West v. Connrail

LOCATION: Florida Department of Labor

DOCKET NO.: 85-1804
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-1987)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit

CITATION: 481 US 35 (1987)
ARGUED: Feb 25, 1987
DECIDED: Apr 06, 1987

Laurence Stephen Gold - on behalf of Respondents
Paul Alan Levy - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for West v. Connrail

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - February 25, 1987 in West v. Connrail

William H. Rehnquist:

You may proceed whenever you're ready.

Paul Alan Levy:

Mr. Chief Justice and may it please the Court:

This is a so-called hybrid action by an employee against his union and employer, against the employer for breach of a collective bargaining and against the union for mishandling a grievance which it had the exclusive authority to prosecute.

This Court has developed the hybrid cause of action over the past 40 years in cases beginning with Steele and running through Vaca and Hines, Chosek v. Omara, Bowen v. Postal Service.

But in the course of developing the cause of action, neither Congress nor this Court had developed a statute of limitations to govern hybrid actions in the course of creating the hybrid action.

Thus, in UPS v. Mitchell and DelCostello v. Teamsters, the Court grappled with the question of what was the most appropriate rule to adopt by analogy to fill this gap in federal law.

Ultimately in DelCostello, the Court made a policy judgment that, as compared to three or six-year limitation periods, which is what were at issue in Mitchell and DelCostello, or a three month statute of limitations, also at issue in Mitchell, a six month limitation period set forth for unfair labor practice charges before the NLRB was the most appropriate and therefore should be used as the statute of limitations for DFR actions, duty of fair representation actions, in district court.

What the Court did not decide in DelCostello was what had to be done within the six month period.

That is what is at issue in this case.

The case arose when Petitioner West was discharged in November of 1981.

Over the course of more than two years, Petitioner was repeatedly assured by his union representative that the union was pursuing a grievance for reinstatement and back pay.

During this period of time he was represented solely by his union, and indeed his union discouraged him from consulting a lawyer on the ground that it would be a waste of money during this period.

In February 1984, West received a notice from Conrail saying that, solely as a matter of leniency, he would be reinstated.

The notice did not refer to the pending union grievance and did not say that the union had abandoned his claim for back pay.

However, in March of 1984 West determined that the union had in fact abandoned his back pay claim.

Now, had West sought to institute unfair labor practice proceedings at the National Labor Relations Board, he could have gone to the NLRB on the last day of the six month limitation period.

He would have had to fill out a few blanks in an administrative form which we have set forth as the last page of our brief.

The form would have been filed and served on the same day, and service would have been effective upon mailing.

Instead, West had to find a lawyer, although he had been unemployed for a period of more than two years.

He had to make financial arrangements to retain the lawyer.

The lawyer had to investigate his claim, draft an eleven page complaint under the strictures of Rule 11, and file suit.

Antonin Scalia:

Most of those things we can't make up for just by giving you service time as well.

Do you want us to extend it beyond service time?

Do you want us to add a certain number of days for finding a lawyer?

Paul Alan Levy:

No, we do not suggest that.

Antonin Scalia:

Well, so.

Paul Alan Levy:

But we do suggest that the things that have to be done in order to file a complaint are greater than the things--

Antonin Scalia:

Well, that's so, but the only one that's relevant here is the service time.

Paul Alan Levy:

--It is in part the only thing that is relevant, although if in fact one of our arguments is that if in fact the Court is going to borrow the service requirement of Section 10(b) as well as the limitations period, then the question will arise, why not borrow the other things that the board has said are all that a charging party has to do in order to file an unfair labor practice claim?

And we propose to draw a line, a clear line, at the limitations period and not go on to the other timeliness rules, including the service rule.