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Union Switch & Signal Div. American Standard Inc. v. United Elec.

filed: March 27, 1990.


On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Western District of Pennsylvania (Pittsburgh), D.C. Civil Action No. 87-485.

Stapleton, Greenberg and Garth, Circuit Judge.

Author: Stapleton


STAPLETON, Circuit Judge:

This case presents important issues concerning the proper role of the federal courts in the not uncommon situation where a labor arbitrator sustains a grievance, orders make whole relief, directs the parties to negotiate concerning that relief, and "retains jurisdiction" to later resolve any disputed issues regarding the remedy. After such determinations by the arbitrator in this case, the parties repaired to the district court which ultimately entered an order enforcing the "award." Remedial issues remained unresolved, however, and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, Local 610 ("Union"), filed a post-judgment motion styled a "Motion for Remand," which sought an order returning a dispute concerning the remedial issues to the same arbitrator who had established liability. This appeal was taken from a denial of that motion.

We first must satisfy ourselves regarding the jurisdiction of the district court to enter the order here under review. If we determine that it did have jurisdiction, we must decide whether the district court abused its discretion in denying relief.


This dispute arises from an arbitration of a labor grievance concerning employee terminations, conducted pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the Union and the appellee, Union Switch & Signal Division, American Standard, Inc. ("Company"). The arbitrator, Shyam Das, was selected through a complex procedure set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. In accordance with the terms of the collective bargaining agreement and the grievance giving rise to the arbitration, the parties submitted both liability and relief issues to Arbitrator Das. After conducting hearings, he issued an opinion and award, finding that the terminations in question violated the collective bargaining agreement. On the question of damages, Das ruled that

[adversely] affected employees are to be retroactively reinstated, at least for such period as they otherwise were entitled to continued employment consistent with this decision, and are to be made whole. I retain jurisdiction to make final rulings on any remedial disputes that the parties are unable to resolve after full discussion.

App. at 105.

At this point, the Company chose to file a complaint in the district court, seeking to have the arbitrator's award vacated. The Union counterclaimed for enforcement of the award. The district court referred the case to a magistrate for pretrial proceedings, and following cross-motions for summary judgment, the magistrate filed a report and recommendation that summary judgment should be granted in favor of the Union. The Company did not file any objections to this report, and on May 23, 1988, the district court, by memorandum order, adopted the magistrate's report as the opinion of the court. No appeal from this order was taken. These proceedings will hereafter be referred to as "the original action."

The Union and Company then engaged in negotiations aimed at calculating the make whole relief called for in Arbitrator Das' opinion. However, the parties were unable to reach agreement. The Company on at least two occasions requested that the Union provide specific information arguably relevant to calculating offsets and determining efforts to mitigate, but the Union refused to comply with these requests, contending that they were overbroad and burdensome. The parties were also apparently unable to agree on whether the employees are entitled to interest on back pay due. The merits of the parties' positions in these disputes are not relevant here.

As a result of this inability to reach agreement, the Union indicated that the dispute should be resubmitted to Arbitrator Das. The Company refused, arguing that the dispute as to calculation of make whole relief constituted a separate grievance, and that Arbitrator Das' jurisdiction ended when he issued his opinion and award, despite his attempt to "retain jurisdiction." The Company did offer to have the dispute resolved by a new arbitrator, selected by the procedure set forth in the collective bargaining agreement. Instead, on June 15, 1989, the Union filed a pleading in district court, bearing the same caption as the original action, entitled "Union's Motion to Remand to Arbitrator Shyam Das." On June 30, without briefing or argument, the district court denied this motion without explanation. This is the order before us on appeal.


The first question to be resolved is whether the existence of a final award of an arbitrator is a prerequisite to federal district court jurisdiction under § 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, in the same sense that a "final" district court judgment is a prerequisite to our appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. If it is, then the district court did not have jurisdiction over the Company's original attempt to vacate the arbitration award, the corresponding application for enforcement, or the "post-judgment" motion, and we must direct that the district court's order on that motion be vacated. However, if there is only a prudential rule against a district court's reviewing an arbitration award that fails to resolve all issues presented in the arbitration proceeding, we have no choice but to treat that unappealed judgment as valid and proceed to address the Union's "Motion to Remand."

There can be no doubt that the district court committed serious error when it entertained the original cross-applications to vacate or enforce, error that would have required reversal of the court's judgment had there been an appeal. In entertaining the original action, the district court acted contrary to the consistent teachings of this court and, so far as we are aware, every other Court of Appeals that has considered a similar issue.

In Public Service Electric & Gas Co. v. System Council U-2, 703 F.2d 68 (3d Cir. 1983), for example, an arbitration panel had determined that the employer violated the collective bargaining agreement, but "instructed the parties to schedule a hearing on remedies when and if they determined such a hearing necessary." Id. at 69. Instead of proceeding with the arbitration, the company went to district court and obtained an order vacating the award. On appeal, this court held that the district court should not have entertained a lawsuit until the arbitration was completed:

The present arbitration decision partakes of all the attributes of an interim order. Review of the decision at this stage would disrupt and delay the arbitration process and could result in piecemeal litigation. If this court should reverse the district court's determination and uphold the panel's liability determination and the parties did not thereafter agree upon a remedy, the panel would be required to impose one. The company could then repetition the district court to review that remedy. We see no legitimate reason for allowing such piecemeal litigation.

Id. at 70. Accordingly, the district court's order was reversed with directions to dismiss the company's petition. Id.

A similar result was recently reached by the Ninth Circuit in Millmen Local 550 v. Well's Exterior Trim, 828 F.2d 1373 (9th Cir. 1987). That case involved the arbitration of a grievance presenting two questions: "Whether the Employer violated [the collective bargaining agreement], and if so, what remedy." Id. at 1374. The arbitrator answered the first question in the affirmative, but "remanded" the question of remedy to the parties, "retaining jurisdiction in the event that the parties [could] agree upon such remedy." Id. at 1374-75. When the union petitioned the district court to confirm the arbitrator, the employer moved to dismiss "for lack of a final award." The district court confirmed the award, but on appeal the Ninth Circuit, relying in part on System Council U-2, held that judicial review of incomplete arbitration awards is inappropriate in all but the "most extreme" situations. Id. at 1375 & 1377.

By analogy to the "final judgment" rule of [28 U.S.C.] section 1291, an arbitration award that postpones the determination of a remedy should not constitute a "final and binding award" reviewable under section 301.

Id. at 1376. Accordingly, that court also reversed and remanded with directions to dismiss.

For the sake of simplicity we will hereafter refer to the teachings of System Council U-2, Millmen and similar cases as the "complete arbitration" rule. The events that have followed the district court's failure in the original action to apply the complete arbitration rule provide a vivid illustration of the pitfalls it exists to prevent. If the district court had dismissed the Company's original petition to vacate the arbitrator's determination of liability as untimely, and the parties were still unable to agree upon a remedy, the arbitration would have continued through to a determination of the appropriate make whole relief and only then, if at all, would the dispute have been presented in the district court. If that had occurred, however, the district court would be in a position to resolve all of the issues presented by this nexus of operative facts. Instead, this case has occupied a federal magistrate, a federal district court judge, and now a panel ...

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