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Gannon v. City of Pawtucket

Supreme Court of Rhode Island

February 6, 2019

Sean Gannon
v.
City of Pawtucket.

          Providence County Superior Court PM 16-2173 Associate Justice Maureen B. Keough

          For Plaintiff: Joel J. Votolato, Esq.

          For Defendant: Timothy M. Bliss, Esq.

          Present: Suttell, C.J., Goldberg, Flaherty, Robinson, and Indeglia, JJ.

          OPINION

          FRANCIS X. FLAHERTY JUSTICE

         Sean Gannon appeals from orders of the Superior Court relating to his motion to vacate an arbitration award issued in connection with the termination of his employment as a firefighter with the City of Pawtucket. This case came before the Supreme Court for oral argument on November 27, 2018, pursuant to an order directing the parties to appear and show cause why the issues raised in this appeal should not summarily be decided. After hearing the arguments of counsel and examining the memoranda filed on behalf of the parties, we conclude that cause has not been shown and that this case may be decided without further briefing or argument. For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we affirm the order of the Superior Court.

         I

         Facts and Travel

         Gannon was hired as a firefighter by the city in late April or early May 2013, and soon thereafter completed his training at the fire training academy. By virtue of his employment with the city as a firefighter, he became a member of the International Association of Firefighters, Local 1261 (the union), and thus became subject to the terms and conditions enumerated in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in effect between the city and the union. That agreement specifies that the union is the sole and exclusive bargaining agent for uniformed employees of the Fire Division of the Pawtucket Department of Public Safety, with the sole exception of the fire chief.

         Gannon alleges that, in November 2013, the city terminated his employment without cause. The union subsequently filed a grievance against the city, challenging Gannon's termination, and the matter eventually proceeded to arbitration under the rules of the American Arbitration Association in accordance with the procedure set forth in the CBA. After several days of hearings, the arbitrator rendered a decision on March 2, 2016, finding in favor of the city. On May 13, 2016, Gannon, in his personal and individual capacity, timely filed a motion in the Superior Court seeking to vacate the arbitration award.

         The city moved to dismiss Gannon's motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure, arguing that Gannon lacked standing to challenge an arbitration award arising from a case to which he had not been a party. Before a hearing on the motion could be held, however, Gannon filed a motion on August 25, 2016 to involuntarily join the union as a necessary party under Rule 19 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure.[1] The union objected to the joinder, arguing that Gannon could not compel the union to represent him in an action that the union had deemed to be futile. The union also expressed its apprehension about the risk of exposure to an award of attorneys' fees, pursuant to G.L. 1956 § 28-9-18(c), should a petition to vacate the award be unsuccessful.[2] After considering the arguments presented by the parties, the hearing justice denied Gannon's motion to join the union as a party under Rule 19.

         However, on September 22, 2016, the very day that the city's motion to dismiss was to be heard, Gannon notified the court that he had reached an agreement with the union whereby the union would voluntarily join the case, notwithstanding its prior objections to joinder under Rule 19. In light of this development, the hearing justice passed the city's motion to dismiss to allow time for the union to enter the case.

         On February 17, 2017, Gannon moved to amend his pleading in an effort to substitute the union as a party under Rule 15 of the Superior Court Rules of Civil Procedure. The city objected and renewed its motion to dismiss. The hearing justice, for reasons discussed infra, denied Gannon's motion to substitute and granted the city's motion to dismiss. The order memorializing those decisions was entered on June 20, 2017, and the city soon filed a motion for costs and reasonable attorneys' fees, pursuant to § 28-9-18(c), which the hearing justice granted. Gannon then filed this timely appeal.[3]

         Before this Court, Gannon challenges the denial of his motion to substitute the union as the proper plaintiff, the grant of the city's motion to dismiss Gannon's motion to vacate the arbitration award, and the grant of the city's motion for attorneys' fees.

         II

         Standard ...


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