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Aguilar v. International Longshoremen's Union Local 10

filed: March 6, 1992.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California. DC No. CV-89-2038-SC. Samuel Conti, District Judge, Presiding.

Before: Alarcon, Boochever, and T.g. Nelson, Circuit Judges.


Fifty-eight part-time longshore workers at the Port of San Francisco appeal the entry of summary judgment against them in a suit against the union and the employers' association, in which the workers sought an injunction to require that registration for full-time permanent longshore work be solely on the basis of prior longshore experience. We affirm.


The appellants in this case are fifty-eight "casual" longshore workers (the casual worker), each with over 1,000 hours of longshore work at San Francisco ports. As casuals, they perform longshore work on an overload basis when there is a shortage of available registered longshoremen. The appellees are the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), a multi-employer association of vessel operators and stevedoring and marine terminal companies; the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union (ILWU), the union representing registered longshoremen employed by PMA members; and Local #10 of the ILWU, which represents San Francisco Bay Area longshoremen. Because this lawsuit challenges actions taken by these organizations as members of the Joint Port Labor Relations Committee, we refer to the appellees collectively as "the Committee."

Virtually all longshore work on the West Coast is performed under a collective bargaining agreement between PMA and the ILWU. An equal number of Local #10 and PMA members comprise the Joint Port Labor Relations Committee (JPLRC or Committee). Under the collective agreement, the Committee maintains a list of "registered" longshoremen available for dispatch on a rotational basis. When there is more work in the Bay Area than the registered longshoremen can staff, casuals are hired on a shift-by-shift basis. Casuals have no right to future longshore work; neither experience nor seniority is taken into account in assigning them overload work. The only requirement casuals must meet is proof of the legal right to work in the United States.

Before the 1989 registration at issue in this case, there had been no registration of full-time permanent longshoremen at San Francisco ports since 1969. Beginning in 1984, however, the Committee distributed and accepted applications from persons interested in registering as full-time permanent longshoremen in the event a registration became necessary. Instructions accompanied the applications, listing a number of criteria on which applicants would be evaluated, including previous job experience. Applicants were required to submit applications annually in order to remain active registration candidates. In 1989, the Committee announced it would conduct a registration and would use a lottery system to choose randomly those who would be registered. The Committee's purported purpose for such a selection system was to minimize the chance of litigation challenging the selection as discriminatory. On May 18, 1989, 200 names were randomly drawn from a total applicant pool of 1,419. Of the approximate 107 applicants with 1,000 or more hours of casual longshore experience, only eight were selected in the random draw.

The casual workers brought suit on a theory of promissory estoppel,*fn1 claiming that the application materials contained a definite promise that the registration would be conducted according to criteria that relied heavily on prior longshore experience. These criteria, they argued, would have given them a decisive advantage over persons without longshore experience. The casual workers claimed that they had reasonably, foreseeably, and detrimentally relied on this promise by continuing to work as casuals and not seeking other work. After denying the casual workers' motion for a preliminary injunction, the district court ultimately granted the Committee's motion for summary judgment. The casual workers now appeal.


The district court found that the representations contained in the application materials were insufficient, as a matter of law, to support a promissory estoppel claim. We review its decision de novo. See Kruso v. International Tel. & Tel. Corp., 872 F.2d 1416, 1421 (9th Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 496 U.S. 937, 110 S. Ct. 3217, 110 L. Ed. 2d 664 (1990). We must determine, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the casual workers, whether any genuine issue of material fact exists and whether the district court correctly applied the relevant substantive law. Tzung v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 873 F.2d 1338, 1339-40 (9th Cir. 1989).

To establish an enforceable contract on a promissory estoppel theory, the casual workers must meet five requirements.*fn2 They must show (1) the existence of a promise, (2) which the promisor reasonably should have expected to induce the promisee's reliance, (3) which actually induces such reliance, (4) that such reliance is reasonable, and (5) that inJustice can only be avoided by enforcement of the promise. See Hass v. Darigold Dairy Products, Inc., 751 F.2d 1096, 1100 (9th Cir. 1985); Restatement (Second) of Contracts § 90. We need not address all of these elements because we find decisive in this case the lack of a definite promise, and the unreasonableness and unforeseeability of the casual workers' reliance on the representations contained in the application materials. The facts concerning the actual language of these representations are undisputed. Therefore, we focus on the substantive requirements of promissory estoppel to determine whether, as a matter of law, an enforceable contract was formed. See, e.g., Trifiro v. New York Life Ins., 845 F.2d 30 (1st Cir. 1988) (disposing of promissory estoppel claim on summary judgment where content of written and oral representations was undisputed).

Existence of a Promise

We first determine whether the representations made here constitute the type of promise upon which a claim of promissory estoppel can be predicated. The casual workers claim to have relied specifically on the following language in application materials distributed to them by the Committee:

When the Joint Port Labor Relations Committee, subject to the approval of the Joint Coast Labor Relations Committee, determines that additions to the Class B registration list in the port are necessary, applicants who are deemed to be best qualified by the JPLRC on the basis of their application scores shall be notified to appear for interviews. Failure to appear as scheduled for ...

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