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Pinnacle Opportunities, Inc. v. American Federation of State

January 29, 2009

PINNACLE OPPORTUNITIES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
AMERICAN FEDERATION OF STATE, COUNTY, AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES, COUNCIL 31 AND ITS LOCAL 3348, AFL-CIO, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeanne E. Scott, U.S. District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31 and its Local 3348, AFL-CIO's (Union) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (d/e 12) (Motion). Plaintiff Pinnacle Opportunities, Inc. (Pinnacle), brought this action seeking to void an arbitration award made pursuant to the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between Pinnacle and the Union. The Union counterclaimed for an order declaring the arbitration award valid and binding. The Union has moved for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons set forth below, the Court allows the Motion. The arbitration award is valid and binding.

For purposes of the Motion, the Court may consider all pleadings, including the Complaint (d/e 1), Answer to Complaint (d/e 4), Counterclaim (d/e 6), and Pinnacle Opportunities, Inc.'s Answer to Defendant's Counterclaim (d/e 8), and attached Exhibits. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of South Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 452 (7th Cir. 1998). The Decision of the Arbitrator (Decision), attached as Exhibit B to the Complaint, is thus, part of the pleadings that may be considered by the Court.

Both parties have also submitted matters outside the pleadings. Motion, attached Affidavit of Catherine L. Struzynski; Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Rule 12(c) Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (d/e 15), attached Excerpts of Transcript of Proceedings before the Arbitrator. The Court will not consider those submissions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); Northern Indiana Gun & Outdoor Shows, 163 F.3d at 452.

Rule 12(c) motions for judgment on the pleadings are reviewed under the same standard as Rule 12(b)(6) motions. Id. The Court must accept as true all of Pinnacle's well-pleaded factual allegations and draw all inferences in the light most favorable to it. Hager v. City of West Peoria, 84 F.3d 865, 868-69 (7th Cir. 1996); Covington Court, Ltd. v. Village of Oak Brook, 77 F.3d 177, 178 (7th Cir. 1996). The Court, however, is not obligated to give any weight to unsupported conclusions of law. R.J.R. Services, Inc. v. Aetna Cas. and Sur. Co., 895 F.2d 279, 281 (7th Cir. 1989). When read in that light, judgment on the pleadings should be entered if the pleadings fail to set forth a short and plain statement of the claim showing that Pinnacle is entitled to relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 (2007); Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663 (7th Cir. 2007).

STATEMENT OF FACTS

Pinnacle is a not-for-profit corporation that operates ten group homes located in Kankakee, Illinois, providing residential care for developmentally disabled persons. The Union represents Pinnacle's employees under the terms of the CBA. The CBA sets forth a grievance process that provides, ultimately, for arbitration if a grievance is not otherwise resolved. The arbitration provision stated, in part:

In abuse, neglect or exploitation cases, the arbitrator shall limit his/her decision to whether the employee engaged in abuse, neglect or exploitation. In these cases, the arbitrator may only consider the information the Employer had at the time it disciplined or discharged the employee. In addition, the arbitrator may consider any information provided to the Employer by the Union at the applicable grievance meeting.

The arbitrator shall have no authority or jurisdiction to substitute his/her judgment for the discipline or penalty imposed by the Employer.

Complaint, Exhibit A, CBA, Art. 6, § 2. The CBA further stated that, "Disciplinary actions, if imposed, will be for just cause." CBA, art. 7, § 1.

On January 8, 2007, a resident at a Pinnacle group home named Dennis Poppel reported that, on January 7, 2007, Pinnacle employee Bobbie Thornton hit a fellow resident named Tony Nordstrom with her shoe. Pinnacle established an Investigation Committee (Committee) to look into the allegation. The Committee unanimously determined that the allegation was founded and that Thornton had hit Nordstrom with her shoe. Pinnacle then fired Thornton.

Thornton filed a grievance. The grievance went to arbitration. The arbitration hearing was held on January 28, 2008. As will be explained below, Poppel, Nordstrom, Thornton, and another Pinnacle employee Anthony Williams were the only witnesses to the incident. Pinnacle presented Poppel at the arbitration hearing as a witness, but Poppel could not answer the questions presented. Decision, at 21. Pinnacle otherwise relied on the interviews and other investigative reports gathered by the Committee during the investigation. Pinnacle did not present either Nordstrom or Williams to testify at the arbitration hearing. Decision, at 21, 23.

The Arbitrator issued the Decision on May 31, 2008. The Arbitrator first set forth the history of the grievance process and relevant provisions of the CBA. The Arbitrator then set forth the factual background. On January 8, 2007, Poppel told Pinnacle staff members Leola Forman and John Copeland that they had "missed the action" the day before when Nordstrom cursed at Thornton, and Thornton then hit Nordstrom on the head with her shoe, "bam, bam, bam." Decision, at 8-9. The Arbitrator noted that Poppel was severely mentally retarded, was on medications and participated in programs for "maladaptive behavior" including physical aggression, hoarding, and inappropriate verbalization. Pinnacle employee Lynn Diming-Morris testified that Poppel, "makes up stories and lies a few times per week." Decision, at 9.

Forman and Copeland reported the allegations to their supervisor, Beverly Brewster. Brewster then interviewed Poppel. Poppel confirmed his story to Brewster. Brewster reported the matter to her supervisor, Anna Corso. Corso suspended Thornton and set up the Committee to investigate the allegations. The Committee interviewed the residents and staff. Thornton denied hitting Nordstrom. Thornton stated that she ...


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