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Flight Options LLC v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 1108

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio

March 30, 2017

FLIGHT OPTIONS, LLC and FLEXJET, LLC, Plaintiffs and Counter-Defendants,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, LOCAL 1108; INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS; and BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, AIRLINE DIVISION, Defendants and Counter-Plaintiffs.

          OPINION & ORDER [RESOLVING DOCS. 73, 74]

          JAMES S. GWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On January 24, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part Counter-Plaintiffs International Brotherhood of Teamsters, et al. (“Pilots Union” or “Union”) motion for contempt.[1]The Court also granted in part and denied in part Pilots Union's second motion for preliminary injunctive relief.[2]

         On February 22, 2017, Counter-Defendants Flight Options, et al. (“Carriers”) appealed the Court's order.[3] On March 6, 2017, Carriers filed a motion to stay the order pending appeal.[4]

         On March 10, 2017, Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union filed a motion to clarify bond.[5]

         For the reasons below, the Court DENIES Carriers' motion to stay and ORDERS that Pilots Union must post a $10, 500 bond to make the injunction effective.

         I. Factual Background

         On April 22, 2016, Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union filed a motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against Counter-Defendants Carriers (“Carriers”).[6]The lawsuit stems from pilot integration issues and collective bargaining issues after a merger between airline carriers Flight Options and Flexjets.

         On May 25, 2016, this Court granted the preliminary injunction.[7] The Court ordered Carriers to accept the Pilots Union's integrated seniority list, rescind the voluntary separation package (“first VSP”), and bargain in good faith with the Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union.[8]

         On June 8, 2016, Counter-Defendants Carriers appealed the Court's May 25 order.[9]Counter-Defendants' appeal is now pending before the Sixth Circuit.[10]

         On October 28, 2016, the Court ordered Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union to post a $125, 000 bond to cover any costs or damages Counter-Defendants Carriers may suffer should the Sixth Circuit find this Court improperly enjoined the Carriers.[11]

         On October 25, 2016, Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union filed a motion to find Counter-Defendants Carriers in contempt for violating the preliminary injunction.

         Pilots Union also moved for further temporary and preliminary injunctive relief.[12] The Union argued that the Carriers violated the original preliminary injunction by failing to rescind the first VSP and by failing to negotiate collective bargaining issues in good faith.[13] The Union requested further injunctive relief (1) requiring Carriers to bargain and (2) preventing Carriers from transferring certain aircraft abroad to one of their European subsidiaries.[14]

         On January 24, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union's motion for contempt and granted in part and denied in part Pilots Union's motion for further injunctive relief.[15]

         As to the contempt order, the Court denied Pilots Union's request to rescind the first VSP as to retired pilots because the Union withdrew their request.[16] The Court ordered the parties to finalize the new VSP they negotiated (“second VSP'”).[17] The parties complied.[18]

         As to the request for further injunctive relief, the Court ordered Carriers to bargain in good faith over Railway Labor Act (“RLA”) Section 6 issues.[19] The Court found Pilots Union's request to prevent Carriers from transferring aircraft to Europe premature.[20]

         On February 22, 2017, Counter-Defendant Carriers appealed the Court's order.[21]Counter-Defendants' appeal is now pending before the Sixth Circuit.

         On March 6, 2017, Carriers filed a motion to stay the Court's order pending appeal.[22]

         Carriers argue a stay is appropriate because the Sixth Circuit is likely to issue an opinion overturning the January 24 contempt order's underlying basis, the Court's May 25 order.[23]Carriers also argue that this Court should stay the January 25 preliminary injunction order because it contains advisory opinions that will skew the parties' arbitration process.[24]

         Pilots Union argues that a stay is unwarranted because Carriers show neither likelihood of success on the merits nor irreparable injury if the case is not stayed.[25]

         On March 10, 2017, Counter-Plaintiff Pilots Union filed a motion to clarify bond.[26]

         II. Motion to Stay

         Defendants “bear[ ] the burden of showing that the circumstances justify” staying a preliminary injunction pending appeal.[27] When deciding whether to stay an injunction, this Court considers similar factors to those considered when deciding whether an injunction should be ordered.

         In deciding a motion to stay, courts consider: “(1) whether the [movant has] a likelihood of success on the merits; (2) whether they will suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a stay; (3) whether the requested injunctive relief will substantially injure other interested parties; and (4) where the public interest lies.”[28] These factors “are not prerequisites that must be met, but interrelated considerations that must be balanced.”[29]

         A. Success on the merits

         As a preliminary matter, the Court addresses Carriers' contention that the January 24 order is littered with advisory opinions rising to reversible error. The argument is overblown.

         For example, Carriers argue that the Court's reference to Counter-Defendants as “Carriers” is grounds for reversal because not all defendant companies fit the Railway Labor Act's (“RLA”) definition of “Carriers.”[30]

         This Court refers to Counter-Defendants as “Carriers” for brevity, not to communicate the legal standing of each defendant company under the RLA. Shortening Defendants' names to “Carriers” is as insignificant as using the RLA acronym instead of the Act's full title.

