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International Union of Operating Engineers, Local# 965 v. S. Crider Construction & Supply

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Springfield Division

June 11, 2014

S. CRIDER CONSTRUCTION & SUPPLY (an Illinois Corporation), Defendant


SUE E. MYERSCOUGH, District Judge.

After Defendant S. Crider Construction & Supply was found in default on April 1, 2014, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment (d/e 8), which is now before the Court. The Court GRANTS the Motion in part because Defendant failed to answer or otherwise plead to Plaintiff's Petition to Compel Arbitration and Plaintiff is entitled to costs. The Court DENIES the Motion in part because Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney's fees.


Plaintiff brought this action against Defendant under Section 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185. On or around June 12, 2012, Defendant, an Illinois corporation, and Plaintiff, a labor organization, signed a Standard Form Area Agreement. The Agreement contains a Grievance and Arbitration Provision that states a party who has a grievance "shall have the right to submit, in writing, the unresolved grievance to final and binding arbitration...." See Agreement, Article 7 § 3, Exhibit A, d/e 1-1 at 10.

After Defendant allegedly failed to pay benefits and file benefit forms as required under the Agreement, Plaintiff sought to submit a grievance to arbitration. Upon receiving Plaintiff's first request for arbitration, Defendant sought and obtained an extension of time to pay the amount in arrears. When one of these deadlines passed without a payment, Plaintiff wrote to Defendant demanding that Defendant submit the pending grievance to arbitration. Plaintiff's second letter demanding arbitration went unanswered, and Plaintiff filed the Petition To Compel Arbitration in this Court (d/e 1). The Petition sought an order from the Court compelling Defendant to process the grievance and to arbitrate or submit the grievance under the procedure established in the "Grievance and Arbitration" provision of the Agreement. The Petition also sought attorney's fees and costs incurred by Plaintiff in having to file and pursue the Petition, and any other relief the Court found appropriate.

Although Defendant was personally served with a Summons directing him to respond to the Petition within 21 days, Defendant did not answer or otherwise plead to the allegations in the Petition. See Summons, d/e 4. Therefore, on April 1, 2014 and pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a), Magistrate Judge Schanzle-Haskins entered an Order of Default (d/e 7).


Upon Defendant's default, the well-pleaded facts relating to liability in Plaintiff's Petition are taken as true. See Dundee Cement Co. v. Howard Pipe & Concrete Prods., Inc. 722 F.2d 1319 , 1323 (7th Cir. 1983). The Court's inquiry here is restricted to whether the current dispute about payments and filing benefit forms should be submitted to arbitration. In analyzing this claim, the Court will not rule on the potential merits of the claim underlying Plaintiff's grievance. See AT & T Technologies, Inc. v. Communications Workers , 475 U.S. 643, 651 (1986) ("[I]t is for the arbitrator to determine the relative merits of the parties' substantive interpretations of the agreement"); see also United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Mfg., Energy, Allied Indus. & Serv. Workers Int'l Union v. TriMas Corp. , 531 F.3d 531, 536 (7th Cir. 2008)("If the parties have in fact agreed to arbitrate their dispute, then they have bargained for the arbitrator's interpretation of their contract-not ours."). Rather, the Court will decide only on whether Plaintiff is entitled to the relief sought in the Petition to Compel Arbitration. See In re Catt , 368 F.3d 789, 793 (7th Cir. 2004). While the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to the specific relief of compelling arbitration of the grievance and costs, Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney's fees because Plaintiff has not shown Defendant asserted a defense in bad faith.

1. Plaintiff has shown Default Judgment is appropriate.

The Court has jurisdiction over violations of contracts between an employer and a labor organization under section 301 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). And this Court has the power to enforce the arbitration provision of the parties' Agreement. See United Steel, Paper & Forestry, 531 F.3d 531 , 536 (7th Cir. 2008) ("Whether a party has agreed to arbitrate a particular dispute is a question for the courts to decide.")

A presumption of arbitrability exists when an agreement like the present one contains an arbitration clause, and the Court will issue an order to arbitrate if the clause can be read to cover the asserted dispute. AT&T Tech. , 475 U.S. at 650 (stating that the presumption is "particularly applicable" when the clause is broad) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff's Petition and the attached exhibits demonstrate that the Plaintiff's grievance about Defendant's failure to report hours and pay benefits falls within the Agreement's broad arbitration clause. Accordingly, Plaintiff is entitled to the specific relief on the request to compel arbitration of Plaintiff's grievance. Whether Plaintiff is entitled to the additional relief of attorney's fees is a more complicated question.

2. Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney's fees.

The Court will award attorney's fees to Plaintiff under § 301 of the LMRA only if Defendant's defense was "frivolous, which our cases define to mean brought in bad faith-brought to harass rather than to win." Local 232, Allied Indus. Workers of Am., AFL-CIO v. Briggs & Stratton Corp. , 837 F.2d 782, 789 (7th Cir. 1988) (quoting Miller Brewing Co. v. Brewery Workers Local Union No. 9 , 739 F.2d 1159 (7th Cir. 1984) and reaffirming the standard for awarding attorney's fees under § 301). Plaintiff contends that Defendant's failure to respond to the Petition or argue why the grievance should not be submitted to arbitration shows "bad faith" and demonstrates that Defendant "was motivated to harass rather than to win.'" See Memorandum in Support of Motion for Default, d/e 9 at 5 (quoting Local 881 United Food and Commercial Workers Union v. Food Club of Ind., No. 11-161, 2011 WL 3501721, at *2 (N.D. IN. Aug. 10, 2011)).

The Court declines to infer anything about Defendant's motive from his silence either before or after Plaintiff filed the Petition to Compel. Defendant's inaction in responding to Plaintiff's demands for arbitration before the lawsuit is the reason Plaintiff's filed the Petition to Compel in this Court. Under the principle known as the "American Rule, " "[e]ach litigant pays his own attorney's fees, win or lose, unless a statute or contract provides otherwise." Marx v. Gen. Revenue Corp. , 133 S.Ct. 1166, 1175 (2013) (internal citations omitted); see also Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y , 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975) ("In the United States, the prevailing litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorneys' fee from the loser."). The Supreme Court has additionally recognized the inherent power of the federal courts to award attorney's fees only in a discrete set of circumstances. See Chambers v. NASCO, Inc. , 501 U.S. 32, 45-46 (1991) (finding that a court has ...

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