Justia U.S. Federal Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
American Federation of Government Workers v. Department of the Air Force
Johnson served as an Air Traffic Controller Watch Supervisor. The Air Force alleged that Johnson was at fault for a violation of FAA policy concerning the separation of aircraft during his watch in 2018 and that this was grounds for removal in light of his prior offenses. A notice of a removal decision was effective May 11, 2019. On May 7, 2019, the local Union initiated grievance procedures. When the dispute was not resolved, the Union invoked arbitration through the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. In November 2020, the Arbitrator upheld the removal decision.The Union appealed but withdrew from the appeal because its national union had placed the local Union in receivership and stripped its counsel of all authority to proceed. Without reaching the merits, the Federal Circuit dismissed Johnson’s motion (Federal Rule 43(b) of Appellate Procedure), to substitute the Union. A party may not substitute under Rule 43(b) where the original party to the appeal lacked standing; unions lack standing to initiate an appeal of an arbitration decision under 5 U.S.C. 7703(a). A party may not substitute under Rule 43(b) when the original party being substituted lacked standing to initiate the appeal. View "American Federation of Government Workers v. Department of the Air Force" on Justia Law
ROHM Semiconductor USA, LLC v. MaxPower Semiconductor, Inc.
In 2007, ROHM Japan and MaxPower entered into a technology license agreement (TLA). ROHM Japan was permitted “to use certain power [metal oxide semiconductor field-effect transistors (MOSFET)]-related technologies of” MaxPower (Licensor) developed under a Development and Stock Purchase Agreement in exchange for royalties paid to MaxPower. The TLA, as amended in 2011, includes an agreement to arbitrate “[a]ny dispute, controversy, or claim arising out of or in relation to this Agreement or at law, or the breach, termination, or validity thereof.” Arbitration is to be conducted “in accordance with the provisions of the California Code of Civil Procedure.”In 2019, a dispute arose between ROHM Japan and MaxPower concerning whether the TLA covers ROHM’s silicon carbide MOSFET products. MaxPower notified ROHM Japan of its intent to initiate arbitration. Shortly thereafter, ROHM's subsidiary, ROHM USA, sought a declaratory judgment of noninfringement of four MaxPower patents in the Northern District of California and four inter partes review petitions. The district court granted MaxPower’s motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the case without prejudice, reasoning that the TLA “unmistakably delegate[s] the question of arbitrability to the arbitrator.” The Federal Circuit affirmed. In contracts between sophisticated parties, incorporation of rules with a provision on the subject is normally sufficient “clear and unmistakable” evidence of the parties’ intent to delegate arbitrability to an arbitrator. View "ROHM Semiconductor USA, LLC v. MaxPower Semiconductor, Inc." on Justia Law
Buffkin v. Department of Defense
Buffkin, a former teacher in the Department of Defense (DoD) school for the children of military personnel, challenged her termination. The collective bargaining agreement process for contesting adverse employment actions provides that any grievance will be mediated if requested by either party. A written request for arbitration must be served on the opposing party within 20 days following "the conclusion of the last stage in the grievance procedure.” “The date of the last day of mediation will be considered the conclusion of the last stage in the grievance procedure" for purposes of proceeding to arbitration.DoD denied Buffkin’s grievance. The union and DoD met with a mediator in December 2012. No agreement was reached. In July 2014, the union submitted a written request for arbitration. DoD signed the request and the parties received a list of arbitrators in August 2014. In March 2015, DoD listed Buffkin’s grievance as an open grievance and the parties held another mediation session. The union and DoD selected an arbitrator in January 2017. DoD then argued that the arbitration request was untimely. The arbitrator found that the union did not invoke arbitration within 20 days after the 2012 mediation concluded.The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded with instructions to address whether the union’s premature request for arbitration ripened into a timely request. Buffkin’s grievance was not resolved in the 2012 mediation; there was another mediation session in 2015, the last stage of the grievance procedure. Invoking arbitration in 2014 was premature, rather than too late. DoDs conduct and past practices indicate that it did not consider the arbitration request untimely. View "Buffkin v. Department of Defense" on Justia Law
AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Hamilton had been employed by the EEOC for 20 years, with no disciplinary problems, until one day in 2016, when, while engaged in mediation, he suddenly began using racial epithets, engaging in physical violence, and refusing to follow orders. The EEOC removed him from federal service. The union filed a grievance, which led to arbitration. During a hearing, the EEOC called 11 witnesses; the union called Hamilton. Although the arbitrator found that certain aspects of the EEOC’s case had not been proved, he credited the testimony of EEOC witnesses to conclude that Hamilton “had a major physical and/or mental breakdown.” Because Hamilton denied taking any of the actions he was charged with, the arbitrator concluded that Hamilton “did not remember.” The arbitrator found that the EEOC had not shown that Hamilton’s behavior had any negative effect on its reputation and had failed to consider that Hamilton’s behavior “was caused by his obvious medical condition,” and set aside Hamilton’s removal, awarding back pay. The arbitrator denied the union’s request for arbitration costs and attorney fees. The Federal Circuit vacated the denial of attorneys’ fees; 5 U.S.C. 7701(g) provides that an adjudicator may require an agency to pay the employee’s reasonable attorney fees if the employee is the prevailing party and the adjudicator determines that payment by the agency “is warranted in the interest of justice.” On remand, the arbitrator must reconsider the issue and include a statement of reasons. View "AFGE Local 3599 v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission" on Justia Law
United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance
Donaldson, a Capitol Police officer, was involved in an off-duty domestic incident. The Office of Professional Responsibility investigated and recommended termination. The Disciplinary Review Board agreed that Donaldson should be punished but recommended only a 45-day unpaid suspension. The Chief of Police decided to terminate Donaldson. After 30 days passed without intervention by the Capitol Police Board, the Chief’s decision was deemed approved and Donaldson was terminated (2 U.S.C. 1907(e)(1)(B)) Under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the Chief’s termination decisions are subject to binding arbitration. The Union requested arbitration. The Police refused to select an arbitrator, arguing that it “would be in violation of a determination of the Capitol Police Board and its distinct statutory authority by consenting to the jurisdiction of any arbitrator.” The Union protested to the General Counsel for the Office of Compliance (OOC) that the Police violated section 220(c)(2) of the Congressional Accountability Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. 1301–1438, by refusing to arbitrate an unresolved grievance and therefore committed an unfair labor practice. A hearing officer granted OOC judgment. The Board of Directors of the Congressional Accountability Office of Compliance reasoned that the Police is obligated to arbitrate disputes arising under its CBA unless it can cite clearly-established law that removes the dispute in question from arbitration; the Police’s legal arguments fell short. The Federal Circuit rejected an appeal by the Police and granted the OOC’s petition for an order of enforcement. View "United States Capitol Police v. Office of Compliance" on Justia Law
Boss v. Department of Homeland Security
The Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) Discipline Review Board sent Boss a proposed 30-day suspension based on disciplinary infraction charges: failure to follow a policy related to overtime sheets, failure to follow supervisory instructions, and conduct unbecoming a U.S. Border Patrol Agent. The deciding official interviewed witnesses and received arguments from the agency and Boss and sent a decision letter, concluding that Boss should be disciplined on all three charges, but reducing the suspension to 15 days. Boss requested arbitration. During the arbitration hearing, the deciding official admitted that he had considered three documents that had not been provided to Boss or his union. The documents were agency policies regarding administratively uncontrollable overtime pay. The arbitrator agreed that the agency violated the contractual due process provision, and vacated Charge One. The parties agreed that the undisclosed documents solely relate to Charge One. The arbitrator analyzed Charges Two and Three on their merits, apparently concluding that he need not address Boss’s contractual and constitutional due process arguments, concluded that the agency carried its burden of proof, and reduced the discipline to a 10- day suspension. The Federal Circuit affirmed. The arbitrator properly treated the three charges separately and independently. View "Boss v. Department of Homeland Security" on Justia Law
Sihota v. Internal Revenue Service
Sihota worked for the IRS for over 25 years. A 2011 IRS audit determined that, in 2003, Sihota reported a loss based on her purported ownership of NKRS, which was actually owned by Sihota’s son. The parties reached a settlement: Sihota acknowledged she had “acted negligently … resulting in an underpayment of ... $5341.00.” Sihota paid the assessment and penalty. The IRS terminated her employment, stating that Sihota was charged with either violating 5 CFR 2635.809 or 26 U.S.C. 7804, which requires the IRS to terminate any employee who willfully understates their federal tax liability, “unless such understatement is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.” The Union invoked arbitration. A hearing was held four years after the IRS contacted the Union about scheduling. The arbitrator concluded that inclusion of the loss on her return was not willful neglect, reinstated Sihota’s employment, imposed a 10-day suspension, and held that Sihota was not entitled to back pay, citing laches and the scheduling delay. The Federal Circuit vacated and remanded, stating that it could not discern which charges were properly considered or would support the suspension. If the only charge before the arbitrator was under the statute, the arbitrator could not impose any penalty. While the Union’s delay is inexplicable and might have barred the claim if the IRS could show prejudice, after allowing Sihota’s claim to proceed, the arbitrator cannot rely on laches to reduce her back pay. View "Sihota v. Internal Revenue Service" on Justia Law
Evans v. Building Materials Corp.
