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U.S. Court In Massachusetts Dismisses Nurses Group�s Attempt To �Confirm� Labor Arbitration Award


HLD, v. 33, n. 12 (December 2005)

U.S. Court In Massachusetts Dismisses Nurses Group's Attempt To "Confirm" Labor Arbitration Award


A federal district court in Massachusetts refused to consider a nurses organization's attempt to enforce a labor arbitration award, saying the matter at issue involved a different set of issues that should be addressed under the grievance procedures specified in the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the parties.


The Massachusetts Nurses Association (plaintiff) is a labor organization that represents a bargaining unit of registered nurses at North Adams Regional Hospital. Pursuant to a CBA, the hospital agreed to maintain certain staffing levels in relation to patient admissions. The nurses filed union grievances that the hospital violated the CBA by failing to maintain safe and adequate staffing levels in its medical surgical pediatric unit.


The grievances were submitted to an arbitrator, as required under the CBA, who agreed the hospital had violated the staffing level provision and ordered it to cease the violations and pay the nurses time and one half for shifts where staffing was inadequate.


Subsequently, plaintiff sued the hospital in court seeking "confirmation" of the labor arbitration award. According to plaintiff, the hospital was continuing to violate the CBA despite the cease and desist order. Defendants moved to dismiss, arguing plaintiff was circumventing the grievance and arbitration process outlined in the CBA by attempting to extend the arbitration award to a new, previously unresolved dispute.


The U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted the motion. The court agreed that a union could in some circumstances seek "confirmation" of an arbitration award under First Circuit case law, but held that plaintiff here did not meet the threshold for doing so.


The First Circuit in Derwin v. General Dynamics Corp., 719 F.2d 484 (1983), set forth a strict standard for allowing a plaintiff to seek confirmation proceedings "where an arbitral award is both clearly intended to have a prospective effect and there is no colorable basis for denying the applicability of the existing award to a dispute at hand."


The court here concluded that a cease and desist order by its very nature is "clearly intended to have a prospective effect," but found a "colorable basis" to argue that the dispute pursued presently was new and materially different from the prior arbitration. Specifically, the court noted that the arbitrator's award involved only violations concerning the medical surgical pediatric unit, whereas the complaints at issue here involved other areas of the hospital.


Thus, the court found a "colorable" argument that there exists a "material factual difference between the new dispute and the one decided in [the] prior arbitration" and dismissed plaintiff's complaint.


Massachusetts Nurses Ass'n v. North Adams Reg'l Hosp., No. 05-30145-KPN (D. Mass. Oct. 24, 2005).



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