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Chicago v. Wells

decided: July 9, 1974.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 71 C 52 BERNARD M. DECKER, Judge.

Hastings, Senior Circuit Judge, Sprecher, Circuit Judge, and Steckler, District Judge.*fn*

Author: Hastings

HASTINGS, Senior Circuit Judge.

In October, 1964, plaintiff Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Company (Railroad) discharged defendant Eugene E. Wells from his position of conductor for having violated certain operating rules. Wells conceded the violation and did not then challenge his discharge pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement in force. Months later he sought a leniency reinstatement which the Railroad denied. Thereafter, in October, 1967, Wells filed an ex parte submission with the First Division of the National Railroad Adjustment Board (Division) making claim for reinstatement and full compensation, alleging his discharge to have been wrongful and unjust.*fn1

Under procedures followed by the Division at that time, the Railroad had 30 days to reply to Wells' claim. This time was subject to being extended automatically for three consecutive periods of 30 days each upon request made to the Executive Secretary of the Division. The Division had delegated this authority to the Executive Secretary by formal resolution on June 15, 1954. It was exercised by the Executive Secretary and his Administrative Assistant by regularly granting extensions of time to parties in the conduct of the internal administrative affairs of the Division. However, the Division had no formal rule regulating the manner in which requests for extensions of time should be made.

The Railroad requested and was granted two extensions of time to reply to Wells' claim, the second of which expired on January 29, 1968. The Railroad prepared a request for a third extension which was dated January 29, 1968, and incorporated it in a letter of that date. There is a dispute as to whether the letter was mailed on the 29th or 30th. However, it is undisputed that the postage meter mark on the letter was dated January 29th and that the official Post Office postmark thereon was dated January 30th. The Division received the letter on January 31st.

The Division went by the postmark of January 30th and ruled that the Railroad's request was not timely made, being deemed to be one day late. The request was accordingly denied. The Division concedes that if this letter had been postmarked January 29th, instead of January 30th, the extension would have been granted as a matter of course. In short, the Railroad was defaulted because of an untimely request for the third extension of time.

The effect of the denial of the third extension was to foreclose the Railroad from appearing before the Division to contest Wells' claim. The Division does not customarily conduct hearings in disputes before it. It usually makes its decisions on the basis of the parties' written submissions, but will, upon request, hear oral arguments limited to matters contained in the written submissions. As a consequence, the Railroad was barred from presenting its written submissions of evidence, its brief, argument and citations of authority.

The Division did not consider the claim of Wells until October 3, 1968, some eight months following its rejection of the Railroad's third request for a 30-day extension. At that time the Division became deadlocked with respect to Wells' claim and, because of intervening events, the Division could not proceed further until April 23, 1970.

On January 8, 1971, the Railroad filed this action against the First Division and its members (but not against Wells) seeking to enjoin them from conducting further proceedings with respect to the claim of Wells until the Railroad had been afforded an opportunity to appear and make a full defense to the claim. The complaint was grounded upon the Railroad's claim of denial of its rights to due process under the Fifth Amendment, as well as upon the provisions of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 151, et seq. Jurisdiction was asserted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1337. Although service of process was made on all defendants, the Division did not appear or answer the complaint. Separate appearances and answers were entered and filed by the labor members and by the carrier members of the Division.

Thereafter, in a memorandum opinion dated October 7, 1971, the district court denied the Railroad's prayer for injunctive relief on the ground that it was premature, but without prejudice to its being renewed if the Division should enter an award against the Railroad without permitting it to make a defense. The Division and its members continued to deny the Railroad the right to file its tendered submission or otherwise to present evidence in defense of the claim of Wells. Thereafter, at a hearing held in Chicago on April 17, 1972, without hearing evidence on behalf of the Railroad, an award was entered by the Division sustaining Wells' claim.

On April 24, 1972, with leave of the district court, the Railroad filed a supplemental complaint in which Wells was added as a party defendant, the prayer for injunctive relief set out in the original complaint was renewed, and a prayer was added requesting the court to review the award in accordance with Section 3 First (q) of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. § 153 First (q).*fn2 Wells appeared and filed his answer to the supplemental complaint and a counterclaim praying for enforcement of the award to him. Thereupon, the Railroad filed a motion for summary judgment, pursuant to Rule 56, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which was supported by affidavits.

Although the affidavits in support of summary judgment were not controverted, the district court deemed it would be a wiser course to have a full hearing where all relevant facts could be disclosed, denied the motion for summary judgment and set the matter for hearing. A full hearing was held in open court. On May 18, 1973, the district court made and entered its written findings of fact and conclusions of law and rendered judgment favorable to the Railroad.

The findings of fact stated in great detail the procedural matters above set out as well as supporting factual detail. In particular, Finding 14 is pertinent to the mailing of the ...

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