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Helvetia Coal Co. v. United Mine Workers of America

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 23, 2017


          OPINION, ECF, 20


         Before 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 granted.


         Plaintiffs 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 following allegations.

         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

         Plaintiffs 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[1] 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.

         Plaintiffs raise four counts in the Complaint and request that the Court: (1) declare that ROD No. 11-0143 and ROD No. CA-0120[2] 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;[3] (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.

         On 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.

         On June 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.


         The 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 ...

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