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Spirit Airlines, Inc. v. Association of Flight Attendants-Cwa, Afl-Cio

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

June 17, 2015

SPIRIT AIRLINES, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT ATTENDANTS — CWA, AFL-CIO, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, and ENFORCING THE JANUARY 10, 2014 ARBITRATION AWARD

PATRICK J. DUGGAN, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This case is brought under the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. § 151 et seq. Plaintiff Spirit Airlines, Inc. ("Spirit") asks the Court to vacate an arbitration award issued pursuant to the mandatory arbitration provisions of the RLA and the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between Spirit and Defendant Association of Flight Attendants - CWA, AFL-CIO ("AFA"). AFA filed a counterclaim, urging the Court to enforce the award.

On September 18, 2014, the Court issued an Opinion denying AFA's motion for judgment on the pleadings, which sought enforcement of the arbitration award at issue in this litigation. See Spirit Airlines, Inc. v. Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, No. 14-CV-10715, 2014 WL 4678235 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 18, 2014). The award, which resolved in favor of AFA a grievance concerning domestic partner health care benefits available to Spirit flight attendants, was issued by a three-member System Board of Adjustment consisting of two partisan members - Carmen Linn, AFA's designated representative and a Spirit flight attendant at the time of her appointment, and Costin Corneanu, Spirit's designated representative and a member of its management team - and Susan Brown, a neutral arbitrator chosen in accordance with the procedures set forth in the parties' CBA. The Court held that the award, which was issued on January 10, 2014, could not be enforced because it resulted from a violation of the majority-vote provisions of the RLA and CBA.[1]

Specifically, an issue arose during the arbitration proceedings whether Linn could continue her service on the Board in light of her retirement as a Spirit flight attendant, which occurred during the arbitration proceedings, before the Board issued its final award in favor of AFA. Interpreting a provision of the parties' CBA requiring that the two partisan Board members "be full time Company employees, " CBA at 110 (Am. Compl. Ex. 1, ECF No. 2-1), Brown unilaterally determined that Linn's continued service on the Board after her retirement was appropriate because "the composition of the Board was proper when initially constituted" and "[a] Board member's status does not change during the life of a case even though that member may become ineligible to serve on future Boards." 11/18/13 Brown Letter (Am. Compl. Ex. 11, ECF No. 2-11) (emphasis in original). As a result of Brown's ruling on this issue concerning the composition of the Board, Linn remained on the Board and supplied the tiebreaking vote on the grievance in favor of AFA.

Because Brown's ruling on the board composition issue was unilateral and not by majority vote, the Court concluded in its September 18 Opinion that the Board's award resolving the grievance in favor of AFA, which was made possible only because Brown ruled that Linn could continue her service on the Board following her retirement, resulted from a violation of the majority-vote provisions of the RLA and CBA. As a result, the Court held that the award could not be enforced. However, the Court did not vacate the award, particularly because there was no motion then pending by Spirit asking the Court to do so.

After the Court denied AFA's motion for judgment on the pleadings, counsel for both parties appeared at a status conference in chambers on October 7, 2014. At the conference, the Court proposed what it thought was a reasonable and fair resolution to the protracted proceedings on the grievance at issue in this case. However, the parties rejected the Court's proposal, instead opting to continue down the path of litigation.

Now before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. AFA again asks the Court to enforce the award, and Spirit for the first time asks the Court to vacate the award. The motions are fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Court now concludes that its previous determination that the award resulted from a violation of the RLA and CBA is erroneous and that the award should be enforced. Accordingly, the Court will grant AFA's summary judgment motion, deny Spirit's summary judgment motion, and enforce the arbitration award.

II. BACKGROUND

A detailed recitation of the pertinent background can be found in the Court's September 18 decision resolving AFA's motion for judgment on the pleadings. See 2014 WL 4678235, at *1-5.

III. ANALYSIS

AFA previously argued in its motion for judgment on the pleadings that the board composition issue - that is, whether Linn's continued service on the board following her retirement was proper under the CBA - is a procedural issue that Brown had authority to decide alone. As it turns out, AFA was right - but not for the reason it asserted.

In support of the argument that Brown's unilateral decision on the board composition issue was proper under the RLA and CBA, AFA relied mainly on John Wiley & Sons, Inc. v. Livingston, 376 U.S. 543, 84 S.Ct. 909 (1964) and Apperson v. Fleet Carrier Corp., 879 F.2d 1344 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court rejected this argument in its September 18 decision, noting that John Wiley and Apperson stand only for the proposition that procedural issues must be decided through the arbitration process and not by the courts, and not for the proposition that procedural issues may be decided by a single member of a multi-member arbitration board. See 2014 WL 4678235, at *10-11. The Court believes that this conclusion was, and is, correct; John Wiley and Apperson do not support the argument that Brown could decide the board composition issue on her own.

In addition, AFA briefly argued in the prior round of motion practice (in a footnote to its reply brief), and again argues in the present round of motion practice, that procedural rulings need not be made by majority vote under the RLA. However, the authority on which AFA relies both then and now, United Transportation Union v. ...


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