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Significant U.S. Sup. Ct. Ruling in NRAB/RLA Case

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  • Significant U.S. Sup. Ct. Ruling in NRAB/RLA Case

    Supreme Court rules proof of prearbitration “conferencing” is not an NRAB jurisdictional requirement

    The National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB) erred when it dismissed five employee grievances for lack of jurisdiction because the union did not submit evidence of prearbitration union-employer “conferencing,” as required by the Railway Labor Act (RLA), a unanimous US Supreme Court held on December 8, 2009. The conference requirement is not jurisdictional, but merely a “procedural rule,” the High Court held, and the Board erred in presuming it had the authority to declare such a rule to be a jurisdictional requirement. In a decision authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Court affirmed a ruling by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals setting aside the NRAB panel’s orders. However, the Court found the Seventh Circuit erred in resolving the matter on constitutional grounds, improperly holding the NRAB violated the union’s due process rights. Because the appeals court could have resolved the issue on statutory grounds, there was no cause for the court to have rendered a decision on the constitutional issue (Union Pacific RR Co v Locomotive Engineers, General Committee of Adjustment, Central Region, USSCt, Dkt No 08-604).
    Background. The Railway Labor Act requires parties to a minor dispute to attempt settlement “in conference” as part of the parties’ “on property” attempts to resolve the matter before seeking NRAB resolution. In practice, the prearbitration conference can be as informal as a phone conversation between the parties. If the conferencing fails to secure a resolution, either party can refer the dispute to the NRAB for arbitration.
    In the instant case, Union Pacific denied grievances filed by the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen on behalf of employees charged with disciplinary violations. The union initiated NRAB proceedings after prearbitration procedures, including conferencing, were carried out. The union submitted the on-property record to the NRAB, but failed to include any documentation regarding the conferencing, and the carrier had raised no objection to this omission. Just prior to the start of oral arguments, an industry representative on the panel objected to the absence of proof of conferencing in the record — an objection the carrier quickly adopted. The hearing was adjourned and the union initially was given permission to submit evidence that conferencing had taken place. However, after receiving the union’s evidence — phone logs, handwritten notes, correspondence between the parties — the Board now held the record was closed once the union’s notice of intent had been filed, declining to supplement the record with this “de novo” evidence, and dismissing the petitions for lack of jurisdiction.
    A federal district court upheld the Board, declining the union’s request that the panel decisions be set aside. The court rejected the union’s assertion that “[n]othing in the Act or the NRAB’s procedural rules... mandated dismissal for failure to allege and prove conferencing in the Union’s original submission.” The union also argued in the alternative. to no avail, that the NRAB panel violated the union’s procedural due process rights by allowing the carrier’s untimely raised objection — an error made worse when it declined to allow the union to offer proof in response to the late objection.
    The Seventh Circuit reversed (Locomotive Engineers v Union Pacific, 156 LC ¶ 11,053), agreeing with the union’s statutory argument that the NRAB erred in ruling it lacked jurisdiction. It went further, however, addressing as well the union’s constitutional claim and concluding the NRAB violated the union’s due process rights when it created a new rule governing the submission of evidence.
    High Court’s reasoning. The Seventh Circuit effectively resolved the core issue, answering the key question of whether written documentation of conferencing is a necessary prerequisite to NRAB arbitration. However, the appeals court inappropriately did so on constitutional, rather than statutory grounds, the Court found. Looking to the RLA, the Court held that while the statute requires prearbitration conferencing, the Board’s jurisdiction is not conditioned on satisfaction of that obligation. Rather, the conference requirement is merely a claims-processing rule, and the panel could allow for such a lapse to be cured. Indeed, as Union Pacific acknowledged, NRAB panels have been known simply to stay arbitration to allow the parties to confer in cases where preconferencing had not occurred.
    It was irrelevant that several prior NRAB panel decisions held conferencing to be a jurisdictional requirement. “If the NRAB lacks authority to define the jurisdiction of its panels,” wrote the Court, “surely the panels themselves lack that authority.”
    In sum, neither the RLA nor its procedural rules “could plausibly be read to require, as a prerequisite to the NRAB’s exercise of jurisdiction, submission of proof of conferencing.” Thus, the NRAB erred in refusing to hear the grievances “on the false premise that it lacked power to hear them.”
    Attached Files
    Last edited by FELA FELLA; 12-10-2009, 03:55 AM.
    Steve Gordon
    Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P.
    FELA Lawyer
    FELA Lawyer Blog
    Serving Injured Railroad Employees Nationwide
    Call for a FELA Lawyer 24/7/365
    800-773-6770

  • #2
    Holy Shit!?! You mean the good guys actually won a case? Please pass the smelling salts!
    Labor is prior to, and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor and could never had existed if Labor had not existed first. Therefore Labor is superior to Capital, and deserves much higher consideration.

    Comment


    • #3
      Originally posted by dj611 View Post
      Holy Shit!?! You mean the good guys actually won a case? Please pass the smelling salts!

      Shhh......not too loud
      Steve Gordon
      Gordon, Elias & Seely, L.L.P.
      FELA Lawyer
      FELA Lawyer Blog
      Serving Injured Railroad Employees Nationwide
      Call for a FELA Lawyer 24/7/365
      800-773-6770

      Comment

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