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Bituminous Coal Operators' Association v. International Union

decided: September 18, 1978.

BITUMINOUS COAL OPERATORS' ASSOCIATION INC., A CORPORATION, APPELLANT
v.
INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION CONSOLIDATION COAL COMPANY, A CORPORATION; NORTH AMERICAN COAL CORPORATION, A CORPORATION; THE VALLEY CAMP COAL COMPANY, A CORPORATION; THE PITTSTON COMPANY, A CORPORATION, APPELLANTS V. INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA, AN UNINCORPORATED ASSOCIATION BUCKEYE COAL COMPANY, APPELLANT V. INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA; DISTRICT 4, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA; LOCAL UNION NO. 6290, UNITED MINE WORKERS OF AMERICA



ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Before Aldisert, Gibbons and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.

Author: Gibbons

Opinion OF THE COURT

These appeals grow out of separate attempts by signatories of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1974 to obtain judicial enforcement of the provisions of that agreement. The complaint of the Bituminous Coal Operators Association, Inc., (BCOA) (Appeal No. 77-1876) was filed on September 16, 1975. The complaints of Consolidation Coal Company, North American Coal Corporation, The Valley Camp Coal Company, and The Pittston Company (Appeal No. 77-1907) and of The Buckeye Coal Company (Appeal No. 77-1992) were filed on December 9, 1975, and were consolidated in the district court. On May 6, 1977, the district court entered orders dismissing the BCOA complaint and dismissing the claims for equitable relief in the consolidated mine owners' cases.*fn1 These appeals followed.

At the request of the plaintiffs-appellants, we postponed argument on these appeals pending the negotiation of a new National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement to replace the 1974 agreement, which expired on December 6, 1977. Thereafter the three appeals, since they present common though not identical factual and legal issues, were referred to a single panel of this court. In the BCOA appeal, we affirm the district court's dismissal of that part of the complaint seeking injunctive relief, but reverse the dismissal of that part requesting a declaratory judgment. In the mine owners' appeals, we reverse the district court's dismissal of their claims for equitable relief. Finally, we hold that the expiration of the 1974 agreement and its replacement by the 1978 agreement do not render these appeals moot.

I. THE BCOA APPEAL

A. Facts and Proceedings Below

In the BCOA case jurisdiction is alleged under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, 29 U.S.C. § 185. The plaintiff, a nonprofit corporation of the District of Columbia, is the exclusive collective bargaining agent for employers who produce approximately 65% Of all bituminous coal mined in the United States. The defendant is the International Union of the United Mine Workers of America (the International), an unincorporated labor organization. In December, 1974, BCOA, on behalf of its members, and the International, on behalf of the members of its district and local unions, entered into a collective bargaining agreement which regulated their employment relationship until December 6, 1977. Article XXVII of that agreement obliges both parties to "maintain the integrity of the contract" and provides that "all disputes and claims which are not settled by agreement shall be settled by the machinery provided in the "Settlement of Disputes' Article of this Agreement." Article XXIII, the Settlement of Disputes article, provides for peaceful settlement of disputes through a multiple-step, grievance-arbitration procedure. Disputes which are "national in character" are not subject to that article and are instead reserved for resolution through collective bargaining. 1974 National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement, Art. XXVII.

In paragraph seven of its complaint, BCOA alleges that the International, as a consequence of its contractual undertaking, "is obligated to take timely steps to insure compliance by its members with the 1974 Agreement and to end illegal picketing and work stoppages by its members, by any and all reasonable means at its command as might be needed to insure contract compliance and to prevent, stop and end such work stoppages." The complaint further alleges that, notwithstanding their contractual obligation to arbitrate their grievances, union members have engaged "in a national pattern and practice of picketing and work stoppages over disputes which are subject to the grievance and arbitration provisions" of the 1974 agreement. BCOA's Complaint, P 8. During the first half of 1975, BCOA alleges, these illegal activities produced lost production of 1,368,000 man-days, a figure which is equivalent to a $76,000,000 payroll loss, a 116,500,000 tonnage loss, and a $22,000,000 pension and trust fund loss. The complaint also details similar production losses due to similar illegal activity during prior collective bargaining agreements beginning in 1970.

