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Plumbers' Pension Fund v. Domas Mechanical Contractors Inc.

December 10, 1985

PLUMBERS' PENSION FUND, LOCAL 130, U.A.; PLUMBERS' WELFARE FUND, LOCAL 130, U.A.; THE TRUST FUND FOR APPRENTICE AND JOURNEYMAN EDUCATION AND TRAINING, LOCAL 130, U.A.; THE PLUMBING COUNCIL OF CHICAGO-LAND; PLUMBING CONTRACTORS ASSOCIATION OF CHICAGO AND COOK COUNTY; AND EDWARD F. BRABEC, NOT INDIVIDUALLY BUT AS BUSINESS MANAGER OF CHICAGO JOURNEYMEN PLUMBERS' LOCAL UNION 130, U.A., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
DOMAS MECHANICAL CONTRACTORS, INC., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 84 C 3240--Prentice H. Marshall, Judge.

Author: Flaum

Before POSNER and FLAUM, Circuit Judges, and SWYGERT, Senior Circuit Judge.

FLAUM, Circuit Judge.

The plaintiffs, several union employee benefit funds, and the defendant employer are involved in a dispute under a collective bargaining agreement concerning the employer's obligation to contribute to the funds on behalf of certain employees. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement the dispute was submitted to a Joint Arbitration Board, which decided in favor of the plaintiffs. The plaintiffs subsequently filed suit in the district court seeking enforcement of the award. The district court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs and the employer appeals. Because the employer did not challenge the award within the applicable statute of limitations, we affirm.

I.

The defendant is an Illinois corporation doing business as a plumbing contractor. The company employs journeymen plumbers, for whom the Chicago Journeyman Plumbers' Union, Local 130, is the exclusive bargaining representative. The company also employs, "shop help" workers to perform various non-plumbing tasks, including driving the plumbers to service calls and preparing and cleaning up the work sites. According to the company, these "shop help" employees are not permitted to engage in any of the job tasks set forth in the collective bargaining agreement between the company and the union.

The collective bargaining agreement provides, among other things, that the company must make contributions to certain employee benefit funds on behalf of those employees who perform the tasks set forth in the agreement and who therefore are covered by the agreement. The agreement also provides that "disagreements or disputes and all interpretations of this Agreement shall be settled by arbitration," that "the parties hereto agree that all disputes arising between them shall be submitted to the respective Joint Arbitration Boards," and that any decision of the Board will be "final and binding on the parties hereto."

In July, 1981, auditors advised plaintiffs that the company owed $27,255.28 plus late charges to the employee benefit funds for unpaid contributions on behalf of "shop help" employees. The plaintiffs referred the matter to the Joint Arbitration Board. After giving the company notice, the Board held a hearing at which the company and plaintiffs were represented. On December 19, 1983, the Board found that the company had violated the collective bargaining agreement by failing to make contributions on behalf of covered employees, and the Board issued an award to the plaintiffs totalling $27,387.65.

On April 16, 1984, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, seeking enforcement of the Board's award. The plaintiffs alleged, and the company admitted in its answer, that the company had failed to comply with the award and had made none of the required payments to any of the funds. Subsequently, the plaintiffs moved for summary judgment. The company responded by moving to dismiss the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on what it claimed was a jurisdictional ground: "the controversy decided by the Joint Arbitration Board involved persons not parties to the Arbitration Board involved persons not parties to the Arbitration Agreement [sic]." The company also contended that the Board's inadequate notices had denied it due process.

On September 27, 1984, the district court granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs. In an accompanying Memorandum Opinion, the court noted that the company's "jurisdictional" defense in reality involved a dispute over whether the "shop help" employees were covered by the collective bargaining agreement, an issue that required interpretation of the agreement. Since the parties had agreed that all questions of interpretation would be referred to arbitration, the court concluded that the issue had been properly before the Joint Arbitration Board and that the court therefore had to enforce the award. The court further determined that the company had received adequate notice of the Board's hearing. Finally, the court awarded the plaintiffs their reasonable costs and attorneys' fees pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)(1982).

II.

Before this court, the company raises two arguments in support of its assertion that the district court's enforcement of the arbitration award should be overturned. First, the company claims that the Board's decision was not based on the collective bargaining agreement, but rather was arbitrary and capricious. Second, the company contends that the arbitration award violates public policy as embodied in several ERISA provisions. The plaintiffs respond by asserting that this court cannot review the merits of binding arbitration awards and that certain materials contained in the company's brief and appendix should be stricken because they are not in the record.

We decline to rule on any of these arguments. Instead, we hold that the company's failure to seek vacation of the arbitration award within the 90-day limitation period prescribed by the Illinois Arbitration Act, Ill. Ann. Stat. ch. 10, § 112(b) (Smith-Hurd 1975), bars it from challenging the plaintiffs' enforcement of the award. This court previously has recognized that a "defendant's failure to move to vacate [an] arbitration award within the prescribed time period for such a motion precludes it from seeking affirmative relief in a subsequent action to enforce the award." Chauffeurs, Teamsters, Warehousemen and Helpers, Local Union NO. 135 v. Jefferson Trucking Co., 628 F.2d 1023, 1025 (7th Cir. 1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1125, 101 S. Ct. 942, 67 L. Ed. 2d 111 (1981). Since the company's defense to the award's enforcement involves an attack on the award's validity, an attack the company could have made in an action to vacate the award, this case falls within the Jefferson Trucking doctrine. The sole issue we must decide, therefore, is what statute of limitations to apply.

This enforcement action, like Jefferson Trucking, was brought under section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U.S.C. § 185. The LMRA provides no statute of limitations for actions challenging arbitration awards. Accordingly, the United States Supreme Court has held that, as a matter of federal law, timeliness under section 301 is to be determined "by reference to the appropriate state statute of limitations." UAW v. Hoosier Cardinal Corp., 383 U.S. 696, 704-05, 16 L. Ed. 2d 192, 86 S. Ct. 1107 (1966). In Jefferson Trucking we decided that the Indiana version of the Uniform Arbitration Act, which contains a 90-day limitation period, applied. ...


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