462 U.S. 151 (1983), 81-2386, Delcostello v. International Broth. of Teamsters

Docket Nº:Nos. 81-2386, 81-2408.
Citation:462 U.S. 151, 103 S.Ct. 2281, 76 L.Ed.2d 476
Party Name:Philip DelCOSTELLO, Petitioner, v. INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS et al. UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO-CLC, et al., Petitioners, v. Donald C. FLOWERS and King E. Jones.
Case Date:June 08, 1983
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 151

462 U.S. 151 (1983)

103 S.Ct. 2281, 76 L.Ed.2d 476

Philip DelCOSTELLO, Petitioner,

v.

INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS et al.

UNITED STEELWORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO-CLC, et al., Petitioners,

v.

Donald C. FLOWERS and King E. Jones.

Nos. 81-2386, 81-2408.

United States Supreme Court.

June 8, 1983

Argued April 25, 1983.

[103 S.Ct. 2283] Syllabus[*]

SYLLABUS

The issue in each of these cases is what statute of limitations applies in an employee suit against an employer and a union, alleging the employer's breach of a collective-bargaining agreement and the union's breach of its duty of fair representation by mishandling the ensuing grievance or arbitration proceedings. United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 101 S.Ct. 1559, 67 L.Ed.2d 732, held in a similar suit that an employee's claim against the employer was governed by a state statute of limitations for vacation of an arbitration award rather than by a state statute for an action for breach of contract, but left open the issues as to what state statute should govern the employee's claim against the union or whether, instead of applying a state statute of limitations, the provisions of § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act establishing a 6-month limitations period for making charges of unfair labor practices to the National Labor Relations Board should be borrowed. In No. 81-2386, respondent local union brought a formal grievance under the collective-bargaining agreement based on petitioner employee's alleged improper discharge. After a hearing, a joint union-management committee informed petitioner of its conclusion that the grievance was without merit, and the committee's determination became final on September 20, 1977. On March 16, 1978, petitioner filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that the employer had discharged him in violation of the collective-bargaining agreement, and that the union had represented him in the grievance procedure in a discriminatory, arbitrary, and perfunctory manner. The District Court ultimately granted summary judgment against petitioner, concluding that Mitchell compelled application of Maryland's 30-day statute of limitations for actions to vacate arbitration awards to both of petitioner's claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed. In No. 81-2408, petitioner local union invoked arbitration after it was unsuccessful in processing respondent employees' grievances based on the employer's alleged violations of the bargaining agreement arising from job-assignment [103 S.Ct. 2284] practices. On February

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24, 1978, the arbitrator issued an award upholding the employer's job assignments, and on January 19, 1979, respondents filed suit in Federal District Court, alleging that the employer had violated the bargaining agreement, and that the union had violated its duty of fair representation in handling respondents' claims. The District Court, applying New York's 90-day statute of limitations for actions to vacate arbitration awards, dismissed the complaint against both the employer and the union. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals, acting in light of the intervening decision in Mitchell, rejected the contention that § 10(b) should be applied; affirmed the dismissal as to the employer under the 90-day arbitration statute; but reversed as to the union, concluding that New York's 3-year statute for malpractice actions governed.

Held:

1. In this type of suit, the 6-month limitations period in § 10(b) governs claims against both the employer and the union. Pp. 2287-2294.

(a) When, as here, there is no federal statute of limitations expressly applicable to a federal cause of action, it is generally concluded that Congress intended that the courts apply the most closely analogous statute of limitations under state law. However, when adoption of state statutes would be at odds with the purpose or operation of federal substantive law, timeliness rules have been drawn from federal law--either express limitations periods from related federal statutes, or such alternatives as laches. Auto Workers v. Hoosier Corp., 383 U.S. 696, 86 S.Ct. 1107, 16 L.Ed.2d 192, distinguished. Pp. 2287-2289.