BCOA asserts that "based on said national pattern and practice of illegal picketing and work stoppages, similar illegal actions . . . in the future are threatened and indeed are certain to continue to occur unless affirmative and positive steps are taken by the defendant, its officers and agents, to discourage, prevent, stop and end such illegal picketing and work stoppages." BCOA's Complaint, P 8. It further alleges that "(pursuant) to the 1974 Agreement and defendant's Constitution and under law, defendant has ample authority and the specific means to insure compliance by its members with the 1974 Agreement and to end illegal picketing and work stoppages by its members." Id. P 9. Paragraph nine of the complaint lists seven specific means to which the International could have resorted in order to insure compliance with the 1974 agreement.*fn2 BCOA charges that notwithstanding its repeated demands on the International, none of these means was utilized. By declining to undertake such specific actions, BCOA insists, the International "has condoned, ratified, and encouraged such illegal strikes and illegal picketing and interference with work and thus has breached its agreement with plaintiff." BCOA's Complaint, P 10.

The complaint, which alleges irreparable injury to BCOA, its members, and the public, seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. The complaint contains no prayer for money damages.*fn3 BCOA seeks instead:

(1) . . . a judgment declaring that the International has breached the 1974 Agreement by failing and refusing to take timely, affirmative, positive and effective steps to insure compliance by its members with the 1974 Agreement and to end the national pattern and practice of illegal picketing and work stoppages . . . ; and

(2) . . . an order compelling the International, its officers, agents and employees, to take prompt and affirmative action in accordance with a plan to be submitted to and for approval by the Court . . . explaining . . . how it plans to take affirmative steps . . . to insure compliance by its members with the 1974 Agreement.

BCOA's Complaint, Prayer for Relief. Fairly read, the complaint seeks a declaration that the International has committed past breaches of the collective bargaining contract and an injunction compelling it to take prescribed steps to prevent such breaches in the Future.

In response to BCOA's complaint, the International filed a pleading denominated "Motion to Dismiss, Answer, and Counterclaim." This pleading admits that BCOA is the exclusive bargaining agent for the mine owners and that the International bargained on behalf of its district and local unions. It denies, however, that the latter unions are subordinate administrative divisions of the International. Instead, the pleading alleges that they are separate and autonomous labor organizations, subject only to limited control by the International. In its pleading, the International claims that BCOA could have bargained, but instead failed to bargain, for contractual undertakings which would have imposed on the International the duties respecting wildcat strikes which BCOA alleges have been breached. The International also denies that it has failed to exercise such authority that it possesses to reduce or end work stoppages and picketing by its members.*fn4

The International's counterclaim is pleaded in the alternative: only if the district court fails to grant the International's motion to dismiss on jurisdictional grounds, should it consider the counterclaim. In this claim, the International alleges that BCOA had, under the 1974 agreement, certain specific continuing responsibilities which it failed to discharge and which contributed to the prevalence of the wildcat strikes. The counterclaim seeks a declaration that BCOA breached such obligations and an order directing it to submit to the court a comprehensive program for the discharge of those obligations in the future.

The district court granted the International's motion to dismiss BCOA's complaint. In granting this motion, the court first addressed the claim for injunctive relief aimed at the International's future conduct. The court concluded that the complaint sufficiently alleged a breach of the 1974 agreement and thus that it sufficiently alleged a cause of action under § 301. The court recognized that in United States Steel Corp. v. UMW, 534 F.2d 1063 (3d Cir. 1976), we held that under certain limited circumstances injunctive relief might be available to prevent future breaches of a collective bargaining contract. Nevertheless, it concluded that the injunction requested by BCOA went beyond the relief authorized by United States Steel. As an additional reason for denying the injunction, the court observed:

Another problem posed by an injunctive order in this case, and quite a significant one, is that many BCOA member companies, whose rights would be determined by this lawsuit, have their offices and mining facilities in numerous judicial districts and circuits. The availability of prospective injunctive relief is quite different from one circuit to another . . . . Aside from the added difficulty this creates in drafting appropriate injunctive relief, it cannot be overlooked that a suit with so broad a base gives plaintiff a unique opportunity of choosing a forum of its choice. Some member companies may have No mining facilities or other connections with this district or circuit, and granting them relief in this court would allow them to do indirectly what they cannot do directly.

431 F. Supp. at 784 (footnotes omitted; emphasis in the original).

The district court then turned to BCOA's prayer for declaratory relief. The court held that "for much the same reasons" as those supporting its denial of injunctive relief, sound discretion required it to abstain from issuing a declaratory judgment. The court observed that if it granted the declaratory relief, it would be "required to determine the rights and obligations of the defendant under factual circumstances not yet encountered." 431 F. Supp. at 786. Moreover, granting such relief, the court reasoned, would interfere with the federal labor policy of encouraging private resolution of disputes in the manner agreed upon by the parties.

Since BCOA's complaint had not included a prayer for money damages, the entire complaint was ...


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