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ConocoPhillips Co. v. United Steelworkers

January 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul S. Diamond, J.


In this labor dispute, Plaintiff ConocoPhillips has moved for summary judgment, asking me to vacate an arbitrator's decision to reduce the level of discipline Conoco had imposed on one of its employees. Defendant, United Steelworkers, Local 10-234, has cross-moved for summary judgment, asking me to uphold the arbitrator's decision. Although I agree with the Union that the arbitrator could properly reduce the level of discipline, I also agree with the Company that in making his decision, the arbitrator was not entitled to rewrite the Parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement. Accordingly, I will modify the Arbitrator's Opinion.


I have jurisdiction under Section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act to vacate or to modify an arbitration award. 29 U.S.C. § 185; see Newark Morning Ledger Co. v. Newark Typographical Union, Local 103, 797 F.2d 162, 167 (3d Cir. 1986) (agreeing with the district court's decision that it was "compelled to modify the award").


A. Summary Judgment

Upon motion of any party, summary judgment is appropriate "if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party must initially show the absence of any genuine issues of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986). An issue is material only if it could affect the result of the suit under governing law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242 (1986).

In deciding whether to grant summary judgment, the district court "must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party," and take every reasonable inference in that party's favor. Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA, 418 F.3d 265 (3d Cir. 2005). If, after viewing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, "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 is appropriate. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); Delande v. ING Employee Benefits, 112 Fed. Appx. 199, 200 (3d Cir. 2004). Granting summary judgment thus "avoid[s] a pointless trial in cases where it is unnecessary and would only cause delay and expense." Walden v. Saint Gobain Corp., 323 F.Supp. 2d 637, 641 (E.D. Pa. 2004) (quoting Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir.1976)).

B. Judicial Review Under the LMRA

District courts have a limited and deferential role in reviewing arbitration awards arising from labor disputes. Pa. Power Co. v. Local Union No. 272, Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFLCIO, 276 F.3d 174, 178 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing United Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36 (1987)). The district court must uphold an arbitration award that "draws its essence" from the parties' collective bargaining agreement "and is not merely [the arbitrator's] own brand of industrial justice." Misco, 484 U.S. at 36.

An award draws its essence from a collective bargaining agreement "if its interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties' intention." United Transp. Union Local 1589 v. Suburban Transit Corp, 51 F.3d 376, 379 -80 (3d Cir. 1995). See also Exxon Shipping Co. v. Exxon Seamen's Union, 993 F.2d 357, 360 (3d Cir. 1993) ("As a general rule, we must enforce an arbitration award if it was based on an arguable interpretation and/or application of the collective bargaining agreement, and may only vacate if there is no support in the record for its determination or if it reflects manifest disregard of the agreement, totally unsupported by principles of contract construction.") Thus, I must uphold an arbitration award that was derived from the collective bargaining agreement, even if I disagree with the arbitrator's conclusions. Brentwood Med. Assoc. v. United Mine Workers of America, 396 F.3d 237, 241 (3d Cir. 2005).

I am bound by the arbitrator's factual findings, provided that they have evidentiary support. See Misco, 484 U.S. at 36 ("[I]t is the arbitrator's view of the facts and of the meaning of the contract that [the Parties] have agreed to accept. Courts thus do not sit to hear claims of factual or legal error by an arbitrator as an appellate court does in reviewing decisions of lower courts.").

The Third Circuit has cautioned, however, that the district court is neither "entitled nor encouraged simply to 'rubber stamp' the interpretations and decisions of arbitrators." Matteson v. Ryder Sys., Inc., 99 F.3d 108, 113 (3d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). The arbitrator's authority to resolve a dispute is bound by the terms of the parties' collective bargaining agreement. See Barrentine v. Arkansas-Best Freight Sys., Inc., 450 U.S. 728, 744 (1981) ("An arbitrator's power is both derived from, and limited by, the collective-bargaining agreement.")

Section 301 of the LMRA confers on the district court the authority to modify an arbitration award that is unfaithful to the collective bargaining agreement. Newark Morning Ledger, 797 F.2d at 167. The Federal Arbitration Act also confers on the court authority to modify a labor arbitration award where, as here, the arbitrator "awarded on a matter not submitted to [him]." 9 U.S.C. ยง 11(b); see Misco, 484 U.S. at 41 n.9 (acknowledging "federal courts have often looked to the [FAA] for guidance in labor arbitration cases," particularly because Section 301(a) "empowers the federal courts to fashion rules of federal common law to govern [s]uits for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization" under the federal labor ...

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