International Union v. Trane U.S. Inc., 073020 FED8, 19-2255

Docket Nº:19-2255
Opinion Judge:KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Party Name:International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, AFL-CIO; UAW, Local 716 Plaintiffs - Appellants v. Trane U.S. Inc. Defendant-Appellee
Judge Panel:Before KELLY, MELLOY, and KOBES, Circuit Judges. KOBES, Circuit Judge, dissenting.
Case Date:July 30, 2020
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, AFL-CIO; UAW, Local 716 Plaintiffs - Appellants

v.

Trane U.S. Inc. Defendant-Appellee

No. 19-2255

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

July 30, 2020

Submitted: January 15, 2020

Appeal from United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas - Ft. Smith

Before KELLY, MELLOY, and KOBES, Circuit Judges.

KELLY, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America, AFL-CIO; and UAW, Local 716 (collectively, the Union) appeal the district court's dismissal of its claims against Trane U.S. Inc. concerning an arbitration award. Because we find that the Union is not time-barred from seeking to vacate the arbitration award, we reverse and remand.

I.

In February 2017, Trane announced that it would close its Fort Smith, Arkansas manufacturing plant and lay off hundreds of employees. The closure happened in two stages: a partial closure on April 4, 2017, and then a full closure on July 28, 2017. After the plant shut down completely, the Union and Trane disagreed about whether Trane violated their Collective Bargaining Agreement and Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) when it refused to provide vacation pay to approximately 200 union employees who were terminated because the plant closed.

After failing to resolve their differences through an internal grievance process, the parties entered into arbitration proceedings. The issue submitted to the arbitrator was "Did [Trane] violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement and MOA/Closing Agreement by denying 2017 vacation pay and unused accrued sick leave in 2017 to employees who were terminated at plant closing? If so, what shall be the proper remedy?"

On June 29, 2018, the arbitrator entered an award (the June Award) that stated "all employees shall be made whole for the full allowance of vacation pay for which they would have qualified for in 2017, according to the amount of their seniority."1The June Award did not further specify the number of employees or identify the specific employees that should be paid. The award also noted that the arbitrator "retains jurisdiction of this matter until the terms of the award are met."

The parties interpreted the June Award differently. Trane believed the June Award required it to pay employees who would have been entitled to additional vacation pay based on employment milestones they would have reached in 2017 had the plant not closed. Trane sent checks to the three employees who qualified under this interpretation. In contrast, the Union thought the June Award also ordered Trane to pay the approximately 200 other employees who "might have qualified in 2017 and would have been entitled to receive [2017 vacation pay on] January 1, 2018" had the plant not closed. Given this disagreement, Trane contacted the arbitrator to address its compliance with the June Award.

On September 13, 2018, the arbitrator responded with the following email (the September Award): It is my understanding that the Company complied with this award by paying a week's additional vacation pay to three employees who had a milestone anniversary dates [sic] in 2017 that would have happened after their 2017 plant termination dates . . . . Thus, the Company complied with my award and I am no longer retaining jurisdiction in this matter.

The Union brought suit against Trane on December 10, 2018, seeking to compel further arbitration, or in the alternative, to vacate and remand the final arbitration award. The district court granted Trane's Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on two grounds. First, it determined that the June Award was the final arbitration award, and thus, the Union was untimely in filing its claim to vacate the award. Second, it held that the Union could not compel arbitration regarding the 200 additional employees' vacation pay because the arbitrator had already considered the issue in his June Award. This appeal followed.

II.

Both parties agree the applicable statute of limitations for seeking to vacate a final arbitration award in this case is ninety days after the parties received notice of the award. See United Parcel Serv., Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 60 (1981) ("[T]he timeliness of a [Labor-Management Relations Act] § 301 suit . . . is to be determined, as a matter of federal law, by reference to the appropriate state statute of limitations."); Ark. Code. Ann. § 16-108-223(b) (imposing a 90-day statute of limitations for a motion to vacate an arbitrator's award). They disagree, however, about which arbitration award-June or September-constitutes the final arbitration award that triggers the statute of limitations clock. The Union argues the June Award cannot be the final award because the arbitrator expressly retained jurisdiction to resolve remedy disputes.2 According to the Union, because the September Award is the final award, its claim to vacate was timely. Trane's position is that the September Award was not an award at all but instead merely a confirmation that it had complied with the final award issued in June.

We review de novo the district court's grant of a motion to dismiss. See ABF...

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