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Central States v. Central Cartage Company

May 28, 1996

CENTRAL STATES, SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST AREAS PENSION FUND, CENTRAL STATES, SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST AREAS HEALTH AND WELFARE FUND AND HOWARD MCDOUGALL, TRUSTEE, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,

v.

CENTRAL CARTAGE COMPANY, A MICHIGAN CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 94 C 774 Elaine E. Bucklo, Judge.

Before COFFEY, MANION and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

COFFEY, Circuit Judge.

ARGUED JANUARY 3, 1996

DECIDED MAY 28, 1996

Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund (collectively the "Pension Fund") filed suit against Central Cartage Company pursuant to section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. sec. 1145, claiming that Central Cartage had failed to fulfill its contractual obligation to pay employer contributions to the plaintiffs' pension fund. Nearly a year after the suit was filed, Central Cartage moved to dismiss the case and compel alternative dispute resolution. The district court denied the motion, finding that Central Cartage had waived its rights to arbitration or alternative dispute resolution. Central Cartage appeals; we dismiss for lack of appellate jurisdiction.

I. Background

Central Cartage is a Michigan corporation engaged in primarily local trucking. The company (along with other trucking companies) entered into a nationwide collective bargaining agreement (known as the National Master Freight Agreement, or "NMFA") with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, spanning the period April 1, 1991 to March 31, 1994. Central Cartage also entered into a supplemental agreement with the Union specifically covering all "truck drivers, helpers, dockmen, warehousemen, checkers, power-lift operators, hostlers, and such other employees . . . engaged in local pickup, delivery and assembling of freight."

The supplemental agreement contains a provision obligating Central Cartage to contribute to the Pension Funds for Central Cartage's employees. The agreement also provides for alternative dispute resolution:

Disputes or questions of interpretation concerning the requirement to make contributions on behalf of particular employees or classifications of employees shall be submitted directly to the Conference Joint Area Committee by either the Employer, the Local Union, or the Trustees.

In February 1994, the Pension Funds filed suit against Central Cartage pursuant to the provisions of ERISA: The Pension Funds alleged that Central Cartage had intentionally mis-classified certain employees as "casual" instead of "regular" employees (which lowered the required level of contribution to the pension funds) and had failed to pay employer contributions owed to the Pension Fund on behalf of these employees.

In April 1994, Central Cartage answered the complaint, alleging eleven affirmative defenses, including the Pension Fund's failure to exhaust administrative remedies. In a status report to the district court in July 1994, Central Cartage noted an unresolved issue of whether the Pension Fund had failed to exhaust its administrative remedies.

In anticipation of trial the parties conducted discovery. Although the record is not clear whether discovery proceedings were completed, in January 1995, Central Cartage filed a motion in district court to dismiss the case and compel alternative dispute resolution, as provided for in the supplemental agreement to the collective bargaining agreement. The district court ruled that Central Cartage had waived its contractual right to any alternative dispute resolution because the company had failed to "promptly" invoke the provision in the agreement "until nearly a year after this case was filed," conducting discovery, and filing status reports. See Cabinetree of Wis. v. Kraftmaid Cabinetry, Inc., 50 F.3d 388, 390-91 (7th Cir. 1995) (holding that failure of a party to promptly move for arbitration after litigation has been commenced against that party is presumptive evidence that it has waived any contractual right to arbitration). Central Cartage made a motion for reconsideration; the court denied it. Instead of proceeding to trial, Central Cartage appeals the decision of the district court denying its motion to dismiss the lawsuit and compel alternative dispute resolution.

II. Analysis

A threshold issue raised by the Pension Funds is our jurisdiction to review the appeal. Normally, only final judgments may be appealed. 28 U.S.C. sec. 1291; Carson v. American Brands, Inc., 450 U.S. 79, 83 (1981). However, Central Cartage has asserted two grounds for appellate jurisdiction: 28 U.S.C. sec. 1292(a)(1) (jurisdiction to review certain interlocutory decisions) or in the alternative 9 ...


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