United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
HELVETIA COAL COMPANY, LAUREL RUN MINING COMPANY, ISLAND CREEK COAL COMPANY, and CONSOL AMONATE FACILITY, LLC, Plaintiffs,
UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, INTERNATIONAL UNION, Defendant.
OPINION, ECF, 20
MAUREEN P. KELLY CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant United
Mine Workers of America, International Union ("the
Union") seeking dismissal of the instant lawsuit on the
basis of the "first-filed" rule. ECF No. 20. For
the reasons that follow, the Motion to Dismiss will be
RELEVANT FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Helvetia Coal Company, Laurel Run Mining Company, Island
Creek Company and Consol Amonate Facility, LLC,
(collectively, "Plaintiffs") filed their Complaint
on January 2, 2017. ECF No. 1. Therein, Plaintiffs made the
Union periodically negotiates labor agreements, called
National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreements
("NBCWAs"), with the Bituminous Coal Operators'
Association ("BCOA"), a multi-employer bargaining
group. Id. ¶ 8. Plaintiffs were signatory
companies to the 2011 NBCWA. Id.¶9. In August,
2016, the Union and the BCOA executed the 2016 NBCWA.
Id.¶ 21. Plaintiffs were not signatories to the
2016 NBCWA. IcL On October 31, 2016, Plaintiffs informed the
Union of their intent to terminate the 2011 NBCWA on December
31, 2016. Id.¶10
met with the Union on multiple occasions in 2016 to negotiate
changes to retiree benefit programs ("the Plan") to
be implemented following the expiration of the 2011 NBCWA.
Id. ¶ 20. At a November 29, 2016, meeting,
Plaintiffs proposed that the planned changes to the Plan be
implemented on April 1, 2017, instead of at the expiration of
the 2011 NBCWA. Id. ¶23. On December 8, 2016,
Plaintiffs asked the Union for a response to the proposals
made at the November 29, 2016, meeting. Id. ¶
26. On December 22, 2016, the Union rejected certain of the
proposals and requested that Plaintiffs take no further
action pending a decision by the trustees of the UMWA 1993
Benefit Plan on a grievance (ROD No. 11-0143) filed
challenging Plaintiffs' ability to alter the Plan
following the expiration of the 2011 NBCWA. The 2011 NBCWA
expired by its terms on December 31, 2016. Id¶lO.
raise four counts in the Complaint and request that the
Court: (1) declare that ROD No. 11-0143 and ROD No.
CA-0120 is not arbitrable and enjoin arbitration
thereof; (2) declare that the arbitration process identified
in the 2011 NBCWA is not applicable to post-termination
retiree health benefit disputes that arise after December 31,
2016, and enjoin arbitration thereof; (3) declare that the
review and appeal process established in Article V of
Plaintiffs' Coal Act Plan governs disputes arising
thereunder and enjoin arbitration thereof; (4) declare that
Plaintiffs do not breach their contractual duty to their age
65 Medicare-eligible retirees after expiration of the 2011
NBCWA by changing the mechanism for providing their benefits;
and (5) declare that negotiations between the Union and
Plaintiffs concerning post-termination changes to the Plan
are subject to the NLRA. Id. at 14-15.
January 17, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment. ECF No. 9. On January 23, 2017, Plaintiffs
filed a Motion for Preliminary Injunction or, in the
alternative, Application for Stay. ECF No. 14. January 26,
2017, the Union filed the instant Motion to Dismiss and Brief
in Support. ECF Nos. 20-21. Following a status conference
held on January 30, 2017, the Court stayed the time periods
for the Union to respond to the pending Partial Motion for
Summary Judgment and the Motion for Preliminary Injunction in
light of the pending Motion to Dismiss. ECF No. 25.
Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition to the Motion to
Dismiss on February 17, 2017. ECF No. 29.
26, 2017, this Court ordered the parties to file supplemental
briefs addressing the effect that the current posture of the
related West Virginia action, discussed infra, has
on the arguments in the pending Motion to Dismiss. ECF No.
34. On July 10, 2017, the Union filed its Supplemental Brief.
ECF No. 35. On July 20, 2017, Plaintiffs filed their
Supplemental Brief. ECF No. 38. The Motion to Dismiss is now
ripe for consideration.
relevant legal standard has been explained as follows.
"The First-Filed Rule requires that, absent
extraordinary circumstances, cases sharing substantially
similar subject matter and subject to concurrent federal
jurisdiction be decided by the court where the litigation was
first filed." Svnthes, Inc. v. Knapp, 978
F.Supp.2d 450, 455 ([E.D. Pa.] 2013) (emphasis added).
Substantial similarly is "not limited to mirror image
cases where the parties and the issues perfectly align."
Id; see also Maximum Human Performance, Inc. v. Dymatize
Enters, Inc., 09-cv-235, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76994,
2009 WL 2778104, at *3 (D.N.J. Aug. 27, 2009) ("[T]he
issues and parties involved in the two actions need not be
identical."). The central question when considering
whether to make an exception to the first-filed rule is what
best serves "considerations of judicial and litigant
economy, and the just and effective disposition of
disputes." Elecs. For Imaging. Inc. v. Covle.
394 F.3d 1341, 1347 (Fed. Cir. 2005).
"Although its application is typically the norm, the
first-filed rule is not applied rigidly." EEOC v.
Univ. of Pennsylvania. 850 F.2d 969, 971 (3d Cir. 1988).
Departure from the first-filed rule can be justified by the
presence of exceptional circumstances, which may include
convenience and availability of witnesses; absence of
jurisdiction over all necessary parties; possibility of
consolidation; or considerations relating to the real party
in interest. Futurewei Techs.. Inc. v. Acacia Research
Corp.. 737 F.3d 704, 708 (Fed. Cir. 2013).
Xodus Med. Inc. v. G&T Indus.. Civ. A. No.
16-5850, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 115982, at *4-5 (E.D. Pa. July