The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, District Judge:
Does a decision by a Public Law Board pursuant to the Railway
Labor Act (RLA), 45 U.S.C. § 151-161 (1926), have a preclusive
effect on the availability of damages in a subsequent action
brought pursuant to the Federal Employers' Liability Act
(FELA), 45 U.S.C. § 51-60 (1982)?
Plaintiff Daniel Kulavic (Kulavic), a carman in the employ of
the Chicago & Illinois Midland Railway Company (Railroad), was
involved in a physical altercation with his foreman on August
30, 1985. Kulavic was injured in the altercation and was placed
on an eighty day working suspension. After conducting a
physical examination of Kulavic and consulting with Kulavic's
privately retained physicians (three of whom specifically
released him to return to work with the fourth not commenting
on his physical ability to work) the Railroad's General Surgeon
deemed Kulavic capable of resuming his former position as a
carman. Kulavic was instructed by letter to return to work on
June 9, 1986.
Kulavic failed to report to work on June 9, 1986, and
likewise failed to report on June 10, 11, 12, 13, 16, or 17. He
contacted his supervisor and contended that his continued
absence was due to the refusal of his (Kulavic's) private
physicians to authorize his return to work. Kulavic's
supervisor responded that any absence from work for medical
reasons had to be substantiated by "medical evidence from a
reputable physician." Evidence subsequently submitted by
Kulavic failed to meet the Railroad's requirements.
On July 15, 1986, an investigation was conducted by the
Railroad regarding Kulavic's failure to report to work as
instructed. Kulavic was present and represented at the
investigation. In response to the Railroad's allegation of
unauthorized absence, Kulavic again contended that his physical
condition prevented his return. After considering the evidence
and testimony offered by Kulavic, the Railroad rejected his
claims that he was physically unable to return to his former
position as a carman and terminated his employment on July 25,
Approximately one month after the denial of his appeal by PLB
# 4284, Kulavic filed the present FELA action against the
Railroad seeking damages for injuries suffered as a result of
the altercation with his foreman on August 30, 1985. On the
issue of liability, the jury returned a verdict for Kulavic.
The preclusive effect of PLB 4284's decision on damages
available to Kulavic in the FELA action at bar is now before
The RLA was enacted by Congress in 1926 to provide for the
prompt, efficient, and final resolution of labor disputes
stemming from railroad collective bargaining agreements.
See Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Sheehan, 439 U.S. 89, 99
S.Ct. 399, 58 L.Ed.2d 354 (1978). Through the enactment of the
RLA, Congress specifically intended to keep disputes which fell
within the purview of the Act out of the courts. Sheehan, 439
U.S. at 94, 99 S.Ct. at 402. This desire for finality is
reflected in the section of the RLA which creates the National
Railroad Adjustment Board.*fn1 The RLA provides in relevant
The awards of the several divisions of the
Adjustment Board shall be stated in writing. A
copy of the awards shall be furnished to the
respective parties to the controversy, and the
awards shall be final and binding upon both parties
to the dispute. In case a dispute arises involving
an interpretation of the award the division of the
Board upon request of either party shall interpret
the award in the light of the dispute.
45 U.S.C. § 153, subd. 1(m) (1986) (emphasis added).
The FELA, enacted in 1906, was intended to provide a tort
remedy for railroad workers injured on the job. See Lancaster
v. Norfolk and Western Railway Co., 773 F.2d 807 (7th Cir.
1985). The main purpose of the Act was to give injured railroad
workers the ability to overcome traditional defenses to tort
liability which had barred their actions in the past.
Lancaster, 773 F.2d at 813. Because of its broad intended scope
and language, the FELA has been interpreted to include both the
negligent actions of ...