United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
BISSOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Helvetia Coal Company, Laurel Run Mining Company, Island
Creek Coal Company and Consol Amonate Facility, LLC, bring
this action seeking in part to vacate an arbitration decision
rendered on October 31, 2017. Defendant United Mine Workers
of America, International Union (“the Union”)
filed a Motion to Dismiss or transfer jurisdiction on the
basis of the first-filed rule. (Doc. 28.) For the reasons
that follow, the Motion will be granted and this case will be
transferred to the Southern District of West Virginia.
The Instant Proceedings
Helvetia Coal Company, Laurel Run Mining Company, Island
Creek Company and Consol Amonate Facility, LLC,
(collectively, “Plaintiffs” or
“CONSOL”) filed an Amended Complaint on December
19, 2017. (Am. Compl., Doc. 25.) According to the Amended
Complaint, the Union periodically negotiates a labor
agreement with the Bituminous Coal Operators' Association
(“BCOA”) a multiemployer bargaining association,
which acts on behalf of member employers. (Am. Compl. ¶
8.) The member employers of the BCOA, and non-member
companies who agree to be bound by negotiated labor
agreements, are known as “signatory” companies.
(Id.) The labor agreements are known as National
Bituminous Coal Wage Agreements (“NBCWAs”).
(Id.) Plaintiffs are signatories to the 2011 NBCWA,
which expired on December 31, 2016. (Id. at
August 2016, the Union and the BCOA executed the 2016 NBCWA,
the successor labor agreement to the 2011 NBCWA.
(Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiffs were not signatories to
the 2016 NBCWA. (Id.) By notice dated October 31,
2016, Plaintiffs informed the Union of their intent to
terminate the 2011 NBCWA on December 31, 2016. (Id.
met with the Union on multiple occasions in 2016 to negotiate
changes to retiree benefit programs (“the Plan”)
to be implemented following the expiration of the 2011 NBCWA.
(Id. ¶ 19.) At a November 29, 2016 meeting,
Plaintiffs proposed that the planned changes to the Plan be
implemented on April 1, 2017, instead of at the expiration of
the 2011 NBCWA. (Id. ¶ 22.) On December 8,
2016, Plaintiffs asked the Union for a response to the
proposals made at the November 29, 2016, meeting.
(Id. ¶ 25.) On December 22, 2016, the Union
rejected certain of the proposals and requested that
Plaintiffs take no further action pending a decision to the
Trustees of the UMWA 1993 Benefit Plan
(“Trustees”) on a November 1, 2016 grievance
submitted by the Union challenging Plaintiffs' ability to
alter the Plan following the expiration of the 2011 NBCWA.
(Id. ¶¶ 26, 27.)
to the terms of the 2011 NBCWA, disputes arising under the
agreement are to be referred to the Trustees. (Id.
¶ 16.) The contractual grievance mechanism is referred
to as the “resolution of dispute”
(“ROD”) process. (Id. ¶ 17.) The
November 1, 2016 grievance submitted to the Trustees by the
Union is ROD No. 11-0143, and it was filed on behalf of
grievant Frank Rich, a Union retiree. (Id. ¶
27.) ROD No. 11-0143 sought a determination from the Trustees
that a signatory employer “is not permitted to
implement any unilateral changes or modifications of the
benefits provided by its plan, either during the term of the
2011 NBCWA or following its termination.”
(Id.) On October 31, 2017, the Trustees issued their
decision in favor of the Complainant. (Id. ¶
31; Opinion of Trustees, ROD No. 110143, Oct. 31, 2017,
attached as Ex. 1 to Doc. 25.) The Trustees' Opinion
concluded that the Respondent company is not permitted to
make modifications or changes to the retiree health benefit
plan unilaterally, and that the proposed changes described by
the company will not provide the level of health benefits as
mandated in the 2011 NBCWA or benefit plan. (Opinion of
Trustees, at 10.)
raise five counts in the Amended Complaint and request that
the Court: (1) vacate the October 31, 2017 decision in ROD
No. 11-0143; (2) declare that the negotiated exhaustion of
remedies requirement and Resolution of Disputes process
provided in the relevant section of the expired 2011 NBCWA,
and 2011 employee benefit plan, is inapplicable to
post-termination retiree health benefit disputes; (3) declare
that Plaintiffs do not breach the expired 2011 NBCWA by
changing the mechanism for providing healthcare benefits for
their Medicare-eligible retirees and dependents from an
employer-sponsored group insurance to individually directed
Health Reimbursement Accounts; and (4) declare that
negotiations between the Union and Plaintiffs concerning
post-termination changes to the Plan are subject to the NLRA,
and its impasse doctrine. (Doc. 25 at 14.)
January 10, 2018, the Union filed the instant Motion to
Dismiss or transfer jurisdiction and Brief in Support. (Docs.
28, 29.) Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition on January
30, 2018. (Doc. 30.) On May 23, 2018, the Union filed an
Answer to Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, (Doc. 32),
notifying the Court that they had filed a second amended
complaint in a parallel action in West Virginia and
requesting that the instant case be transferred, not stayed.
the instant action relates to two parallel actions, the Court
will briefly summarize these actions: United Mine Workers
of America v. CONSOL Energy, Inc., 16-CV-12506 (S.D.
W.Va.) (filed December 23, 2016) (hereinafter the
“West Virginia Action”), and
Helvetia Coal Co. v. United Mine Workers of Am.,
Int'l Union, No. CV 17-2, 2017 WL 3669415 (W.D. Pa.
Aug. 23, 2017) (Kelly, C.M.J.) (hereinafter the
“First Pennsylvania Action”).
The West Virginia Action
December 23, 2016, the Union and individual retired union
member miners (collectively, “the Union
Plaintiffs”) filed in the Southern District of West
Virginia a complaint seeking injunctive relief prohibiting
CONSOL from unilaterally terminating a group health insurance
plan it maintains for the benefit of retired coal miners, and
prohibiting CONSOL from communicating with beneficiaries
threatening termination of the plan until resolution of the
Union's ROD No. 11-0143. United Mine Workers,
16-CV-12506 (S.D. W.Va.) (Compl. Doc. 1). On January 24,
2017, the Union Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint to add
as defendants, Helvetia Coal Company, Island Creek Coal
Company, Laurel Run Mining Company and CONSOL Amonate
Facility, LLC, and sought the same injunctive relief against
these defendants as was sought against CONSOL in the original
complaint. Id. (Am. Compl., Doc. 16).
March 17, 2017, Judge Faber issued an Opinion and Order
granting the Union Plaintiffs' Motion for a Preliminary
Injunction; granting CONSOL's motion to dismiss as
Defendants CONSOL's four subsidiary companies; and
denying CONSOL's motion to transfer. Id. (Doc.