Feaster v. Vance, 00-CV-685.

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Docket NumberNo. 00-CV-685.,00-CV-685.
Decision Date02 October 2003

Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, (CA-433-00).

(Hon. Joan Zeldon, Trial Judge).

Jonathan G. Axelrod, with whom John R. Mooney and Richard W. Gibson were on the brief, for appellants.

Anthony Herman, with whom Robert J. Lundman was on the brief for appellee Paul L. Vance. Robert R. Rigsby, Corporation Counsel at the time, and Charles L. Reischel, Deputy Corporation Counsel at the time, were on the brief for appellee District of Columbia.

Before FARRELL, GLICKMAN and WASHINGTON, Associate Judges.

GLICKMAN, Associate Judge:

The Superintendent of the District of Columbia Public Schools ("DCPS") and the District of Columbia filed suit in Superior Court against appellants, two Teamsters Union locals and their presidents, to enjoin an unlawful strike by school employees. After holding an evidentiary hearing, the court entered a preliminary injunction against the threatened strike. This appeal followed.1 Appellants contend that the Superior Court lacked jurisdiction to grant injunctive relief, either because the Public Employee Relations Board had exclusive jurisdiction over the complaint in its entirety or because the federal Norris-LaGuardia Act barred the Superior Court from issuing an injunction against a labor strike. Alternatively, appellants contend that the court abused its discretion in granting injunctive relief. They argue that a strike by DCPS employees is not an unlawful strike "against the District." Appellants further argue that an injunction was unwarranted because the threatened strike would not have caused irreparable injury and because the DCPS had failed to bargain in good faith and hence had "unclean hands."

We reject appellants' contentions. We hold that the looming school employee strike was prohibited by law, the Superior Court had jurisdiction to enjoin the strike at the behest of the Superintendent of Schools and the District of Columbia, and the court did not abuse its discretion in granting preliminary injunctive relief.


Teamsters Local 6392 and Teamsters Local 7303 are the Board-certified exclusive bargaining agents for food service workers, bus drivers, bus attendants, custodians, and engineers employed by the District of Columbia Public Schools. These workers provide services to some 70,000 public school children in the District. The two Teamsters locals bargain jointly with the DCPS and are covered by the same collective bargaining agreement. The Teamsters' chief labor negotiator and spokesperson, appellant Phillip A. Feaster, is Local 639's President.

In 1996 the Teamsters and DCPS commenced negotiations over a collective bargaining agreement for the years 1996 to 1999. The parties negotiated intermittently without success. After a lengthy hiatus, the Teamsters and DCPS agreed to resume active negotiations after school opened in September 1999. The central dispute in the negotiations at that time was over the issue of economic "parity" between the Teamsters and two other DCPS bargaining units, which were known as Compensation Units I and II. Under the rubric of parity, the Teamsters demanded the same bonuses and pay raises for their employees that the employees in Compensation Units I and II had received in their separate labor negotiations. The DCPS did not agree to the Teamsters' demands.

By December 1999 there was talk of a strike over the parity issue. On December 7, appellant Feaster sent the Superintendent of Schools a letter by certified mail in which Feaster reiterated the Teamsters' call for parity and requested a meeting. The letter warned that the unions might have to "resort to the action we were going to take in 1997 which would have caused serious disruption to the DCPS System." The Superintendent understood this as a strike threat. Feaster met with the Superintendent on January 10, 2000, and emphasized that there would be a "problem" if the Teamsters' monetary demands were not met. When they met again, on January 14, Feaster told the Superintendent that there would be "a serious disruption to the school system" unless the DCPS agreed to the Teamsters' demands. Two days later, the members of the two Teamsters locals convened and voted by 470 to 4 in favor of a strike. Feaster reported the strike vote to the Superintendent. On January 19 the Superintendent told Feaster that the DCPS was making progress on the question of a bonus but that there were no funds available for wage increases. Feaster responded that the strike would be deferred but there would be a "serious work stoppage" on Monday, January 24, if an agreement was not reached by then.

