Justices Decline Amerijet Case on Worker Disputes Outside U.S.

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By Kevin McGowan

Nov. 16 — Denying a petition filed by a Florida-based cargo airline, the U.S. Supreme Court Nov. 16 declined to review a federal appeals court ruling that Amerijet International Inc. must arbitrate minor disputes under a collective bargaining agreement covering flight crew members even when the relevant events occurred outside the U.S.

Amerijet contended the Railway Labor Act's dispute resolution mechanisms have no application outside the U.S. and can't be applied to job disputes that arose in Trinidad.

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said application of the RLA to Amerijet's union contract with the Teamsters, which was signed in Florida and covers U.S.-based crew members, doesn't run afoul of the principle that the law lacks force abroad (604 F. App'x 841, 202 LRRM 3545 (11th Cir. 2015)).

In seeking review, Amerijet asked the Supreme Court to resolve a purported federal circuit split about when U.S. courts have jurisdiction to apply the RLA's dispute resolution machinery to work disputes arising outside the U.S.

The Supreme Court decision in Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 133 S. Ct. 1659 (U.S. 2013), bolsters the presumption against extraterritorial application of U.S. statutes, Amerijet said.

That presumption helps to avoid “unintended clashes” between U.S. laws and those of other countries “which could result in international discord,” Amerijet said, quoting from Kiobel.

In a brief opposing review, the Teamsters said no circuit split actually exists as every appeals court, including the Eleventh Circuit, agrees the RLA doesn't apply extraterritorially.

The decisions cited by Amerijet all are distinguishable from the Eleventh Circuit case because they involve foreign-born workers with no U.S. contacts or arose in the railroad industry, which operates under different RLA procedures than the airline industry, the union said.

By contrast, the disputes Amerijet wants to avoid sending to arbitration under the RLA involve U.S. flight crews on temporary assignment to Port of Spain on the island of Trinidad, the union said. The union had filed two grievances on the issues of whether Trinidad is a “temporary foreign base” for pay purposes and whether Amerijet violated the pact in terminating a pilot for events occurring there, the union said.

Employer Says Circuits Are Split

A federal district court in Florida decided it lacked power to compel arbitration, reasoning the presumption against extraterritoriality barred the RLA's application to overseas activities (Teamsters v. Amerijet Int'l, Inc., 904 F. Supp.2d 1278 (S.D. Fla. 2012)).

But the Eleventh Circuit reversed, saying the arbitration mandate stems from the parties' bargaining agreement, not the RLA. The district court therefore erred in ruling the presumption against enforcing the RLA overseas applied, the appeals court said. It is for an arbitrator, not a court, to interpret the parties' agreement and decide if the bargaining agreement has extraterritorial effect, the Eleventh Circuit said.

The appeals court's ruling “deepens the circuit split” regarding when the RLA is applied extraterritorially, Amerijet said.

Although all the appeals courts agree Congress didn't intend the RLA to apply outside the territory of the U.S., they differ regarding the circumstances in which the RLA bar against extraterritoriality applies, Amerijet said.

In particular, the circuits disagree on what it means to apply the RLA outside the U.S. when a collective bargaining agreement is involved between parties covered by the RLA, Amerijet said.

The Second and Fifth circuits appear to agree with the Eleventh Circuit that the RLA's dispute resolution machinery applies to work performed anywhere in the world under a U.S.-executed bargaining agreement, Amerijet said. But the District of Columbia, Eighth and Ninth circuits limit the RLA's dispute resolution procedures to work performed within the U.S., the airline said.

The Supreme Court should resolve that dispute consistent with the basic principle that “neither Congress nor the executive branch” intends to “export U.S. labor law schemes” to foreign nations, Amerijet said.

No Conflict With Precedent, Teamsters Say

The case “does not truly implicate a circuit split,” the Teamsters said.

Rather, the Eleventh Circuit resolved the issue based on Supreme Court decisions “that have defined and delineated the role of arbitration in federal labor law for decades,” the union said.

The appeals court cases that Amerijet cites are “readily distinguishable” because they involved foreign workers exclusively working abroad or work disputes in the rail industry, the Teamsters said.

Kiobel also “simply does not stand” for the contention that U.S. employers and U.S. unions can't agree to a contract governing the working conditions of U.S. workers whose jobs include “very short-term assignments” outside the U.S., the union said.

Even if the Supreme Court did enunciate that principle, Amerijet produced no evidence to suggest any foreign policy consequences might result if the airline were forced to arbitrate grievances over flight crew pay or terminations occurring in Trinidad, the Teamsters said.

Joan M. Canny of Amerijet International Inc. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., represented the airline. Howard S. Susskind of Sugarman & Susskind P.A. in Coral Gables, Fla., represented the Teamsters.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kevin McGowan in Washington at kmcgowan@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Susan J. McGolrick at smcgolrick@bna.com

For More Information

Summaries of labor and employment law cases denied Supreme Court review appear in Section E.