Brentwood Medical Assoc. v. United Mine Workers

Decision Date28 January 2005
Docket NumberNo. 04-1955.,04-1955.
Citation396 F.3d 237
PartiesBRENTWOOD MEDICAL ASSOCIATES Appellant v. UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

James A. Prozzi, (Argued), Jackson Lewis LLP, Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellant.

Michael J. Healey, (Argued), Douglas B. McKechnie, Healey & Hornack, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA, for Appellee.

Before AMBRO, and VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judges and SHADUR,1 Senior District Judge.

AMBRO, Circuit Judge, Dissenting.

OPINION

VAN ANTWERPEN, Circuit Judge.

The Federal Arbitration Act codifies Congress' desire to uphold private arbitration agreements that produce prompt and fair dispute resolution without involving the courts. In furtherance of this interest, a court must scrupulously honor the bargains implicit in such agreements and interfere only when an award is severely problematic. See, e.g., Shearson/American Exp., Inc. v. McMahon, 482 U.S. 220, 223, 107 S.Ct. 2332, 96 L.Ed.2d 185 (1987). This appeal asks us to determine whether or not an arbitration award should be upheld where an arbitrator inexplicably cites language in his decision that cannot be found in the relevant collective bargaining agreement. Because we conclude that such a mistake, while glaring, does not fatally taint the balance of the arbitrator's decision in this case, we affirm the decision of the District Court upholding the award.

I. Factual Background

Brentwood Medical Associates ("BMA") and the United Mine Workers of America ("UMWA") are parties to a collective bargaining agreement that covers the terms and conditions of employment for a unit of employees at BMA's facility in Brentwood, Pennsylvania. This agreement provides a mandatory grievance and arbitration procedure for disputes between the parties. Arbitration of grievances is conducted by an arbitrator chosen from a panel, and that arbitrator's decision "shall be final and binding upon the employees, the Union and the Employer." Joint Appendix ("J.A.") at 48. Under the agreement, an arbitrator is explicitly prevented from "add[ing] to, subtract[ing] from, or modify[ing] in any way any of the provisions, terms [or] conditions of [the] Agreement." Id.

The grievance that gave rise to this appeal alleged that BMA violated the collective bargaining agreement when it refused to allow a union member to exercise her seniority rights under Article VIII. In February, 2001, Ms. Denise Cope (a member of UMWA) was offered the position of Charge Entry Associate, for which she left her position as a Phlebotomist. On November 11, 2002, BMA announced it would be abolishing the Charge Entry Associate classification effective November 15, 2002. Ms. Cope requested permission to "bump"2 outside her classification of Charge Entry Associate and return to her position as a Phlebotomist, thereby displacing the least senior person in that classification. This request was refused, and BMA instead offered Ms. Cope the position of Front Office Clerk.3

On November 14, 2002, Ms. Cope filed a grievance with BMA pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, claiming that BMA had violated Article VIII, Sections 1, 2, and 10.4 On February 3, 2003 BMA denied this grievance. BMA and UMWA then proceeded to binding arbitration pursuant to Article XIV of the collective bargaining agreement. Arbitrator John M. Felice was selected to conduct the arbitration, and on August 6, 2003, he issued a decision sustaining the grievance and ordering BMA to permit Ms. Cope to exercise her seniority rights and bump the least senior Phlebotomist. J.A. at 68-75. In that decision, the arbitrator asked rhetorically why, if bumping was not permitted under the collective bargaining agreement as BMA contended, was the following language governing bumping present in Article VIII, Section 10:

"... employees who exercise seniority rights and bump must have the skill, qualifications, ability and physical fitness to perform all of the work remaining in that classification..."

J.A. at 73-4. This language does not exist in either Article VIII, Section 10, or anywhere else in the collective bargaining agreement.

BMA filed a complaint with the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 185 et seq., seeking to vacate the award. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment, and the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of UMWA on March 12, 2004. Adopting the appropriate deferential standard of review, the District Court concluded that the parties had agreed that (1) an arbitration award would be final and binding, and (2) the arbitrator's decision reached a rational result consistent with the terms of the agreement. J.A. at 06-7.

II. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

BMA filed a timely Notice of Appeal on April 5, 2004. We have jurisdiction to review this final district court order pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We exercise plenary review over a district court's decision resolving cross motions for summary judgment. Teamsters Local 312 v. Matlack, Inc., 118 F.3d 985, 994 (3d Cir.1997), (quoting United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters Local No. 430, 55 F.3d 138, 140 (3d Cir.1995)).

A collective bargaining agreement represents a contractual accord reached between an employer and its employees. If such a contract includes an arbitration clause, it is assumed that the parties bargained for a grievance resolution procedure in which an arbitrator would interpret the agreement. It is thus not the role of a court to correct factual or legal errors made by an arbitrator. Major League Umpires Ass'n v. American League of Professional Baseball Clubs, 357 F.3d 272, 279 (3d Cir.2004). A district court may determine only whether or not an arbitrator's award "draws its essence" from the parties' collective bargaining agreement, United Paperworkers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36, 108 S.Ct. 364, 98 L.Ed.2d 286 (1987), and we apply this same standard in reviewing the arbitration award. Pennsylvania Power Co. v. Local Union No. 272 of the Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, AFL-CIO, 276 F.3d 174, 178 (3d Cir.2001). Once a court is satisfied that an arbitrator's award draws its essence from a collective bargaining agreement, it is without jurisdiction to consider the award further.

An award draws its essence from a collective bargaining agreement if its interpretation can in any rational way be derived from the agreement, viewed in light of its language, its context, and any other indicia of the parties' intention. United Transp. Union Local 1589 v. Suburban Transit Corp., 51 F.3d 376, 379-80 (3d Cir.1995). "As a general rule, we must enforce an arbitration award if it was based on an arguable interpretation and/or application of the collective bargaining agreement, and may only vacate it if there is no support in the record for its determination or if it reflects manifest disregard of the agreement, totally unsupported by principles of contract construction." Exxon Shipping Co. v. Exxon Seamen's Union, 993 F.2d 357, 360 (3d Cir.1993) (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, we will not disturb an arbitration award "even if we find the basis for it to be ambiguous or disagree[ ] with [the arbitrator's] conclusions under the law." Citgo Asphalt Refining Co. v. Paper, Allied-Indus., Chem. & Energy Workers Int'l Union Local No. 2-991, 385 F.3d 809, 816 (3d Cir.2004), (quoting Stroehmann Bakeries, Inc. v. Local 776, Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 969 F.2d 1436, 1441 (3d Cir.1992)).

III. Discussion

There is a strong presumption under the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq., in favor of enforcing arbitration awards. Moses H. Cone Mem'l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 24-25, 103 S.Ct. 927, 74 L.Ed.2d 765 (1983). As such, an award is presumed valid unless it is affirmatively shown to be otherwise, and the validity of an award is subject to attack only on those grounds listed in 9 U.S.C. § 10,5 or if enforcement of the award is contrary to public policy. Exxon Shipping Co., 993 F.2d at 360, (quoting W.R. Grace & Co. v. Local Union 759, Int'l Union of Rubber Workers, 461 U.S. 757, 766, 103 S.Ct. 2177, 76 L.Ed.2d 298 (1983)).

BMA contends that the arbitrator exceeded his authority when he added language to the collective bargaining agreement supporting his conclusion that Ms. Cope could bump a less senior employee in a different classification, which signals a violation of 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(4). If this alleged overstep by the arbitrator is the only leg that supports his decision, it is within our discretion to vacate the award. Therefore, the narrow issue before us is whether the arbitrator's conclusion is supported, in any way, by a rational interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement. We reiterate that it is our duty to resist the urge to conduct de novo review of the award on the merits. See United Paperworkers Union, 484 U.S. at 36, 108 S.Ct. 364 (we "are not authorized to reconsider the merits of an award even though the parties may allege that the award rests on errors of fact or on misinterpretation of the contract."). Rather, we ask merely whether the parties to the collective bargaining agreement got what they bargained for, namely an arbitrator who would first provide an interpretation of the contract that was rationally based on the language of the agreement, and second would produce a rational award. BMA contends that the arbitrator's reference to the language not found in the collective bargaining agreement fatally taints the award, because this reference is essential to the arbitrator's ultimate conclusion and is inseparable from the remainder of the award. As such, our focus must be on whether the arbitrator's discussion can still support the award if we excise the anomalous language. We believe that it does provide such support.

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