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Southwest Airlines Co. v. Transport Workers Union of America Afl-Cio Local 555

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

May 22, 2018

SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO., Plaintiff,
v.
TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA AFL-CIO LOCAL 555, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          A. JOE FISH SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the court is the motion of the plaintiff Southwest Airlines Company (“Southwest”) to stay the effect of the court's previous order pending appeal (docket entry 42). For the reasons set forth below, the plaintiff's motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A full recitation of the factual background of this case is provided in the court's memorandum opinion and order issued on December 29, 2017.

         Memorandum Opinion and Order (docket entry 39). In that order, the court vacated the portion of the arbitration award at issue that purported to rule on the merits of the union's grievance, left the remainder of the award untouched, and remanded the dispute to arbitration before a new arbitrator. Id. at 26.

         Southwest subsequently appealed this court's decision and filed the instant motion asking the court to stay the effect of its previous order, thereby preserving the present status quo until the Fifth Circuit has had a chance to decide the case. Plaintiff Southwest Airlines Co.'s Motion to Stay Effect of Court's Order Pending Appeal; Plaintiff Southwest Airlines Co.'s Brief in Support of its Motion to Stay Effect of Court's Order Pending Appeal (“Southwest's Brief”) at 1 (docket entry 43). The defendant, Transport Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, Local 555 (“TWU Local 555”), opposes the plaintiff's motion, insisting that the court should deny the stay. See Defendant/Counter-Claimant TWU Local 556's [sic] Response to SWA's Motion to Stay the Court's Order (“TWU Local 555's Response”) at 4 (docket entry 50). Southwest's motion is now ripe for decision.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Legal Standard

         “A stay is an intrusion into the ordinary processes of administration and judicial review, and accordingly is not a matter of right, even if irreparable injury might otherwise result to the appellant.” Barber v. Bryant, 833 F.3d 510, 511 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Nken v. Holder, 556 U.S. 418, 427 (2009)). A stay is “an exercise of judicial discretion, and the propriety of its issue is dependent upon the circumstances of the particular case.” Nken, 556 U.S. at 433 (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). “The party requesting a stay bears the burden of showing that the circumstances justify an exercise of that discretion.” Id. at 433-34 (citing, inter alia, Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 708 (1997)).

         But even though the decision of whether to issue a stay is committed to the court's sound discretion, the Supreme Court has made clear that a legal standard circumscribes that discretion. See id. at 434. Specifically, when faced with a motion to stay, the court must consider four factors: “(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.” Id. (quoting Hilton v. Braunskill, 481 U.S. 770, 776 (1987)). The court does not consider the four factors on equal footing; instead, “[t]he first two factors . . . are the most critical.” Id.

         B. Application

         1. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

         With respect to the first factor, the Fifth Circuit has stated that “the movant need not always show a ‘probability' of success on the merits; instead, the movant need only present a substantial case on the merits when a serious legal question is involved and show that the balance of the equities weighs heavily in favor of granting the stay.” Ruiz v. Estelle (Ruiz I), 650 F.2d 555, 565 (5th Cir. 1981). But in a later decision the Fifth Circuit further clarified the first factor, specifying that “[l]ikelihood of success remains a prerequisite in the usual case even if it is not an invariable requirement. Only if the balance of equities (i.e. consideration of the other three factors) is . . . heavily tilted in the movant's favor will we issue a stay in its absence, and, even then, the issue must be one with patent substantial merit.” Ruiz v. Estelle (Ruiz II), 666 F.2d 854, 856-57 (5th Cir. 1982) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Southwest contends that it has satisfied the first requirement for a stay because this case involves a “serious legal question” and it has presented a “substantial case on the merits.” See Southwest's Brief at 5. Relying on language from this court's previous order rejecting Southwest's arguments at summary judgment, Southwest now maintains that “[t]he merits in this case are certainly close enough to justify a stay, ...


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