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Monongalia County Coal Co. v. United Mine Workers of America

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

May 12, 2017

MONONGALIA COUNTY COAL COMPANY Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, INTERNATIONAL UNION and UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, LOCAL UNION 1702 Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION [DKT. NO. 22]

          IRENE M. KEELEY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The defendants, United Mine Workers of America, International Union and United Mine Workers of America, Local Union 1702 (collectively “Union”), have filed a timely motion seeking reconsideration of the Court's Memorandum Opinion and Order Denying Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Granting Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (“Opinion and Order”). That Opinion and Order vacated the award issued by Arbitrator Betty Widgeon (“Arbitrator”) in the parties' underlying labor grievance arbitration. For the reasons that follow, the Court DENIES the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         On February 16, 2017, the Court vacated the Arbitrator's Decision and Award (“Award”) after concluding that it failed to draw its essence from the parties' Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”). Id. at 22. Specifically, the Court found that the Arbitrator's conclusion that the disputed work was repair and maintenance work, rather than construction work, contradicted the overwhelming arbitral precedent and therefore contravened the parties agreement.[2] Id. at 19-20.

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), on March 7, 2017, the Union moved for reconsideration to “correct a clear error of law and prevent manifest injustice” (dkt. no. 22 at 1). In particular, the Union argues that “remand to the Arbitrator rather than vacatur of her Award is consistent with the governing and well established principles of labor law and is the proper course for the District Court to follow when confronted with an ambiguous or incomplete labor arbitration award.” Id. at 1-2. The motion is fully briefed and ripe for review.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), a petitioner must move the Court to alter or amend a judgment within 28 days from entry of the judgment. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has recognized three grounds for amending a judgment: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law; (2) to account for new evidence not available at trial; or, (3) to correct a clear error of law or to prevent manifest injustice. See Pacific Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998). Rule 59(e) motions are to be used sparingly, and may not be used to relitigate old matters or “to raise arguments which could have been raised prior to the issuance of the judgment.” Id.; see also Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n. 5 (2008). “It is improper to use such a motion to ask the Court to ‘rethink what the court has already thought through-rightly or wrongly.'” Turner v. United States, 2014 WL 4805265 at * 2 (N.D. W.Va. Sept. 26, 2014) (quoting Above the Belt, Inc. v. Mel Bohannan Roofing, Inc., 99 F.R.D. 99, 101 (E.D. Va. 1983)).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Union does not argue that any intervening change has occurred in the controlling law, nor does it reference any newly found evidence not previously available. Rather,

[t]he main point of this Motion, as more fully addressed in the UMWA's accompanying Memorandum, is that remand to the Arbitrator rather than vacatur of her Award is consistent with the governing and well established principles of labor law and is the proper course for the District Court to follow when confronted with an ambiguous or incomplete labor arbitration award.

Dkt. No. 22 at 1-2. It also argues, as it did in its motion for summary judgment, that the Court should not “second-guess” the Arbitrator or wade into a review of the merits of the grievance. Dkt. No. 23 at 6-8.

         A. Remand To The Arbitrator Is Not Mandated In This Instance

         The Union proclaims that it is a “bedrock of federal labor law” that, if a court is concerned that an arbitrator's award is ambiguous or unclear as to its basis, remand is the proper remedy. Dkt. No. 23 at 4. The slim reed on which it rests this argument is a statement in the Court's Order and Opinion noting that “the Arbitrator may have found some ambiguity [in the CBA], although she did not explicitly say so.” Dkt. No. 25 at 9.

         Put in its proper context, this statement was limited to whether the Arbitrator found an ambiguity between the two contract terms, “construction” and “repair or maintenance, ” that required her to rely on the “existing common law of the particular plant or industry, for it is an integral part of the contract.” Clinchfield Coal Co. v. District 28, United Mine Workers of America & LocalUnion No. 1452, 720 F.2d 1365, 1368 (4th Cir. 1983)(quoting Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. v. Local No. 684 of the Int'l Brotherhood of Boilermakers, 671 F.2d 797, 800 (4th Cir. 1982). It did not bear on whether the Arbitrator's Award was ambiguous in its reasoning and conclusion. In point of fact, the Arbitrator was unambiguous in concluding that the work in question ...


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