Weed v. East Texas Motor Freight Lines, Inc.

Decision Date20 September 1983
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. CA 3-79-0881-G.
Citation592 F. Supp. 713
PartiesWilliam T. WEED, Plaintiff, v. EAST TEXAS MOTOR FREIGHT LINES, INC., et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

Charles L. Caperton, Dallas, Tex., for plaintiff.

Hershell L. Barnes, Jr., John F. McCarthy, Jr., Geo. E. Seay, Seay, Gwinn, Crawford, Mebus & Blakeney, Dallas, Tex., for East Texas Motor Freight.

James L. Hicks, Jr., Hicks, Gillespie & James, Dallas, Tex., for Teamsters Local Union 745.

L.N.D. Wells, Jr., Mullinax, Wells, Baab, Cloutman & Chapman, Dallas, Tex., for Intern. Broth. of Teamsters and Southern Conference of Teamsters.

MEMORANDUM ORDER

FISH, District Judge.

This suit is before the court on motions for summary judgment by two of the four defendants. After reviewing the record, the court is of the opinion that the motions of defendants East Texas Motor Freight Lines, Inc. (ETMF) and Teamsters Local 745 should be granted as to the claims that ETMF breached the collective bargaining agreement and that Local 745 breached its duty of fair representation.

Plaintiff's complaint filed on July 9, 1979 charges that defendant ETMF breached its collective bargaining agreement with Local 745 by discharging plaintiff on August 10, 1977. Plaintiff also alleges that defendant Local 745 breached its duty to represent him fairly by the inadequate way it protested plaintiff's discharge under the contractual grievance procedure.1 Plaintiff also asserts that all defendants conspired to discharge him, thus violating the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1 and 2, by limiting the number and identity of those employed in the trucking industry in interstate commerce.

Collateral Estoppel

As its first ground for summary judgment, ETMF asserts that the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars Weed's claim that ETMF breached the collective bargaining agreement with the union by discharging him without "just cause." ETMF discharged Weed on August 10, 1977, informing him by letter that he had repeatedly disrupted the company's work force, most recently on August 9 by spending part of his shift soliciting funds for a fellow employee. Weed protested his discharge through the grievance procedure prescribed by the collective bargaining agreement; a joint committee of labor and management denied the grievance in October, 1977.2 Weed and others then filed charges against ETMF and Local 745 with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). While those charges were pending, Weed filed suit in this court on July 9, 1979. Several months later, on October 5, 1979, the administrative law judge of the NLRB issued extensive findings and conclusions, including the following:

It is beyond cavil that on August 9, Weed knowingly violated Respondent East Texas policy on solicitations in work areas on company time. Respondent East Texas became aware of the violation ... by the end of the discharge interview of August 10 .... The non-solicitation rule was valid. Weed has on previous occasions, as early as November 1975, been counseled and warned about such solicitations, abuse of time, and disrupting the work. Weed had received a number of valid consultations and reprimands in the period immediately preceding August 9 .... Here there is substantial good cause for discharge. Accordingly it is concluded that Respondent East Texas did not discriminate against Weed by discharging him on August 10.

East Texas Motor Freight, JD-734-79 (1979) at 108.

Weed, with several other parties, filed exceptions to the ALJ's opinion with the NLRB. By agreement of the parties, the case before this court was postponed pending the decision of the NLRB. In opinion 262 NLRB 101 issued July 14, 1982, a three-member panel of the NLRB affirmed the rulings, findings and conclusions of the ALJ, modifying only several points unrelated to Weed's claim of discharge without just cause. The NLRB stated as follows:

We find the Respondent Company proved it would have discharged Weed even in the absence of the protected activity (posting notices on bulletin board) for which Weed received the unlawful warning cited in his discharge letter. We agree with the Administrative Law Judge's finding that there was a long history of problems with Weed because of his propensity to engage in discussion while he was working; that Weed was issued numerous lawful warnings, three of which were cited in his letter of discharge; and that on August 9, Weed knowingly violated Respondent Company's lawful policy on solicitation in work areas on company time. Accordingly we find that Respondent Company did not violate § 8(a)(3) of the Act by discharging Weed.

