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MITCHELL PLASTICS, INC. v. GLASS

November 20, 1996

MITCHELL PLASTICS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
GLASS, MOLDERS, POTTERY, PLASTICS AND ALLIED WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION and LOCAL 46B, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: CINDRICH

 CINDRICH, District Judge

 November 20, 1996

 This is an action to vacate a labor arbitration award with a counterclaim to enforce the award. Plaintiff's ("Mitchell") cause of action arises under the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and the Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 10. Pending before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment. We observe at the outset that this case is well-suited for summary judgment in that none of the facts material to the court's decision are disputed. Also pending is defendants' ("Union") motion for attorneys' fees under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 and the court's inherent powers.

 I. Facts

 The facts can be briefly stated. Mitchell is located in Indianola, Pennsylvania. It manufactures custom injected molded plastic parts. The Union is the exclusive labor representative for employees at Mitchell's plant. Mitchell and the Union were parties to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") effective from November 5, 1989 to November 4, 1993.

 Daniel Navilliat was an employee and Union member with six years of service as of January 1995. On January 14, 1995, *fn1" Navilliat was on duty as a material handler. When an alarm sounded on a particular mold press, Navilliat responded and tried to trouble-shoot the problem. Navilliat opened the mold door and found nothing that would suggest a problem. He closed the door, put the machine on manual, and mistakenly pushed the "mold open" button. The mold opened too far and bent the gear rod.

 The consequences of Navilliat's actions were substantial. A contractor had to be summoned to repair the press, which was owned by one of Mitchell's best customers. Mitchell lost one of its best customers and a significant volume of business. *fn2"

 Later that day, Mitchell fired Navilliat for violation of one of its work rules. The work rule is one of twenty-seven regulating employee conduct imposed in September 1993. Exh. B to Mitchell's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, Doc. No. 13. The rules are divided by the type of discipline their violation carries. The first rule of those whose violation may result in immediate termination applies to "careless or willful destruction or damage to Company property, or property of another employee or customer." Navilliat's discharge was based on this rule. There is no question that he was aware of these rules.

 In its cross-motion, Mitchell argues first that the arbitrator did not abide by the terms of the CBA in rewriting the work rule to nullify termination for damage to company property. Its second argument is that, even if the arbitrator did abide by the terms of the CBA, he failed to adhere to his own interpretation in applying the CBA to the facts of this case. The Union's motion asserts that the arbitrator's decision easily draws its essence from the contract and therefore should be enforced. The Union also contends that there is no merit to Mitchell's Complaint under well established, controlling precedent.

 II. Summary Judgment Standard

 Summary judgment is mandated where the pleadings and evidence on file show there is no genuine dispute of material fact, and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Summary judgment is appropriate against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). A genuine issue does not arise unless the evidence, viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, would allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for that party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-49, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). A fact is material when it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. at 248. In reviewing any facts alleged to create a genuine issue, if the Court concludes that "the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial,'" and summary judgment must be granted. Matsushita Elec. Ind. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986).

 III. Governing Law

 Attempts to overturn arbitration awards face a well established, consistent, and exceedingly narrow standard of review. United Industrial Workers v. Gov't of the Virgin Islands, 28 V.I. 211, 987 F.2d 162, 170 (3d Cir. 1993) (scope of review is "narrowly circumscribed"); Newark Morning Ledger Co. v. Newark Typographical Union, 797 F.2d 162, 165 (3d Cir. 1986) (the "strict standard means that a reviewing court will decline to sustain an award 'only in the rarest case'"); NF&M Corp. v. United Steelworkers, 524 F.2d 756, 759 (3d Cir. 1975) ("scope of judicial review of an arbitrator's award is severely limited"). "If the arbitrator's award can possibly derive from an interpretation and application of the clauses of the agreement, the courts are precluded from refusing to enforce his award." Arco Polymers, Inc. v. Local 8-74, 671 F.2d 752, 755 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 828, 74 L. Ed. 2d 65, 103 S. Ct. 63 (1982).

 
As long as an arbitrator's decision arguably "draws its essence" from the CBA, a district court is not permitted to vacate the award. "An arbitration award draws its essence from the bargaining agreement if 'the interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in the light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties' intention.'"

 United Transp'n Local 1589 v. Suburban Transit Corp., 51 F.3d 376 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). "A court may not overrule an arbitrator simply because it disagrees with the arbitrator's construction of the contract . . . or because it believes its interpretation of the contract is better than that of the arbitrator." News America Publications, Inc. v. Newark Typographical Union, Local 103, 918 F.2d 21, 24 (3d Cir. 1990). "A labor arbitration decision fails to draw its essence from the collective bargaining agreement if the arbitrator acted in manifest disregard of the law, or if the record before the arbitrator reveals no ...


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