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North Atlantic Distribution, Inc. v. International Longshoremen Association

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

September 22, 2016

NORTH ATLANTIC DISTRIBUTION, INC, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMEN ASSOCIATION, LOCAL 1996-1 Defendant,

          ORDER

          John J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge.

         North Atlantic Distribution, Inc. ("NORAD") seeks to vacate and the International Longshoremen Association, Local 1996-1 ("Union") seeks to affirm an arbitration award ordering NORAD to build a fuel island structure at its facility in Quonset to protect the fuel attendant from the weather. The arbitrator ruled in favor of the Union and determined that NORAD had failed to build the structure within six months as it had agreed. Applying the required "exceedingly deferential" standard of review to the arbitrator's award, this Court affirms the award and therefore DENIES NORAD's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 10) and GRANTS the Union's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 12.

         FACTS

         During the discussions on a new collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), the Union proposed that NORAD "build a structure near the fuel island" because the island attendant, who has pumped fuel into new cars arriving at the port for over ten years, had been subjected to the extremes of the weather without shelter. ECF No. 1-4 at 5. As suggested by NORAD, rather than put the agreement in the CBA, the parties entered into a side agreement. The side agreement stated that NORAD "has agreed to build a fuel island structure at its facility within six (6) months of the date of this letter." Id. at 8.

         NORAD failed to build the structure within 6 months of the agreement, so the Union filed a grievance that ultimately ended up before an arbitrator. After a two-day evidentiary hearing and submission of post-hearing briefs, the arbitrator (a retired Rhode Island Supreme Court chief justice) issued an award in favor of the Union. The arbitrator found that:

         1. There was an agreement to build a "fuel island structure" at the facility within 6 months. Id. at 9.

         2. The agreement "clearly . . . was a term that was meant to be a side agreement and thus should be considered part of the CBA." Id. at 8.

         3. NORAD must "complete the construction of a 'fuel island structure' after obtaining permits." Id. at 9.

         4. "The meaning of the 'fuel island structure' can be most succinctly described as a covering that anyone can see at a gas station." Therefore, the "fifty foot canopy proposed by NORAD cannot be considered a 'fuel island structure."' Id. at 8.

         PROCEDURE

         NORAD filed suit challenging the arbitrator's award. The Union filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No, 10. In opposition to the Union's motion, NORAD filed a cross-motion for summary judgment claiming that the agreement did not contemplate an enclosed structure (ECF No. 12 at 4-10) and that the issue is not arbitrable. Id. at 10-14. The Union opposed NORAD's cross-motion (ECF No. 14) and NORAD filed a reply. ECF No. 15.[1]

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "A federal court's review of an arbitrator's decision ... is 'extremely narrow and exceedingly deferential.'" Ramos-Santiago v. United Parcel Serv., 524 F.3d 120, 123 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Airline Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Pan Am, Airways Corp., 405 F.3d 25, 30 (1st Cir. 2005)). "Indeed, it is 'among the narrowest known in the law.'" Id. (quoting Me. Cent. RR. Co. v. Bhd. of Maint of Way Emps., 873 F.2d 425, 428 (1st Cir. 1989)).

In the spirit of freedom of contract then, [this Court] cannot review the merits of the underlying dispute and are obligated to enforce the arbitral award unless the decision fails to "draw[] its essence from the collective bargaining agreement, " Though we may be convinced that the arbitrator committed a serious error, if she is "even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting ...

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