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Laborers' International Union of North America Local 1353 v. West Virginia American Water Co.

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

May 17, 2019

LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA LOCAL 1353, Plaintiff,
v.
WEST VIRGINIA AMERICAN WATER COMPANY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          THOMAS E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.

         The Laborers' International Union of North America Local 1353 (“the Union”) filed this action pursuant to Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and the Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, et seq., seeking to compel arbitration. (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 5.) Before the Court is West Virginia-American Water Company's (“WV American Water”) Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 7.) For the reasons discussed herein, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Union is a labor organization that represents employees of WV American Water in the Kanawha Valley District in West Virginia. (ECF No. 1 at ¶¶ 1, 4.) The Union and WV American Water negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, effective April 26, 2017 through April 26, 2022 (“CBA”). (Id. at ¶ 4; ECF No. 7-1 at 38.) Under Article V of the CBA, disputes between the parties are generally governed by a broad arbitration clause. Article V outlines a three-step grievance procedure and a general appeal process to arbitration and states that “[s]hould any differences or disputes . . . arise between the Union, or any employee or employees, and [WV American Water] . . . a sincere effort shall be made to settle it at the earliest practicable time through the grievance and arbitration procedure . . . .” (ECF No. 1-1 at 2-3.)

         Jimmy Mitchell (“Mitchell”) is a former employee of WV American Water and Union member whose termination is at the center of this action. On July 16, 2018, Mitchell was terminated for “alleged[ly] removing a safety mechanism” from his work vehicle. (Id. at ¶ 7; see also ECF No. 7-2 at 7.) On the same day, the Union commenced grievance proceedings in connection with Mitchell's termination pursuant to the CBA (“Mitchell Grievance”). (ECF No. 1 at ¶ 7.) The Union proceeded through two steps of the grievance process, but WV American Water consistently denied the grievance on the basis that the dispute raised therein is not a grievable matter under the CBA. (Id. at ¶ 10.) Since then, WV American Water has “refused to participate in” step-three of the grievance process or proceed to arbitration contending that the Mitchell Grievance is not subject to the grievance process or arbitration under the CBA. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11, 14.)

         The Union now asserts that “the CBA has no provisions or terms which permit [WV American Water] to refuse to arbitrate a grievance such as the Mitchell Grievance.” (Id. at ¶ 15.) The Union maintains that the Mitchell Grievance is “an issue that is subject to the grievance and arbitration procedures of the CBA” and that “[WV American Water] is in violation of the provisions of the CBA by refusing to proceed with” arbitration. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 20.)

         On January 22, 2019, WV American Water filed its motion to dismiss, arguing that there is no substantive obligation under the CBA to arbitrate the Mitchell Grievance. (ECF No. 7.) On January 31, 2019, the Union filed a response, (ECF No. 9), and WV American Water filed a reply on February 7, 2019, (ECF No. 10). As such, the motion is fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a pleader provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing . . . entitle[ment] to relief.” See McCleary-Evans v. Md. Dep't of Transp., State Highway Admin., 780 F.3d 582, 585 (4th Cir. 2015) (stating that this requirement exists “to give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests” (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007))). This pleading rule “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Rule 12(b)(6) correspondingly permits a defendant to challenge a complaint when it “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain enough facts, accepted as true, “to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Wikimedia Found. v. Nat'l Sec. Agency, 857 F.3d 193, 208 (4th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint, a court separates the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer that “the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 at 678. A motion to dismiss will be granted if, “after accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true and drawing all reasonable factual inferences from those facts in the plaintiff's favor, it appears certain that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of his claim entitling him to relief.” Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 244 (4th Cir. 1999).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The sole issue before the Court is to determine the arbitrability of the Mitchell Grievance. The Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that “[a] party cannot be compelled to submit a dispute to arbitration unless he contractually has agreed to do so.” Cumberland Typographical Union No. 244 v. The Times & Alleganian Co., 943 F.2d 401, 404 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing AT&T Techs., Inc. v. Commc'ns Workers of Am., 475 U.S. 643, 648 (1986)); see also Nolde Bros., Inc. v. Local No. 358, Bakery and Confectionery Workers Union, 430 U.S. 243, 250-51 (1977) (noting prior decisions holding that “a party cannot be compelled to arbitrate any matter in the absence of a contractual obligation to do so.”). Absent clear and unmistakable language to the contrary, the question of whether a dispute under a collective bargaining agreement is arbitrable is one for the courts, not an arbitrator. See AT&T Techs, Inc., 475 U.S. at 649. The CBA at issue here provides no delegation of the threshold determination of arbitrability to an arbitrator; therefore, this determination is properly before this Court.

         The Supreme Court has established the following four guiding principles to determine the arbitrability of a labor dispute: (1) the parties must have contracted to submit the grievance to arbitration; (2) the court must determine whether the contract provides for arbitration of the particular dispute at issue; (3) the court must not decide the merits of the dispute while determining its arbitrability; and (4) if the contract contains an arbitration clause, then a presumption of arbitrability arises. See Cumberland Typographical Union, 943 F.2d at 404 (citing AT&T Techs., Inc., 475 U.S. at 650). The Court has made clear that, “except for matters specifically excluded from arbitration in the collective bargaining agreement, all questions on which the parties disagree must be submitted to arbitration.” Id. (citing United Steelworkers v. Enter. Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593 (1960); United Steelworkers of Am. v. Warrior & Gulf Navigation Co., 363 U.S. 574, 582-83 (1960); United Steelworkers of Am. v. Am. Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564 (1960)). See also Peoples Sec. Life Ins. Co. v. Monumental Life Ins. Co., 867 F.2d 809, 812 (4th Cir. 1989) (stating that “an order to arbitrate the particular grievance should not be denied unless it may be said with positive assurance that the arbitration clause is not susceptible of an interpretation that covers the asserted dispute.”) (citation omitted).

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider, in addition to the pleadings, “pertinent documents” without converting the motion into one for summary judgment. See Thompson v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., No. 2:14-cv-13357, 2014 WL 6886172, at *3 (S.D. W.Va. Dec. 4, 2014). WV American Water's motion calls upon the Court to consider the parties' CBA, the Union's grievance and the entire grievance record at issue in this case. (See ECF Nos. 7-1, 7-2.) While the complete CBA and the grievance record are not attached to the Complaint, the ...


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