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Thompson v. International Paper Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

December 13, 2017

JAMES THOMPSON, LEE FITCH, CHRIS HARRISON, JONATHAN NELSON, WILLIAM PURVIANCE, CHRISTOPHER LOVE, and FERNANDO CHAVEZ, Plaintiffs,
v.
INTERNATIONAL PAPER COMPANY, UNITED STEELWORKERS, and UNITED STEELWORKERS LOCAL UNION

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JANE J. BOYLF, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The defendants have asked the Court to reconsider its October 19, 2017 order, Doc. 111, denying the defendants' motions for summary judgment. Docs. 113, 115. The Court DENIES the defendants' motions.

         I.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         The Court recited the facts of this case in detail in its order denying summary judgment and will not do so again here. The short version follows.

         The plaintiffs claim International Paper should be paying them for their lunch breaks, and the text of the 2010 collective bargaining agreement (CBA) explicitly supports the plaintiffs. The defendants respond that the CBA contains a typo and that neither International Paper nor the plaintiffs' union (the Union) ever intended the CBA to entitle the plaintiffs to paid lunch breaks. Essentially, the defendants are trying to avoid the CBA's text via a mutual-mistake defense. The plaintiffs reply that their employer and union are colluding to avoid having to comply with the text of the CBA.

         In denying the defendants' motions for summary judgment, the Court relied in part on statements allegedly made by local union representative Larry Hughes. Two of the plaintiffs claim Hughes told them at a meeting shortly after the Union decided to drop the plaintiffs' grievance that “if [the plainitffs] had been union members things could have gone differently.” Doc. 104-1, App'x to Pls.' Consolidated Resp., 4, 7. And a third plaintiff claims Hughes “often made the statement if y'all were in the Union they might help. But since we were not, the union was not really gonna waste time with it.” Id. at 19.

         The Court considered the above affidavits to be important in two ways. The evidence is important for two reasons because the plaintiffs must prove two things to win their case: 1) that their employer breached the collective bargaining agreement and 2) that their union breached its duty of fair representation. Chauffeurs, Teamsters & Helpers, Local No. 391 v. Terry, 494 U.S. 558, 564 (1990). As to the first requirement, the Court found that, along with other evidence the plaintiffs presented, the affidavits were some evidence that the defendants did not make a mutual mistake. Doc. 111, Order, 10-11. And as to the second requirement, the Court found the affidavits to be some evidence that the Union breached its duty of fair representation by acting in a bad-faith, discriminatory, or arbitrary manner. Id. at 13.

         In the Union's motion for reconsideration, the Union challenges the Court's reliance on the above affidavits and chides the Court for failing to consider statements Hughes made in his deposition, which the Union contends show that Hughes always thought the plaintiffs' grievance lacked merit. The Union presented the deposition testimony in a motion to strike part of the plaintiffs' summary-judgment evidence in which the Union alternatively argued that the excerpts from Hughes' deposition should be included in the summary-judgment record under the rule of optional completeness. Doc. 113, Union's Mot. Reconsideration, 13-14. The Court did not resolve the motion to strike because it denied the motion for summary judgment without considering the evidence the Union wanted the Court to strike, so the Court did not consider the deposition excerpts in the Union's motion to strike. Doc. 111, Order, 14 n.5.

         In its own motion for reconsideration, International Paper claims the Court erred in denying summary judgment on the defendants' mutual-mistake defense. Doc. 115, International Paper's Mot. Reconsideration, 2. International Paper contends that its “undisputed”evidence prevents a jury from reasonably inferring that the CBA's text entitled the plaintiffs to paid lunch breaks for any reason other than a mutual mistake made by the Union and International Paper. Id. International Paper chiefly complains that the Court relied on evidence of conduct that occurred after International Paper and the Union signed the CBA and that evidence of conduct that occurred after the defendants signed the CBA cannot rebut the defendants' direct evidence of what happened at the negotiations that resulted in the CBA. Id. at 3.

         II.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not explicitly provide for motions for reconsideration. Although the defendants contend that the Court should treat their motion as one to alter or amend a judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e), the applicable rule is actually 54(b), which the Fifth Circuit has said gives trial courts the authority to reverse their interlocutory orders before issuing final judgments, Niagra Mach. & Tool Works, 910 F.2d 167, 185 n.92 (5th Cir. 1990). Rule 59(e)[2] applies to judgments, but the Court has issued no judgment. Rather, the Court merely denied the defendants' motions for summary judgment. And an order denying summary judgment is interlocutory, not a judgment. Id. at 185. This Court has granted a motion to reconsider an order denying summary judgment because the movant presented in its motion for reconsideration new evidence that the Court believed eliminated the fact issue that led it to deny summary judgment in the first place. Robinson v. Procter & Gamble Distr. Co., No. Civ.A.3:02CV2012, 2004 WL 3019092, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Dec. 30, 2004).

         That said, courts should proceed cautiously when reviewing motions for reconsideration when the motion to be reviewed is a denial of summary judgment. The Northern District of Texas's Local Rules dictate that a party may file only one motion for summary judgment unless otherwise directed by the presiding judge. N.D. Tex. Civ. R. 56.2(b). Reviewing denials of motions for summary judgment under too lax of ...


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