United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
District No. 1, Pacific Coast District, Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, AFL-CIO, Appellee
Liberty Maritime Corporation, Appellant
May 10, 2019
from the United States District Court for the District of
Columbia (No. 1:17-cv-02173)
Steffen N. Johnson argued the cause for appellant. With him
on the briefs were William G. Miossi and Paul N. Harold.
J. Murphy argued the cause and filed the brief for appellee.
Before: Millett, Katsas, and Rao, Circuit Judges.
Maritime Corporation (Liberty) is a shipping company that has
contracted over the past thirty years with District No. 1,
Pacific Coast District, Marine Engineers Beneficial
Association, AFL-CIO (MEBA), a labor union representing
supervisory employees in the maritime industry. This case
arises out of an underlying dispute about whether Liberty was
contractually required to hire MEBA employees on a new vessel
managed by Liberty. MEBA sued in the United States District
Court for the District of Columbia, claiming its contract
with Liberty required the parties to submit the dispute to
arbitration. The district court ruled in favor of the union,
granting judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(c) and compelling arbitration. Liberty
timely appealed, arguing that the district court lacked
subject matter jurisdiction, or in the alternative, erred in
its application of the Rule 12(c) standards.
reasons explained below, we agree that the district court had
jurisdiction over MEBA's claim under Section 301 of the
Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA), 29 U.S.C.
§§ 141 et seq., which provides federal
jurisdiction over suits for "violation of contracts
between an employer and a labor organization."
Id. § 185(a). MEBA raised contractual issues
regarding the arbitrability of the dispute and thus its claim
clearly falls within the district court's statutory
jurisdiction. Although Liberty alleges that the dispute
primarily raised representational issues and thus should be
within the exclusive jurisdiction of the National Labor
Relations Board (NLRB) under the doctrine of
"Garmon preemption," federal courts retain
jurisdiction over "hybrid" claims raising both
contractual and representational issues. Dist. No. 1,
Pac. Coast Dist., Marine Engineers' Beneficial Ass'n,
AFL-CIO v. Liberty Mar. Corp., 815 F.3d 834, 840 (D.C.
Cir. 2016) ("Liberty Maritime I"); see
also William E. Arnold Co. v. Carpenters Dist. Council of
Jacksonville & Vicinity, 417 U.S. 12, 18 (1974).
jurisdiction here was proper, we reverse and remand because
material facts remained in dispute regarding the existence of
an applicable arbitration clause, and therefore MEBA was not
entitled to judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c).
Liberty is a shipping company that transports commodities,
vehicles, equipment, and other cargoes on the seagoing
vessels it manages. Liberty's clients include the U.S.
Government, the United Nations, and commercial entities such
as automobile manufacturers. Liberty manages vessels
transporting bulk cargo-including dry bulk, break bulk, and
bagged commodities-and "roll on/roll-off" vessels,
like car and truck carriers configured to transport vehicles
that drive on and off the vessel. Many of these vessels are
enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Security Program, a federal
program that subsidizes shipping companies for national
security purposes-namely, to ensure a fleet of vessels is
available in the event of a war or national emergency.
See generally 46 U.S.C. §§ 53101 et
seq. Appellee MEBA is a labor organization that
represents supervisory employees in the U.S. maritime
industry at ports throughout the United States and on
oceangoing vessels. On car and truck carrier vessels operated
by Liberty and enrolled in the U.S. Maritime Security
Program, MEBA represents licensed officers and engineers.
parties' relationship began in 1988 when they signed two
agreements: the Tanker Vessels Master Agreement and the Dry
Cargo Vessels Master Agreement. Although the authenticity of
some of the documents attached to the pleadings is disputed,
the documents that purport to be current copies of these
Master Agreements provide that "[a]ll disputes relating
to the interpretation or performance of this Agreement shall
be determined in accordance with the provisions of this
Section." "[T]his Section" states that
grievances will be presented to a licensed personnel board
consisting of two persons appointed by the union and two
persons appointed by the company; if the licensed personnel
board fails to resolve a grievance, an arbitrator will assume
jurisdiction over the grievance.
the past three decades, the parties have modified their
contractual relationship on numerous occasions. At this stage
of the proceedings, the record includes only a few of these
agreements. Both parties agree, however, they were
signatories to a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). This
MOU identifies numerous prior agreements and states that
prior agreements will remain in effect except as expressly
modified, but the MOU does not expressly modify any
arbitration clause in a manner relevant to this case.
suit arises out of a dispute between Liberty and MEBA over a
ship named the M/V Liberty Peace. On July 24, 2017,
Liberty sent MEBA a letter stating its intention to commence
managing this foreign flagged car and truck carrier vessel
and operate it as a U.S. flagged vessel. In the letter,
Liberty claimed the Liberty Peace would not fall
under the parties' collective bargaining agreements and
the various contractual modifications of those agreements
because the vessel would not be enrolled in the U.S. Maritime
Security Program. MEBA disagreed, insisting the existing
agreements covered the new vessel. Although the parties met
to discuss the matter, they did not resolve their dispute. In
the meantime, Liberty began managing the Liberty
Peace as the agent of a third party, and that third
party entered into labor agreements with a different union.
sent Liberty a grievance letter on August 31, 2017, asserting
Liberty was "in violation of the parties' collective
bargaining agreement by failing to apply the terms and
conditions of the parties' labor contract" to the
Liberty Peace. Liberty did not submit MEBA's
grievance to arbitration.
subsequently filed a "Complaint to Compel
Arbitration" in the United States District Court for the
District of Columbia. MEBA requested the district court
compel Liberty to participate in the arbitration process set
forth in the parties' collective bargaining agreement and
grant any other appropriate relief, including attorneys'
fees and costs. MEBA attached as exhibits several documents
purporting to be the two original Master Agreements, the MOU,
MEBA's August 31 grievance letter, and some additional
correspondence between MEBA and Liberty.
answer to MEBA's complaint, Liberty admitted it had
signed the Master Agreements and the MOU. Liberty admitted
the authenticity of the MOU, but denied the authenticity of
the exhibits MEBA claimed were copies of the Master
Agreements. Liberty denied that the MOU incorporated the
terms of the Master Agreements and that the arbitration
clauses covered the Liberty Peace. Liberty also
denied that any labor contract or arbitration agreement with
MEBA covered the Liberty Peace. As an affirmative
defense, Liberty alleged the district court lacked subject
matter jurisdiction because the suit concerned
representational rights and therefore was preempted by the
jurisdiction of the NLRB under the terms of the National
Labor Relations Act (NLRA).
moved for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(c), and the district court granted the
motion. The district court found that the Master Agreements
stated, "[a]ll disputes relating to the interpretation
or performance of this Agreement shall be determined in
accordance with the provisions of this Section." Dist.
Ct. Op. at 3, 13. The district court concluded that this
language created a presumption of arbitrability; Liberty
failed to rebut the presumption; and no agreement between the
parties excluded this sort of dispute from arbitration.
Id. at 13-14. The district court also rejected
Liberty's preemption argument on the grounds that federal
courts have jurisdiction over ...