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1975 Salaried Retirement Plan for Eligible Employees of Crucible, Inc. v. Nobers

filed: July 6, 1992.

THE 1975 SALARIED RETIREMENT PLAN FOR ELIGIBLE EMPLOYEES OF CRUCIBLE, INC., AN ERISA PLAN; THE COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORPORATION SEVERANCE PLAN FOR SALARIED, NONUNION EMPLOYEES, AN ERISA PLAN; THE RETIREMENT COMMITTEE OF COLTEC INDUSTRIES, INC., AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE 1975 SALARIED RETIREMENT PLAN FOR ELIGIBLE EMPLOYEES OF CRUCIBLE, INC. AND THE COLT INDUSTRIES OPERATING CORPORATION SEVERENCE PLAN FOR SALARIED, NONUNION EMPLOYEES; THE PENSION PLAN FOR COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYEES OF MIDLAND OPERATIONS OF CRUCIBLE, INC., AN ERISA PLAN; THE SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLAN FOR COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYEES OF MIDLAND OPERATIONS OF CRUCIBLE, INC., AN ERISA PLAN; THE SEVERANCE ALLOWANCE PLAN FOR THE COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYEES OF MIDLAND OPERATIONS OF CRUCIBLE, INC., AN ERISA PLAN; AND COLTEC INDUSTRIES, INC., AS ADMINISTRATOR OF THE PENSION PLAN FOR COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYEES OF MIDLAND OPERATIONS OF CRUCIBLE, INC., THE SUPPLEMENTAL UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFIT PLAN FOR COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYEES OF MIDLAND OPERATIONS OF CRUCIBLE, INC., AND THE SEVERANCE ALLOWANCE PLAN FOR THE COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED EMPLOYEES OF MIDLAND OPERATIONS OF CRUCIBLE, INC. APPELLANTS
v.
DAVID A. NOBERS; ROBERT R. CAMPBELL, JR.; GASPER P. PORTO; AND GARY T. WEEKLY



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. (Dist. Ct. Civil No. 90-0080)

Before: Becker, Greenberg, and Alito, Circuit Judges

Author: Becker

Opinion OF THE COURT

BECKER, Circuit Judge.

This appeal requires us to construe the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (1988), in the context of the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C.A. §§ 1001-1462 (West 1985 & Supp. 1992). The plaintiff-appellants, five plans for the benefit of employees of Crucible, Inc., seek to enjoin the appellees, four employees whom Crucible laid off, from prosecuting a contract action against Crucible and its parent company, Colt Industries, Inc., in Pennsylvania state court. The district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania denied the requested injunction.

The plans allege that the state court suit will interfere with the performance of their duties under ERISA. Contending that the state court suit "relates to" ERISA plans because the state court will have to construe the plans in determining liability, the plans submit that, under sections 502(e)(1) and 514(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(e)(1), 1144(a) (1988), the state court action is preempted and the case is subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction.

Under the Anti-Injunction Act, a federal court may grant injunctions to stay state court proceedings only when "expressly authorized by an Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments." 28 U.S.C. § 2283 (1988). The plans assert that their claim falls under all three exceptions. They contend that section 502(a)(3) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), "expressly authorizes" injunctions for violations of ERISA, including violations of its supersedure provisions. They also argue that an injunction is necessary in aid of the federal court's (exclusive) jurisdiction, and to protect the district court's judgment in favor of Crucible and Colt in an earlier suit by the employees.

Although we agree with the plans that the state court suit is preempted and that the claim, if brought under ERISA, would be subject to exclusive federal jurisdiction, we conclude that the plans' request falls under none of the three exceptions in the Anti-Injunction Act. We will therefore affirm the judgment of the district court denying the injunction.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The appellees claim to represent a class of former employees of Crucible's Midland, Pennsylvania steel plant who were promoted from positions in Crucible's collective bargaining unit into salaried, non-union positions. Around 1980, Crucible began to have economic troubles and instituted cutbacks and layoffs. During this period, some salaried employees were demoted back to union positions, but the putative class members were not demoted, and were eventually laid off in 1982 as salaried employees. The appellees contend that they had a contractual right to be demoted from managerial and supervisory positions back to the bargaining unit and that if they had been properly demoted, they would have received substantially greater pension and related benefits than those to which they are entitled as salaried employees. Protracted litigation has followed their layoff.