On January 21, the Superintendent of Schools and the District of Columbia filed their complaint in Superior Court to enjoin the Teamsters from engaging in an unlawful strike. The court issued an agreed-upon temporary restraining order that same day. With the parties' further consent, the restraining order was extended to permit the court to hear and decide the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. While the temporary restraining order was in effect, Teamsters officials distributed to parents at a Public Schools Enrollment Fair a leaflet that outlined the Union's grievances and predicted that the Superintendent of Schools "will cause major chaos in the school system by forcing workers to strike."

Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon held an evidentiary hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction on February 28. On April 12, Judge Zeldon granted the motion and issued an order enjoining the Teamsters from "in any manner, calling, continuing, encouraging, aiding or otherwise participating in any strike or other job action, including, without limitation, any work stoppage, slow down, sick-out or `work to the rule' action or any other job action, . . . or otherwise interfering with or affecting the functioning of the District of Columbia Public Schools." Along with that order, Judge Zeldon issued a separate memorandum opinion in which she addressed and disposed of the Teamsters' jurisdictional and other arguments and explained the basis for her ruling.

Judge Zeldon began her analysis of the issues by determining that the plaintiffs had shown a substantial likelihood of success on the merits because a strike by DCPS employees would violate the prohibition against strikes by District government employees set forth in D.C. Code § 1-617.05 (2001),4 as well as a Board of Education regulation and the Teamsters' contractual obligations. Judge Zeldon rejected the Teamsters' argument that the Superior Court was divested of jurisdiction by virtue of the fact that a public employee strike would be an unfair labor practice within the primary jurisdiction of the Public Employee Relations Board. See D.C. Code § 1-617.04 (b)(4) and § 1-605.02 (3). The plaintiffs were not required to go to the Board to enforce the prohibition in D.C. Code § 1-617.05, Judge Zeldon reasoned, "because [that statutory provision] is independent from the unfair labor practice provisions over which [the Board] has jurisdiction." Judge Zeldon also rejected the argument that injunctive relief against the Teamsters' strike was barred by the Norris-LaGuardia Act. The general prohibition against labor injunctions contained in that Act, Judge Zeldon held, does not apply to injunctions against strikes by public employees. On the merits of the request for a preliminary injunction, Judge Zeldon found — in addition to the requisite likelihood of success on the merits — that a strike would result in irreparable harm by causing a substantial disruption in the education of children in the public schools.5 The judge further found that more harm would result from denying the injunction than granting it6 and that the public interest would be served by granting the injunction. Finally, Judge Zeldon rejected the Teamsters' contention that the DCPS should be denied injunctive relief because of "unclean hands." The judge noted that the Teamsters had not charged the DCPS with failure to bargain in good faith by filing an unfair labor practice charge with the Public Employee Relations Board.

The Teamsters appealed the preliminary injunction order to this court. Meanwhile, we are informed, the parties continued with their negotiations. Neither side in the negotiations declared an impasse or filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the other. Neither side, however, has notified this court that the parties have resolved their differences and come to an agreement that would have mooted the issues before us.


We address first appellants' jurisdictional challenges. Those challenges raise issues of statutory construction, and hence the trial court's rulings are subject to de novo review in this court. See Cass v. District of Columbia, 829 A.2d 480, 482 (D.C. 2003); District of Columbia v. Morrissey, 668 A.2d 792, 796 (D.C. 1995). As we uphold the Superior Court's authority to hear this case and its power to grant injunctive relief, we then address appellants' remaining challenges to the trial court's ruling. We review the trial court's decision in favor of granting a preliminary injunction for abuse of discretion. See District of Columbia v. Group Ins. Admin., 633 A.2d 2, 21 (D.C. 1993).


In 1978 the Council of the District of Columbia enacted the Comprehensive Merit Personnel Act ("CMPA"), D.C. Code §§ 1-601.01 et seq. (2001), "to replace the federal system which had previously controlled the District government's relations with its employees." Hawkins v. Hall, 537 A.2d 571, 574 (D.C. 1988). The CMPA contains two separate provisions prohibiting strikes by District government employees. One of those provisions, D.C. Code § 1-617.05, declares that "[i]t shall be unlawful for any District government employee or labor organization to participate...

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