May 21, 2019

Tenth Circuit: Federal Arbitration Act Provides Interlocutory Jurisdiction in Limited Circumstances

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued its opinion in International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers v. Public Service Company of Colorado on Tuesday, December 9, 2014.

In 2009, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (Union) and Public Service Co. entered into a Collective Bargaining Agreement covering Union members who were Public Service employees. Public Service unilaterally amended the agreement approximately two years later, affecting prescription drug prices for retirees. The Union followed dispute procedures and eventually demanded that the issue be submitted to arbitration. Public Service refused, so the Union sued the company and asked the district court to stay the proceedings and compel arbitration. The district court denied the Union’s motion, and it appealed.

The Tenth Circuit first questioned its jurisdiction to hear the interlocutory appeal. The Tenth Circuit found that the instant appeal fell within one of the FAA’s exceptions providing for interlocutory appeals pursuant to Tenth Circuit case law and Supreme Court precedent in Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105 (2001).

Addressing arbitrability of the issue at suit, the Tenth Circuit determined that the Collective Bargaining Agreement did not cover disputes related to retired workers, only to current employees. The Union argued the district court failed to apply the presumption in favor of arbitrability, but the Tenth Circuit disagreed, finding instead that the court evaluated the presumption and held it inapplicable. The Union also argued that the district court erred by addressing the underlying merits of the dispute, but the Tenth Circuit examined the record and found no evidence of merit review.

The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s order denying arbitration. Judge Hartz concurred with the finding of jurisdiction but dissented with the panel’s finding that the dispute was not arbitrable.

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