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Union Pacific Railroad Company v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Committee of Adjustment, Central Region (08-604) 
Pre-arbitration conference is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to National Railway Adjustment Board arbitration
Decided December 8, 2009 
[Full text of opinion

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Held: Pre-arbitration conference is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to National Railway Adjustment Board arbitration 

Five railway employees' grievances went to arbitration before a National Railway Adjustment Board panel. The panel dismissed the cases for lack of jurisdiction, because there was no proof that the parties had engaged in the statutorily-required pre-arbitration conference. The district court agreed. The 7th Circuit reversed, on the ground that the arbitration panel denied the Union constitutional due process. 

The US Supreme Court unanimously affirmed, for different reasons. The Court held that the 7th Circuit erred by resolving the case on constitutional rather than statutory grounds. The Court found that the statutory requirement of a pre-arbitration conference was not jurisdictional. Therefore, the arbitration panel was wrong when it refused to adjudicate the grievances on the false premise that it lacked jurisdiction. The requirement to have a conference is a "claims-processing rule" and does not go to the panel's jurisdiction. As the Court put it, "By refusing to adjudicate cases on the false premise that it lacked power to hear them, the ... panel failed 'to conform, or confine itself' to the jurisdiction Congress gave it."

Case below:  Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Committee of Adjustment, Central Region v. Union Pacific Railroad Company (7th Cir 04/09/2008); rehearing denied, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Committee of Adjustment, Central Region v. Union Pacific Railroad Company (7th Cir 08/11/2008)  
Official docket sheet 
Oral argument:  October 7, 2009.  
Certiorari granted February 23, 2009.   

Question presented:  

The Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. §§151 et seq., sets forth a comprehensive framework to resolve labor disputes in the railroad industry through binding arbitration before the National Railroad Adjustment Board ("the Board"). The statute provides that the Board’s judgment "shall be conclusive ... except ... for": (1) "failure ... to comply" with the Act, (2) "failure... to conform or confine" its order "to matters within ... the [Board’s] jurisdiction," and (3) "fraud or corruption" by a Board member. 45 U.S.C. §153 First (q). This case involves the Board’s denial of employee grievance claims for failure to comply with its rules governing proof that the dispute had been submitted to a "conference" between the parties. 45 U.S.C. §152 Second. The Seventh Circuit held that the award must be set aside because the Board violated due process through retroactive recognition of a supposedly "new rule." The questions presented are: 

1. Whether the Seventh Circuit erroneously held, in square conflict with decisions of the Third, Sixth, Tenth, and Eleventh Circuits, that the RLA includes a fourth, implied exception that authorizes courts to set aside final arbitration awards for alleged violations of due process. 

2. Whether the Seventh Circuit erroneously held that the Board adopted a "new," retroactive interpretation of the standards governing its proceedings in violation of due process. 

Certiorari Documents: 

Briefs on the merits: 

Counsel:

  • For Petitioner Union Pacific Railroad Company: Maureen E. Mahoney; Latham & Watkins LLP; 555 11th Street, NW, Suite 1000; Washington, DC  20004; Maureen.Mahoney@LW.com; (202) 637-2200. 
  • For Respondent Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers: Edgar N. James; James & Hoffman PC; 1101 17th Street NW Suite 510; Washington, DC  20036; (202) 496-0500. 

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