         Carriers also argue that the Court's reference to Flairjet as Flexjet's U.K. “subsidiary” is ripe for reversal because Flairjet is not their subsidiary.[31] The Court's word choice here is similarly insignificant.

         The Union categorized Flairjet as Flexjet's subsidiary, and the Court used that language in its opinion.[32] But whether a parent-subsidiary relationship exists was irrelevant to the Court's decision. The Court found the question surrounding Flairjet premature, and no order was issued anyway.[33]

         The purpose of appellate review of a preliminary injunction is to identify abuse of discretion, [34] not to police diction. This Court's vocabulary choices are not grounds for appeal.

         With that in mind, the Court turns to why Counter-Plaintiffs Pilots Union are likely to succeed on appeal as to the Court's contempt and injunctive relief orders.

         Contempt

         Carriers argue the Sixth Circuit is likely to overturn the Court's May 25, 2016, order for three reasons. First, Carriers argue that they had no duty to bargain over a VSP before offering it to the pilots, and even if they did, the issue is a minor dispute for the arbitrator to decide.

         Second, Carriers argue there was insufficient evidence that the parties reached a full agreement on the second VSP, and Carriers therefore were not in contempt for failing to memorialize an agreement.

         Pilots Union responds that Carriers and the Pilots Union have already memorialized the new VSP and filed a joint voluntarily dismissal of that portion of this lawsuit.[35] The parties have settled the VSP issue. Thus, the issue is no longer addressable here or on appeal.[36]

         The Court agrees with this argument. The Court stands by its analysis in the May 25 injunction-Carriers were required to bargain over a VSP before issuing it to pilots.[37] But the issue is now moot. After negotiations following this Court's VSP finding, the parties reached a new VSP agreement and memorialized it.[38] Having negotiated an agreement on the VSP, the parties stipulated to a dismissal of the VSP-portion of this lawsuit.[39] Carriers are therefore unlikely to succeed on appeal. The issue has gone away.

         Third, Carriers argue that the Court issued an advisory opinion as to Carriers' failure to rescind the first VSP for retired pilots. Pilots Union initially requested a contempt finding but later withdrew the request.[40] While the Court found that Carriers' failure to rescind the agreements likely violated the May 25 order, it denied Pilots Union's request as moot.[41]

         Pilots Union responds that because the Court did not in fact find Carriers in contempt, there is nothing to appeal.[42]

         The Supreme Court counsels courts against issuing advisory opinions.[43] Such a rule exists to prevent “an opinion advising what the law would be upon a hypothetical state of facts.”[44] But here, no hypothetical was involved.

         Although the remedy issue was moot because the Union recognized the logistical difficulties in withdrawing pilots' retirement benefits, whether Carriers violated the Court's initial injunction was a “definite and concrete” legal question.[45]

         Furthermore, the Court's conclusion that Carriers violated the order is immaterial. Because the Court did not find Carriers in contempt, no adverse order exists. Carriers' “likelihood of success on the merits” is immaterial-any remedy from a successful appeal would be futile.

         Further Injunctive Relief

         Carriers argue that the Sixth Circuit will likely reverse this Court's order to bargain because it contains three advisory opinions on minor disputes over which this Court lacks jurisdiction.[46] Specifically, Carriers argue that the following are minor disputes: (1) whether Flexjet is an “Affiliate” of Flight Options under the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement (“CBA”); (2) the scope of § 1.5(c)(4) of the 2010 CBA in relation to RLA Section 6; and (3) whether § 1.5(c)(4) issues must be resolved before RLA Section 6 bargaining.[47] Carriers' central concern is that the Court's order will have undue influence over the arbitration process.

         Pilots Union responds that the Court simply fulfilled its preliminary role in determining which disputes are arbitrable, and making that determination required interpreting contractual provisions.[48] The Union goes on to state that “nonbinding dicta is not the basis for judicial relief in the form of an ‘emergency' stay in any case.”[49]

         In its January 24 order, the Court presented its best understanding of the contractual landscape operating in this case.[50] The Pilots Union claimed that the Section 1.5 of the 2010 Collective Bargaining Agreement needed to be broadly read to give the Pilots Union authority to bargain about all issues in both the Section 1.5 bargaining and the Section 6 bargaining.

         The Court acknowledged-both at that time[51] and again here-that the analysis involved certain minor contractual disputes that the arbitrator will ultimately resolve. The arbitrator is under no obligation to implement the Court's understanding of the contractual landscape.

         The Court also notes that whether a stay is granted here is largely irrelevant to Carriers' central concern. The Court's opinion is on the record-staying the decision has no impact on whether the arbitrator considers the Court's analysis worthwhile or not.

         Next, Carriers argue they will succeed on appeal because the Court did not make express findings on three of the four preliminary injunction factors in its January 24 order.[52]

         While it is “generally useful” to make specific findings on each of the four factors, it is not required.[53] Carriers' argument is therefore unlikely to succeed on appeal.

         Last, Carriers argue that the Court's order violates the Norris-LaGuardia Act, in part by failing to require Pilots Union to post a security ...


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