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RILEY v. LETTER CARRIERS LOCAL NO. 380

March 4, 1980

Michael RILEY, Plaintiff,
v.
LETTER CARRIERS LOCAL NO. 380 and National Association of Letter Carriers and United States Postal Service, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DEBEVOISE

Plaintiff, Michael Riley, a former carrier for the defendant United States Postal Service (herein "USPS"), brought an action for breach of the duty of fair representation against the defendants National Association of Letter Carriers (herein "NALC") and Letter Carriers Local No. 380 in the Superior Court of New Jersey. Plaintiff alleged that the defendants had willfully, wantonly and recklessly failed to pursue available remedies to secure plaintiff's reinstatement with USPS (Count I). Plaintiff also alleged that defendants had negligently and carelessly failed to pursue available remedies to secure plaintiff's reinstatement with USPS (Count II). On defendant unions' motion, plaintiff's action was removed to the United States District Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 and 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b).

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint against defendant USPS alleging that defendant USPS had willfully, wantonly and recklessly failed to reinstate plaintiff contrary to the collective bargaining agreement with defendant unions (Count III), and that USPS breached an agreement to hold its determination of plaintiff's grievance in abeyance until the final resolution of criminal charges pending against plaintiff (Count IV). Through this action, plaintiff seeks reinstatement, compensatory and punitive damages, counsel fees and costs.

 This matter comes before the Court on defendants' motions for summary judgment.

 Plaintiff, Michael Riley, was employed by USPS in Trenton as a letter carrier from August, 1970 and was a member in good standing of Local 380 for the duration of his employment. By letter dated May 11, 1972, USPS formally advised plaintiff that he was discharged, effective May 12, 1972. The stated reason for his removal was the commission of an offense while in uniform for which he was later arrested and indicted and for which a sentence of imprisonment could be imposed. The letter further advised him that he had the right to file a grievance or to proceed before the United States Civil Service Commission pursuant to the Veterans' Preference Act.

 After seeing the May 11th letter, the President of Local 380, Bernard Lenihan, advised the plaintiff that he would seek an oral agreement from USPS to hold the grievance procedure in abeyance with respect to Riley's discharge until Riley's criminal case was resolved. Lenihan had repeatedly entered into oral agreements with Postmaster Designee Richard Masterson on behalf of other letter carriers to hold the grievance procedure in abeyance. Riley found this agreement acceptable.

 Riley affirms that the Union defendants entered into the agreement to hold the grievance procedure in abeyance. He claims to have been present in Trenton in 1972 when Lenihan and Masterson agreed that the grievance procedure would be held in abeyance. *fn1"

 On May 11, 1972, Lenihan helped Riley compose a letter to USPS as a response to USPS's letter of May 11th. The letter, dated May 16, 1972, was signed only by Riley. It acknowledged that Riley had received the May 11th letter and stated that he chose to seek redress through the grievance procedure under the collective bargaining agreement rather than through the procedures under the Veterans' Preference Act.

 Riley then received a letter from USPS Supervisor, Anthony Schiller, dated May 18, 1972, which denied "the grievance appeal dated May 16, 1972, which you submitted to me, indicating that you wished to appeal under Post Office Procedures".

 On June 13, 1972, Riley received an additional document from USPS indicating his removal from USPS. Riley spoke to Lenihan about this letter and was told by Lenihan that it was a mistake and that Lenihan would take care of it.

 When the criminal charges were dropped against Riley in the summer of 1974, Riley contacted Lenihan. Lenihan reinstituted the grievance procedure on Riley's behalf. USPS, however, did not acknowledge the abeyance agreement into which Masterson and Lenihan had entered in Riley's presence. Consequently, when Lenihan grieved Riley's discharge at Steps 1, 2(a) and 2(b) of the procedure, USPS denied the grievance as untimely.

 From the denial at Step 2(b), the NALC approved the case for submission to arbitration. However, the grievant had his case appealed to the Civil Service Commission under the Veterans' Preference Act prior to reaching arbitration. Inasmuch as the one avenue of redress precluded the other, his case was not heard in arbitration and, rather, was processed through the Civil Service procedures. A NALC business agent represented Riley through each of the stages of the procedures. The appeal was denied at every stage, including the final decision of the Appeals Review Board.

 Riley also filed unfair labor practice charges with the N.L.R.B. in November of 1974. The N.L.R.B. refused to issue a complaint.

 Riley stated in his deposition that the sole reason for his dissatisfaction with the Union defendants was the fact that he did not get his job back with USPS. Riley described his relationship with the Union officials as businesslike and free of hostility. Riley did not file charges against any Union officials for failure ...


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