United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division
LABORERS' INTERNATIONAL UNION OF NORTH AMERICA LOCAL 1353, Plaintiff,
WEST VIRGINIA AMERICAN WATER COMPANY, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
E. JOHNSTON, CHIEF JUDGE.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.)
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
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).
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).
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.
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).
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