In 2009, RNB and GAF entered into an agreement under which GAF would promote RNB’s “Roof N Box” product, a three-dimensional roofing model, to building construction contractors affiliated with GAF. The agreement required the parties to submit disputes “arising under” the agreement to arbitration. GAF terminated the agreement after about a year. In 2016, RNB, together with its founder and president, Evans, brought suit against GAF based on GAF’s activities in marketing its own product that competes with the Roof N Box. The complaint alleged design patent infringement, trade dress infringement, and unfair competition. GAF moved to dismiss or stay the action pending arbitration. The district court denied that motion. The Federal Circuit affirmed, stating that GAF’s assertion that the arbitration provision covers the claims stated in the complaint is “wholly groundless.” The complaint challenges actions whose wrongfulness is independent of the 2009 agreement’s existence. View "Evans v. Building Materials Corp." on Justia Law
Muller v. Gov’t Printing Office
Muller, an employee of the U.S. Government Printing Office, is a union member. The union and GPO are signatories to a multi-party Master Labor Management Agreement, which creates a negotiated grievance procedure for GPO employees to contest adverse employment actions as an alternative to appeal to the Merit Systems Protection Board. Muller was reassigned within the GPO, resulting in demotion to a lower grade and a reduction in pay. Muller challenged his reassignment through the negotiated procedure. An arbitrator dismissed the grievance as “not arbitrable,” because a four-month deadline for holding a hearing, required by the agreement, had passed. The Federal Circuit reversed; the contractual provision does not require dismissal of the grievance in the event of noncompliance with the four-month deadline. The deadline is merely a nonbinding housekeeping rule to encourage timely arbitration, one that is addressed to the arbitrator as well as the parties. There is no past practice requiring dismissal under the circumstances of this case. View "Muller v. Gov't Printing Office" on Justia Law
Appleberry v. Dep’t of Homeland Sec.
Appleberry worked for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, under a collective bargaining agreement. Deeming her performance unsatisfactory, the agency placed her on a “performance improvement plan” and then found that she failed to improve. Eventually, relying on that failure, the agency fired her. When Appleberry brought her removal to arbitration, as authorized (but not required) by the collective bargaining agreement, the arbitrator concluded that she could not challenge the key bases for the removal, i.e., the agency determinations that she should be placed on the performance-improvement plan and that she failed under the plan; that the collective bargaining agreement, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 7121, prescribed the exclusive process, including time limits, for challenging those determinations; but that Appleberry had abandoned that process after initiating it through filing grievances, allowing the time for completing challenges to run. The arbitrator barred reconsideration of “issues that were raised in [her] earlier grievances, or that could have been raised but were not.” The Federal Circuit affirmed, rejecting an argument that the arbitrator should not have barred consideration of the performance-improvement-plan issues raised in her earlier, uncompleted grievances; the arbitrator properly enforced the grievance process designated as “exclusive” in the collective bargaining agreement. View "Appleberry v. Dep't of Homeland Sec." on Justia Law