334 F.3d 528 (6th Cir. 2003), 01-6056, Garrison v. Cassens Transport Co.

Docket Nº:01-6056
Citation:334 F.3d 528
Party Name:Garrison v. Cassens Transport Co.
Case Date:July 07, 2003
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
 
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334 F.3d 528 (6th Cir. 2003)

David L. GARRISON, Plaintiff-Appellee,

v.

CASSENS TRANSPORT COMPANY, Defendant-Appellant.

Nos. 01-6056, 02-5124.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit

July 7, 2003

Argued: March 26, 2003.

Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied Sept. 5, 2003.

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Robert L. Mercado (argued and briefed), Patricia M. Morrow (briefed), Dean & Fulkerson, Troy, MI, H. Rowan Leathers III (briefed), Manier & Herod, Nashville, TN, for Appellant.

Kent L. Brown (argued and briefed), Jefferson City, MO, for Appellee.

Before: BOGGS and SILER, Circuit Judges; STEEH, District Judge. [*]

OPINION

SILER, Circuit Judge.

In No. 01-6056, defendant Cassens Transport Company ("Cassens") appeals the judgment after a jury verdict in favor of plaintiff David L. Garrison in this hybrid § 301 (29 U.S.C. § 185) breach of contract/fair representation suit. In No. 02-5124, Cassens appeals the order by the district court holding it in civil contempt for failure to: immediately reinstate Garrison to employment; make certain pension payments; and assign a "company seniority" date that corresponds with the date that Garrison could have commenced working for Cassens upon his return from his worker's compensation injury. Numerous issues have been raised on appeal. After carefully reviewing the record, and viewing the evidence in the light most

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favorable to Garrison, we find that the evidence at trial was insufficient to establish a breach of the duty of fair representation by the union. Accordingly, the district court erred in not entering judgment in favor of Cassens pursuant to Rule 50 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Also, because there was no basis for the imposition of liability, we necessarily find that the civil contempt order can no longer stand. Therefore, we REVERSE the jury verdict and REMAND to the district court for the entry of judgment as a matter of law for Cassens. Also, the civil contempt order of January 7, 2002, is REVERSED and VACATED in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

Garrison began his employment as a driver with Allied Systems, Ltd. ("Allied") and/or its predecessor, Auto Convey, Inc., in 1980. Allied is a trucking company engaged in the auto transport business. In 1986, Garrison transferred to Allied's Smyrna, Tennessee, terminal, where he was employed as a driver until November 21, 1990, when he sustained an on-the-job injury. Cassens is also a trucking company engaged in the delivery of automobiles to vehicle dealerships in the United States. Since 1983, Cassens has maintained an operation in Smyrna, Tennessee.

Drivers for Allied and Cassens are members of Teamsters Local 327, which is affiliated with the Internal Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America AFL-CIO. Local 327 is the exclusive bargaining representative of Allied and Cassens drivers for collective bargaining purposes. Allied, Cassens, and Local 327 are signatories to a multi-employer, multi-union collective bargaining agreement referred to as the National Master Automobile Transporters Agreement ("NMATA") and the Central-Southern Areas Supplemental Agreement. NMATA governs the terms and conditions of driver employment with these companies. While employed by Allied as a driver at the Smyrna terminal, Garrison was a member of Local 327 and was covered by NMATA.

At all times relevant to this case, Nissan Motors had an assembly plant located near Allied's and Cassens's Smyrna operations. In September 1994, as a result of a competitive bid process, Nissan awarded Cassens and another trucking company, Commercial Carriers, Inc., its Smyrna transport work, which previously had been performed by Allied. Shortly thereafter, Allied notified all Allied employees working out of the Smyrna terminal, including Garrison, of Nissan's decision to transfer its work to Cassens and Commercial Carriers. A memorandum was sent enclosing a form on which drivers could designate whether they wished to follow the work to Cassens or Commercial Carriers or stay with Allied and seek work at another terminal.

As a result of Nissan's decision to transfer its work, Allied, Cassens, Commercial Carriers, and Local 327 submitted a request to the National Joint Arbitration Committee (the "NJAC") for a determination of the seniority rights of Allied employees affected by the work transfer. The NJAC issued its decision, ruling that pursuant to NMATA, Allied drivers had the right to transfer either to Cassens or Commercial Carriers to follow the Nissan work. Regarding seniority rights, the NJAC stated that Allied's seniority list was "to be dovetailed 1 by terminal seniority-

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2 with the Cassens and Commercial [Carriers] Smyrna Seniority Lists."

