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Earle v. NetJets Aviation

July 6, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Gregory L. Frost

Magistrate Judge Mark R. Abel


This case requires the Court to review an arbitrator's award that was issued pursuant to the Railway Labor Act ("RLA"), 45 U.S.C. et seq. Plaintiff, Richard Earle, and Defendant, NetJets Aviation, Inc., have filed competing briefs seeking judgment on the administrative record. (Docs. # 12, 14, 15.) For the reasons that follow, the Court enters judgment in favor of NetJets Aviation, Inc.

I. Background

Plaintiff, Richard Earle, had been a pilot for Defendant, NetJets Aviation, Inc. ("NetJets") since April 1994. On December 3, 2001, NetJets Anti-Drug and Alcohol Technician Rita Lohr called Earle on his cellular phone. Lohr instructed Earle to report for a random drug and alcohol test, but after Earle told Lohr that he was absent from work that due to illness, she cancelled the test. Lohr subsequently called Earle again on December 17, 2001 and instructed him to report to a third-party medical facility for a drug and alcohol test. Earle was again not at work at the time of the contact, but was at his home in Pensacola, Florida. The testing facility was approximately 350 miles from Earle's home, but one mile from the Jacksonville airport from which Earle worked.

Earle arrived at the testing facility five hours and fifty minutes after speaking with Lohr. He took the test, which did not detect either the presence of alcohol or drugs. NetJets removed Earle from flight status on that date, however, and on December 21, 2001, NetJets Chief Pilot Jim Peters placed Earle on unpaid suspension. The grounds for this suspension were that Earle had refused to take a drug and alcohol test by taking so long to arrive at the testing facility. The company also notified the Federal Aviation Administration, which can investigate and punish testing refusals.

Earle filed a grievance over the suspension on December 26, 2001. Thereafter, on January 3, 2002, Peters informed Earle that he was being terminated for refusing to submit to a drug and alcohol test.*fn1 Earle filed a grievance related to his termination the next day. A Systems Board of Adjustment hearing was held on March 22, 2002 in regard to both grievances, but when the Board was unable to reach a resolution, the matter proceeded to arbitration. The arbitrator issued a September 30, 2003 decision in which he concluded that Earle had indeed refused to submit to the alcohol test.

Earle subsequently filed the instant action on September 10, 2004. (Doc. # 1.) He asserts that the arbitral decision conflicted with the collective bargaining agreement (Count I), that the decision imposed additional requirements not contained in the agreement (Count II), and that the decision neither had rational support in nor could rationally be derived from the agreement (Count III). The matter is to be decided on the administrative record (Docs. # 17, 18) and the parties' merit briefing (Docs. # 12, 14, 15).

II. Analysis

A. Standard Involved

The Sixth Circuit has explained that a federal court has a "very narrow standard of review" of an arbitration decision under the RLA so that

An arbitrator's award will be overturned for failure to draw its essence from the agreement only where 1) the award conflicts with the express terms of the agreement, 2) the award imposes additional requirements that are not expressly provided in the agreement, 3) the award is without rational support or cannot be rationally derived from the terms of the agreement, or 4) the award is based on general considerations of fairness and equity rather than the precise terms of the agreement.

Airline Professionals Ass'n of Int'l. Broth. of Teamsters, Local Union No. 1224, AFL-CIO v. ABX Air, Inc., 274 F.3d 1023, 1030 (6th Cir. 2001). Arbitral decisions are thus subject to a standard of review that has been characterized as "among the narrowest known to the law." Id. (citing Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe R.R. Co. v. Buell, 480 U.S. 557, 563 (1987)). See also International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO v. United Parcel Service Co., 447 F.3d 491, 498 (6th Cir. 2006).

The Sixth Circuit indicated that "this standard of review is narrower even than the highly deferential 'abuse of discretion' standard." Jones v. Seaboard System Railroad, 783 F.2d 639, 642 (6th Cir. 1986). The Supreme Court ...

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