439 U.S. 89 (1978), 78-344, Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Sheehan

Docket NºNo. 78-344
Citation439 U.S. 89, 99 S.Ct. 399, 58 L.Ed.2d 354
Party NameUnion Pacific Railroad Co. v. Sheehan
Case DateDecember 04, 1978
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 89

439 U.S. 89 (1978)

99 S.Ct. 399, 58 L.Ed.2d 354

Union Pacific Railroad Co.



No. 78-344

United States Supreme Court

Dec. 4, 1978




The National Railroad Adjustment Board's determination that respondent railroad employee had not filed his appeal to the Board from his allegedly wrongful discharge by petitioner within the time prescribed by the governing collective bargaining agreement was final and binding upon the parties under § 3 First (q) of the Railway Labor Act, and neither the District Court nor the Court of Appeals had authority to disturb such decision.

Certiorari granted; 576 F.2d 854, revered.

Per curiam opinion.


Petitioner, the Union Pacific Railroad Co., discharged respondent for violating one of its employee work rules. Respondent thereupon began an action in state court alleging wrongful discharge and denial of a fair hearing. While that claim was pending in state court, we decided Andrews v. Louisville & Nashville R. Co., 406 U.S. 320 (1972), overruling Moore v. Illinois Central R. Co., 312 U.S. 630 (1941). Andrews held that a railroad employee alleging a violation of a collective bargaining agreement must submit such a dispute to the National Railroad Adjustment Board for resolution in accordance with the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, 44 Stat. (part 2) 577, as amended, 45 U.S.C. §§ 151-188. Following our decision in Andrews, respondent and Union Pacific stipulated to dismissal of the state court suit, and the case was dismissed without prejudice. Respondent then instituted a proceeding before the Adjustment Board. After full written submissions by both parties and two hearings, the Adjustment Board dismissed respondent's claim because he had failed to file his appeal to the Adjustment Board within the time limits prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement.

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After the Adjustment Board dismissed his claim, respondent filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, seeking an order directing the Adjustment Board to hear the merits of his case, or, in the alternative, for reinstatement and a money judgment. Jurisdiction in the District Court was based upon § 3 First (q) of the Act, 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (q).1 Respondent claimed that the time requirements of the collective bargaining agreement were tolled during the pendency of his state court action, and that the Adjustment Board should be required to hear and decide his claim on the merits. While admitting that respondent had "persuasively argued for tolling the time limits," the District Court nonetheless affirmed the Adjustment Board's order and awarded summary judgment to petitioner. The court held that respondent had failed to demonstrate the existence of any of the grounds for reversal of an Adjustment Board decision [99 S.Ct. 401] set forth in § 153 First (q), and that there was no

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"legal principle under which it [could] grant [respondent] relief without violating the provisions of the Railway Labor Act." 423 F.Supp. 324, 329 (1976).

The Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit reversed the District Court and remanded the case to the Adjustment Board. 576 F.2d 854 (1978). At the beginning of its opinion, the court stated:

The real issue here is whether the Board's determination that it lacked jurisdiction because of noncompliance with the limitations in the modified collective bargaining agreement deprived Sheehan of his due process rights.

We conclude the Board's failure to address the merits of plaintiff Sheehan's claim denied him due process. . . .

Id. at 855-856. The court then canvassed prior decisions concerning the Railway Labor Act, and recognized that these cases had established that the scope of judicial review of Adjustment Board decisions is "among the narrowest known to the law." Nonetheless, the court believed it "possible" that the extent of judicial review of "purely leal issues" decided by the Adjustment Board should be reexamined in light of the "implications arising from, and the developments since" our decision in Andrews. 576 F.2d at 856. The court then concluded as follows:

As the district court noted, a persuasive argument can be made for the tolling of time limits. The court in Andrews expressed the view that an agreement under the Railway Labor Act was a federal contract governed and enforceable by federal law in the federal courts. . . . The applicability of equitable tolling to the agreement in question is not in doubt. While we do not pass on the merits of the tolling issue, we hold the failure of the Board to consider tolling under these circumstances deprived

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Sheehan of an opportunity to be heard in violation of his right to due process.

Id. at 857.2

If the Court of Appeals' remand was based on its view that the Adjustment Board had failed to consider respondent's equitable [99 S.Ct. 402] tolling argument, the court was simply mistaken. The record shows that respondent tendered the tolling claim to the Adjustment Board, which considered it and explicitly rejected it. App. to Pet. for Cert. 22.3 If, on the other hand,

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the Court of Appeals intended to reverse the Adjustment Board's rejection of respondent's equitable tolling argument, the court exceeded the scope of its jurisdiction to review decisions of the Adjustment Board.

Judicial review of Adjustment Board orders is...

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