As required by the NJAC's decision, Allied was responsible for preparing separate lists of Allied drivers seeking to transfer to Cassens and Commercial Carriers. After the NJAC decision, Garrison, who was still off work, received two letters from Allied. The first advised Garrison of his work options and stated that if he did not choose to follow the work to Cassens or Commercial Carriers he would be laid off from Allied, effective several days later. The second letter was a premature layoff notice.

The next day after receiving these letters, Garrison telephoned Allied's terminal manager and advised him that he wanted to follow the work to Cassens. In two follow-up letters dated November 9, 1994, Garrison confirmed his receipt of Allied's letters and restated his intentions to follow the work to Cassens. Garrison copied the letters to the business agent for Local 327.3 Garrison's letters were both signed "Received" by James Firkus, Cassens's Smyrna terminal manager. Several days later, Garrison received notice from Allied that based upon his decision to transfer to Cassens, his name was being removed from Allied's seniority list. He was never informed that he would be required to report to work within thirty days of his notification election.

On June 7, 1996, approximately nineteen months after Garrison submitted his transfer election forms, he obtained a medical release from his doctor permitting him to return to work. That same day, he contacted Cassens inquiring into when he could begin work. The assistant terminal manager at Cassens's Smyrna terminal informed Garrison that his name did not appear on Cassens's Smyrna seniority roster and that he would need to speak with Firkus, who was on vacation. Several days later, Garrison spoke with Firkus, who stated that Garrison was not on Cassens's applicable seniority list and that it would be necessary to contact Cassens's Labor Relations Director, Joe Clark, to discuss the situation.

Garrison then went to the Local 327 office in Nashville, Tennessee, and met with Jimmy Neal, Local 327's business agent, 4 and David Hodgin, the president of Local 327, to discuss his predicament. After discussing the situation, Neal expressed his view that Garrison's case was a "slam dunk." He provided Garrison with a form so that he could prepare a grievance to be submitted to Cassens. Neal also arranged an informal meeting to be held the following day to discuss Garrison's request to return to work.

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The next day, an informal meeting was held at Cassens's Smyrna terminal between Garrison, Neal, Firkus, and Mark Flett, a union steward for Cassens's employees. Firkus would not agree to put Garrison to work. According to Garrison, Firkus indicated that the problem was that Garrison had never been placed on the seniority list back in 1994. The next day, Garrison discovered that Firkus had signed for the employment notification letters he sent in November 1994. That afternoon, he confronted Firkus about his signatures. Initially, Firkus indicated that he believed the signatures were forgeries. Subsequently, he admitted it was his signature on each of the letters.

Less than a week later, Garrison submitted a grievance to Local 327, outlining his position that he had properly notified Cassens of his preference to follow the Nissan work. A local hearing was then held concerning Garrison's grievance at Cassens's Smyrna terminal. At the hearing, Neal, who was Garrison's union representative, asserted that Garrison should be permitted to work for Cassens and should be placed on Cassens's seniority list with a 1994 seniority date. Cassens took the position that it was unaware that Garrison had elected to transfer to Cassens, that his name had not appeared on any of the seniority lists or the transfer lists that had been provided by Allied, and that Cassens did not have a contractual obligation to employ him. 5

The parties' inability to reach an acceptable resolution to Garrison's grievance resulted in the matter's being submitted for arbitration. Neal docketed the grievance with the Southern Area Automobile Transporters Grievance Committee to be addressed at its August 1996 meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. At Neal's recommendation, Garrison did not attend this proceeding, although Neal was present on his behalf. 6 During the proceeding, Cassens, through its representative, Joe Clark, reasserted its position that it did not have a contractual obligation to Garrison. In addition, for the first time, Cassens invoked a "30-day rule" and argued that Garrison's seniority transfer opportunity had expired because he had not reported to work at Cassens within thirty days of the transfer opportunity. At the conclusion of the proceeding, Garrison's case was referred to the National Joint Standing Seniority Committee (the "NJSSC") in Dana Point, California. It appears that at no point after the Southern Area proceeding did Neal inform Garrison that Cassens...

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