Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. D.C. No. CV-91-00240-LDG. Lloyd D. George, District Judge, Presiding.
Before: William C. Canby, Jr. and Melvin Brunetti, Circuit Judges, and Robert E. Jones,*fn* District Judge. Opinion by Judge Brunetti.
This appeal presents the question whether the statute of limitations in an action brought under § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185 (1988), to compel arbitration, accrues only when a union receives actual notice of the employer's refusal to arbitrate, or whether constructive notice is sufficient. The trial court applied a constructive notice standard and dismissed the action. We reverse and remand.
On February 16, 1989, Exber, Inc., the employer, terminated Gerald Missler, a member of the Union. The Union and the employer are parties to a collective bargaining agreement. Six days later, the Union filed a grievance protesting Missler's termination. A meeting was held in March of 1989, but the grievance was not resolved.
On August 4, 1989, the Union sent a letter to the employer requesting arbitration and asking the employer to contact the Union's attorney. The employer did not respond to the letter. Eighteen months later, the Union sent a second letter asking the employer to contact the Union regarding arbitration of the grievance. Again, the employer did not respond.
On April 5, 1991, the Union filed this lawsuit seeking to compel arbitration. The employer moved to dismiss on the ground that the suit was barred by the applicable six-month statute of limitations. The Union filed a counter-motion for summary judgment, arguing that the action had been filed within the limitations period and that the grievance was arbitrable on its face.
The trial court granted the employer's motion to dismiss and denied the Union's counter-motion. Following entry of judgment, the Union moved for reconsideration, but was denied.
The Union filed this petition to compel arbitration pursuant to § 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, which contains no express statute of limitations. This court has held that the six-month limitation period in § 10(b) of the National Labor Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 160(b) (1988) applies to actions to compel arbitration. Teamster Union Local 315 v. Great Western Chemical Co., 781 F.2d 764, 769 (9th Cir. 1986)*fn1
In Great Western, we held that the six-month period begins to run from the time one party makes it clear that it will not submit the matter to arbitration. Id. at 769; United States Postal Service v. American Postal Workers Union, ALF-CIO, 893 F.2d 1117, 1122 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 498 U.S. 820, 112 L. Ed. 2d 42, 111 S. Ct. 67 (1990). Great Western, in developing the "makes it clear," test relied on Federation of Westinghouse Indep. Salaried Unions v. Westinghouse Elec. Corp., 736 F.2d 896, 902 (3rd Cir. 1984) which held that an action to compel arbitration accrues "when a party unequivocally refuses a demand to arbitrate" (emphasis added).
In Westinghouse, the Union demanded arbitration, but Westinghouse expressly refused to arbitrate. After the Union threatened a local strike, Westinghouse stated that it would be willing to arbitrate if the parties could agree on what was to be submitted to the arbitrator. The parties could not agree and the Union filed an action to compel arbitration. All of these negotiations were carried out by letters and telephone conversations. Westinghouse, 736 F.2d at 897-899.
After stating the general rule of when a cause of action to compel arbitration arises, the court held that in light of the correspondence between the two parties, there was a disputed issue of fact as to when Westinghouse finally refused to arbitrate. The court ...