262 NLRB 101 (1982) at 7 n. 3. Weed did not seek reconsideration by the NLRB or judicial review by the Fifth Circuit of the NLRB's decision.3

Against this factual backdrop, the issue posed by ETMF's assertion of collateral estoppel is what effect, if any, the NLRB's findings and conclusions should have in this court. At the outset, it should be remembered that although collateral estoppel and res judicata are sometimes referred to interchangeably, the former doctrine is narrower than the latter.

Under res judicata, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in that action. Under collateral estoppel, once a court decides an issue of fact or law necessary to its judgment, that decision precludes relitigation of the same issue on a different cause of action between the same parties citations omitted.

Kremer v. Chemical Construction Corp., 456 U.S. 461, 102 S.Ct. 1883, 1889-90, n. 6, 72 L.Ed.2d 262 (1982). The Supreme Court has indicated that principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel may apply to administrative proceedings:

When an administrative agency is acting in a judicial capacity and resolves disputed issues of fact properly before it which the parties have had an adequate opportunity to litigate, the courts have not hesitated to apply res judicata to enforce repose. (Citations omitted.)4

United States v. Utah Construction & Mining Co., 384 U.S. 394, 422, 86 S.Ct. 1545, 1560, 16 L.Ed.2d 642 (1966). Accord, Griffen v. Big Spring Ind. School Dist., 706 F.2d 645, 654 (1983) ("On some occasions findings made by administrative bodies may be given collateral effect"). See generally Wright, Miller & Cooper, Federal Practice and Procedure § 4475 (1981). Several decisions have rested preclusions on NLRB findings in unfair labor practice proceedings, noting that the NLRB possesses a great deal of expertise in dealing with certain types of issues. See Wright, supra, n. 17 and cases cited therein. See also Anthan v. Professional Air Traffic Controllers Org., 672 F.2d 706, 708-11 (8th Cir.1982).

To decide whether the NLRB's findings regarding Weed's discharge should have preclusive effect, the court must consider whether Weed had a "full and fair opportunity" to litigate before that tribunal the claim that his discharge was without just cause. "Redetermination of issues is warranted if there is reason to doubt the quality, extensiveness, or fairness of the procedures followed in the prior litigation." Kremer, above, 102 S.Ct. at 1897. See also Griffen, above, 706 F.2d at 654.

The record reflects that the administrative law judge in the NLRB proceeding conducted a 40-day trial at which the present parties were represented by the same counsel who have appeared for them in this court.5 Nowhere in Weed's response to the motion for summary judgment does he dispute the fullness and fairness of the lengthy administrative proceeding. The transcript contains 7,237 pages, 2,000 from Weed's testimony alone. Ten witnesses testified regarding the warning letters, the discharge, and the alleged combination or conspiracy. The ALJ took great pains in his 115-page opinion to set forth the facts as garnered from this extensive in-court testimony.6 Under these circumstances, the court is persuaded that Weed had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claims before the NLRB. See Painters Dist. Council No. 38, Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers of America v. Edgewood Contracting Co., 416 F.2d 1081, 1084 (5th Cir. 1969).

Although the conclusions of law of an administrative tribunal are not conclusive upon a court, the court may choose to preclude relitigation of factual issues by application of the doctrine of collateral estoppel. See Mosher Steel Co. v. NLRB, 568 F.2d 436, 440 (5th Cir.1978) (approving application of collateral estoppel to facts previously adjudicated in a labor dispute before an ALJ).

The test in the Fifth Circuit for the application of collateral estoppel consists of the following three elements:

(1) The issue to be concluded must be identical to that involved in the prior action; (2) in the prior action, the issue must have been "actually litigated"; and (3) the determination made of the issue in the prior action must have been necessary and essential to the resulting judgment.

International Assn of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Nix, 512 F.2d 125, 131-32 (5th Cir.1975).

All of these elements have been satisfied in the case at hand. The parties and counsel before this court are identical7 to those before the NLRB; before the NLRB these parties had a full and fair opportunity, through a panoply of procedures and the availability of Fifth Circuit review, to contest the central issue here, whether ETMF discharged Weed for just cause or not. This determination was essential to the administrative holding, affirmed by the NLRB in its opinion, supra at 7, that ETMF did not discriminate against Weed by terminating his employment.8

Accordingly, this court concludes that collateral estoppel bars Weed from relitigating in this court the issue of whether he was unlawfully discharged in violation of the collective bargaining agreement. The ALJ specifically found that Weed had disrupted work at ETMF on several occasions,...

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