ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY.
Gibbons, Higginbotham and Becker, Circuit Judges.
A. LEON HIGGINBOTHAM, JR., Circuit Judge.
Granville Taylor, appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey holding that a ninety-day statute of limitations for actions to confirm arbitration awards may bar a union member from suing a union for failure to enforce an arbitration award within the statutorily allotted time. Taylor filed suit initially against Ford Motor Company (Ford), the employer, and Local 980 of the United Automobile, Aerospace and Agriculture Implement Workers of America, (Local 980), the collective bargaining agent, under § 301(a) of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185. Ford's motion for summary judgment contended that Taylor's claims against the employer for failure to notify him of a vacancy while he was laid off were untimely under New Jersey Statutes Annotated (N.J. STAT. ANN.) 2A:24-7. The district court granted the motion and dismissed Ford from the case. Taylor proceeded with the lawsuit against the union for failure to confirm an arbitration award. The district court held that a ninety-day statute of limitations was applicable to Taylor's lawsuit against the union. We find that the appropriate limitations period for the confirmation of an arbitration award is the six-year period found in N.J. STAT. ANN. 2A:14-1. Taylor therefore has the right to confirm the arbitration award.
Ford Motor Company laid off the appellant from his position as a pumpman on March 11, 1969. The terms of the collective bargaining agreement provided that Ford and the union notify Taylor whenever a vacancy occurred in his classification. (Aa-16). A vacancy occurred in Taylor's classification in March 1973, and neither Ford nor Local 980 notified Taylor of the vacancy. Taylor was not recalled to work until May 1976. One month later, in June 1976, he filed a grievance against both Ford and Local 980 seeking back wages, insurance coverage, holiday and vacation pay, and pension credits from the time Ford filled the vacancy in 1973 until Taylor's reinstatement in 1976. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement, Taylor submitted the matter to arbitration. On August 8, 1978, an umpire awarded Taylor "pension rights and benefits from May 29, 1973." The umpire denied Taylor's claim for back pay because the contract precluded back-pay liability against the company. (Aa-50-1).
In September 1978, Taylor's attorney wrote to the union seeking clarification of the umpire's award. He sought an assurance from the union that it would serve as an advocate for Taylor with Ford in resolving the dispute. The letter specifically noted that:
Under New Jersey law, the arbitration award must be confirmed within three months of the date of the delivery of the award, unless the parties extend the time in writing for such confirmation. This means that if the Union cannot get the Company to agree in writing to extend that time, it will be necessary for you to apply to Court for confirmation of that award before that three month period expires. (Aa -59).
The union's response to Taylor's request for clarification of the award came from two sources, the international representative of the union and a representative of Local 980. The response from the international representative of the UAW, a letter dated November 30, 1978, disclosed that the UAW/Ford Retirement Board had denied Taylor pension credits notwithstanding the umpire's decision. (Aa-61).*fn1 William Beckham, writing for the president of Local 980 in a letter dated December 4, 1978, advised Taylor's counsel that on submitting the case to the arbitrator the "Union . . . [went] its last mile, and there would be no further action . . . taken on the matter within the Union." (Aa-64). It also advised Taylor's counsel that the internal union procedures did not allow an attorney to represent a member in this type of proceeding. (Aa-63).
Taylor pursued the claim by filing an appeal with the Public Review Board of the International Union, UAW, on January 11, 1979, (Aa-66), charging that Local 980 did not properly represent and protect his interests and rights. The Public Review Board issued an order of remand on June 14, 1979. In October and again in December of the following year, 1980, the Board asked appellant's counsel to respond to the union's position on the grievance. In the interim month, November 1980, Taylor filed suit in the United States District Court under Section 301(a) of the LMRA.*fn2 He named Ford and Local 980 as defendants. He alleged that Ford violated the contract by failing to notify him of the classification vacancy. He alleged that Local 980 breached its duty of fair representation and also violated the collective bargaining agreement by failing to notify him of that same vacancy. (Aa-12-13).
Ford moved for summary judgment. The district court dismissed Ford from the lawsuit, relying on United Parcel Service, Inc. v. Mitchell, 451 U.S. 56, 67 L. Ed. 2d 732, 101 S. Ct. 1559 (1981). The court found that the appropriate statute of limitations applicable to an employer in an action to vacate, confirm or modify an arbitration award was the ninety-day period found in N.J. STAT. ANN. 2A:24-7. Taylor's action against the union remained. The trial judge ruled that the limitations period began to run from the date of the breach which was "no later than December 4, 1978 . . . at this point it was clear that the union was not going to do anything about [enforcing the award]." (Aa-123). The district court held that Taylor's action against the union was barred also by the ninety-day limitations period.
On appeal, Taylor argues that the ninety-day statute of limitations found in the arbitration statute is not applicable in an action to confirm an arbitration award. He argues for a distinction between an action to vacate an arbitration award and an action to enforce an arbitration award. Taylor argues that unlike the cause of action that a losing party brings to vacate an arbitration award, the cause of action that a prevailing party brings to enforce an arbitration award is a contractual one that is governed by the state's ...