA, in procuring his discharge breached contractual rights owed to him under the MEBA constitution.

 Applicable Law

 Plaintiff maintains that his employment contract is governed by admirality law. MEBA argues that jurisdiction is precluded by labor law. I must first determine whether labor law or admiralty law applies to this case.

 Plaintiff's state law tort claims against MEBA are for wrongful interference with contractual relationship and violation of the union constitution. Plaintiff recognizes that the state law claims against MEBA do not fall under admiralty jurisdiction and that if MEBA were the only defendant this court would not have jurisdiction. (Plaintiff's answer to MEBA motion for summary judgment, p. 5). Plaintiff asserts however, that this court has pendent jurisdiction over MEBA because his claim is related to the action against Apex, which he alleges arises out of a maritime contract.

 Plaintiff maintains that he entered into an agreement with Apex directly to serve as Third Assistant Engineer on the "Groton" for a period of 15 months and the agreement of an officer to man a vessel is within the admiralty jurisdiction of the federal courts. "A contract for hire either of a ship or of the sailors and officers to man her is within the admiralty jurisdiction." Kossick v. United Fruit Company, 365 U.S. 731, 735, 6 L. Ed. 2d 56, 81 S. Ct. 886 (1961). Apex seems to tacitly recognize that if its oral agreement with the plaintiff stood alone, it would fall under admiralty jurisdiction. (Apex's reply brief to memorandum contra Apex's motion for summary judgment, p. 4). Apex argues however, that its employment agreement with plaintiff is superseded by the collective bargaining agreement with MEBA, and therefore federal labor law rather than admiralty law applies.

 When faced with conflicting labor agreements, courts have held that individual employee contracts are superseded by collective bargaining agreements. "The very purpose of providing by statute for the collective agreement is to supersede the terms of separate agreements of employees with terms which reflect strength and bargaining power and serve the welfare of the group." J.I. Case Company v. NLRB, 321 U.S. 332, 337, 338, 88 L. Ed. 762, 64 S. Ct. 576 (1944).

 
Individual contracts, no matter what the circumstances that justify their execution, or what their terms, may not be availed of to defeat and delay the procedures prescribed by the National Labor Relations Act looking to collective bargaining . . . nor may they be used . . . limit or condition the terms of the collective agreement.

 Id.

 To escape the clear doctrine of supersession, plaintiff argues that because he was employed directly by Apex, he was hired outside the scope of the bargaining agreement and therefore, supersession does not apply. Plaintiff cites neither facts nor authority for this position. Plaintiff's claims against both defendants are based on Apex's oral agreement to hire him as a member of the first crew of the "Groton". The agreement which gave Apex the right to select the first crew on each vessel also recited:

 
Except as specifically amended herein, all conditions covering employment of licensed officers aboard integrated tug-barge vessels owned or operated by the company shall be the same as those contained in the collective bargaining agreement presently in effect between the parties with respect to U.S. Flag Ocean-Going Tanker Vessels. Agreement of July 15, 1982, Section 1, p. 2.

 Plaintiff's tortious interference with contract claim against MEBA is substantially dependent upon an analysis of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement. When the resolution of a state law claim depends upon the analysis of the terms of a labor agreement, "that claim must either be treated as a ยง 301 claim . . . or dismissed as preempted by federal labor contract law." Allis-Chalmers Corp. v. Lueck, 471 U.S. 202, 53 U.S.L.W. 4463, 4468, 85 L. Ed. 2d 206, 105 S. Ct. 1904 (1985). Since plaintiff's state law claim against MEBA for tortious interference with contract depends ...


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