(b) An employee's suit against both the employer and the union, such as is involved here, has no close analogy in ordinary state law, and the analogies suggested in Mitchell suffer from flaws of both legal substance and practical application. Typically short state limitations periods for vacating arbitration awards fail to provide the aggrieved employee with a satisfactory opportunity to vindicate his rights, and analogy to an action to vacate an arbitration award is problematic at best as applied to the employee's claim against the union. While a state limitations period for legal malpractice is the closest state-law analogy for the claim against the union, application of such a limitations period would not solve the problem caused by the too-short time in which the employee could sue the employer, and would preclude the relatively rapid resolution of labor disputes favored by federal law. In contrast, § 10(b)'s 6-month period for filing unfair labor practice charges is designed to accommodate a balance of interests very similar to that at stake here. Both the union's breach of its duty and the employer's breach of the bargaining agreement are often also unfair labor practices. Moreover, in § 10(b) "Congress established a limitations period attuned to what it viewed as the proper balance between the national interests in stable bargaining relationships and finality of private settlements, and

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an employee's interest in setting aside what he views as an unjust settlement under the collective-bargaining system." Mitchell, supra, 451 U.S., at 70-71, 101 S.Ct., at 1567-1568 (Stewart, J., concurring in judgment). Pp. 2289-2294.

2. The judgment in No. 81-2408 is reversed because it is conceded that the suit was filed some 11 months after respondents' causes of action accrued. However, in No. 81-2386 the judgment is reversed but the case is remanded since petitioner contends that certain events tolled the running of the limitations period until about three months before he filed suit, but the District Court, applying a 30-day limitations period, declined to consider any tolling issue. P. 2294.

679 F.2d 879 (CA4 1982), reversed and remanded; 671 F.2d 87 (CA2 1982), reversed.

COUNSEL

[103 S.Ct. 2285] William H. Zinman argued the cause for petitioner in No. 81-2386. With him on the briefs was Paul A. Levy. Robert M. Weinberg argued the cause for petitioners in No. 81-2408. With him on the briefs were Michael H. Gottesman, Bernard Kleiman, Carl Frankel, and Laurence Gold.

Bernard S. Goldfarb argued the cause for respondents in No. 81-2386 and filed a brief for respondent Anchor Motor Freight, Inc. Isaac N. Groner, by appointment of the Court, 459 U.S. 1143, argued the cause and filed a brief for respondents in No. 81-2408. Carl S. Yaller and Bernard W. Rubenstein filed a brief for respondent Local 557, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America in No. 81-2386.d

d Steven C. Kahn and Stephen A. Bokat filed a brief for the Chamber of Commerce of the United States as amicus curiae urging reversal in both cases. Alan B. Morrison filed a brief for Teamsters for a Democratic Union as amicus curiae urging reversal in No. 81-2386.

David Previant, Robert M. Baptiste, and Roland P. Wilder, Jr., filed a brief for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America as amicus curiae urging affirmance in No. 81-2386.

Michael L. Boylan and Teddy B. Gordon filed a brief for Gordon L. Higgins asamicus curiae in No. 81-2408.

William H. Zinman, Baltimore, Md., for petitioner in No. 81-2386.

[103 S.Ct. 2285] Robert M. Weinberg, Washington, D.C., for petitioners in No. 81-2408.

Bernard S. Goldfarb, Cleveland, Ohio, for respondents in No. 81-2386.

Isaac N. Groner (appointed by the Court), Washington, D.C., for respondents in No. 81-2408.

OPINION

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Justice BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

Each of these cases arose as a suit by an employee or employees against an employer and a union, alleging that the employer had breached a provision of a collective bargaining agreement, and that the union had breached its duty of fair representation by mishandling the ensuing grievance-and-arbitration proceedings. See infra, at 2290-2291; Bowen v. United States Postal Service, 459 U.S. 212, --- - ---, 103 S.Ct. 588, 593, 74 L.Ed.2d 402 (1983); Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 87 S.Ct. 903, 17 L.Ed.2d 842 (1967); Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, 424 U.S. 554, 96 S.Ct. 1048, 47 L.Ed.2d 231 (1976). The issue presented is what statute of limitations should apply to such suits. In United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 101 S.Ct. 1559, 67 L.Ed.2d 732 (1981), we held that a similar suit was governed by a state statute of limitations for vacation of an arbitration award, rather than by a state statute for an action on a contract. We left two points open, however. First, our holding was limited to the employee's claim against the employer; we did not address what state statute should govern the claim against the union. 1 Second, we expressly limited our consideration to a choice between two state statutes of limitations; we did not address the contention that we should instead borrow a federal statute of limitations, namely, § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 160(b).2 These cases present these two issues.

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We conclude that § 10(b) should be the applicable statute of limitations governing the suit, both against the...

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