The appellees first brought Civil Action No. 82-1846 in the district court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against Crucible, Colt, the steelworkers' union, and the administrator of the union's pension plans. The appellees claimed that the collective bargaining agreement required Crucible to demote them and lay them off as union employees rather than as salaried employees, and that the union breached its duty of fair representation by failing to file their grievance. This suit ("Nobers I") was a hybrid class action based on section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185 (1988). The district court certified the class pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 23, but granted summary judgment against the appellees (plaintiffs there) on the ground that they had neither an express nor an implied right under the collective bargaining agreement to be terminated as union employees.*fn1 This court affirmed without opinion. Nobers I, 722 F.2d 733 (3d Cir. 1983).

Not fazed by their loss in federal court, in 1984 the appellees brought Action No. 843-1984 in the Court of Common Pleas of Beaver County, Pennsylvania. This class action suit ("Nobers II"), which is still pending, asserts claims against Crucible and Colt for breach of and interference with alleged express and implied contracts of employment. The appellees allege a right to return to the bargaining unit and to be terminated as union employees rather than as salaried employees. They seek damages equivalent to the unemployment, pension, and insurance benefits available to bargaining unit employees.

Crucible and Colt attempted to remove Nobers II to federal district court, but the district court remanded the case to state court on the grounds that neither diversity jurisdiction nor ancillary jurisdiction supported original federal jurisdiction. Nobers v. Crucible, Inc., 602 F. Supp. 703 (W.D. Pa. 1985). After remand, Colt and Crucible took another tack to prevent the state court from acting on Nobers II: they brought Civil Action No. 85-563 in federal court, seeking to enjoin Nobers II on the ground that it was barred by the res judicata effect of Nobers I. The district court denied relief on the ground that the face of the Nobers II complaint made no strong and unequivocal showing of relitigation, as required by the case law under the Anti-Injunction Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2283. This court affirmed without opinion. Colt Industries v. Nobers, 787 F.2d 581 (3d Cir. 1986).

The Beaver County Court of Common Pleas resumed its proceedings in Nobers II, and in 1987 dismissed the action upon the motion of Colt and Crucible, holding that ERISA preempted the appellees' state law claims. On appeal, however, the Pennsylvania Superior Court reversed, Nobers v. Crucible, Inc., 376 Pa. Super. 156, 545 A.2d 367 (1988), basing its ruling on Shaw v. Westinghouse Electric Corp., 276 Pa. Super. 220, 419 A.2d 175 (1980), and finding the association between the Nobers II contractual allegations and the ERISA plans to be "tangential at best," 545 A.2d at 371. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied review. 522 Pa. 578, 559 A.2d 39 (1989).

After the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, Colt and Crucible returned to federal district court, seeking to remove Nobers II based on intervening United States Supreme Court decisions about the scope of ERISA preemption. The district court ruled, however, that this second attempt at removal was untimely. Colt and Crucible petitioned for mandamus from this court, but we denied the petition. Crucible Inc. v. Zeigler, No. 90-3049 (3d Cir. June 8, 1990). Nobers II is therefore still pending in state trial court.

Finally, the Crucible employee benefit plans (but not Crucible and Colt themselves) brought this action in federal district court under ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), seeking declaratory guidance as to their obligations to the appellees. The district court had jurisdiction under ERISA § 502(e)(1), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1). In addition to a declaratory judgment, the plans seek to enjoin the defendant-appellees here (the plaintiffs in Nobers II) from further prosecuting Nobers II in state court. On May 30, 1991, the district court denied injunctive relief, but allowed discovery to proceed on the plans' requests for declaratory relief.

To ensure immediate appealability of the denial of injunctive relief, the plans requested that the district court enter a final judgment under FRCP 54(b) on that claim. On June 26, 1991, the district court did so. We therefore have jurisdiction over the plans' appeal under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1291. Our review ...


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