4. Exhaustion of Grievance/Arbitration Procedures Is Requisite to Suit
In 39 U.S.C. § 1208(b), federal courts are granted jurisdiction to hear suits for alleged violations of contracts between the Postal Service and a union or unions representing postal workers. Such actions are decided under the same federal common law principles as are applicable to suits brought against non-governmental entities for breach of collective bargaining agreements under section 301(a) of the National Labor Relations Act ("NLRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a). See, e.g., United States Postal Service v. American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO, 893 F.2d 1117, 1119-20 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 112 L. Ed. 2d 42, 111 S. Ct. 67 (1990); American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO v. United States Postal Service, 766 F.2d 715, 720 (2d Cir. 1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1046, 89 L. Ed. 2d 572, 106 S. Ct. 1262 (1986).
Before an employee can bring suit against his employer for breach of a collective bargaining agreement under section 301 of the NLRA, he is required to show either that he "attempted to exhaust any grievance or arbitration remedies provided in the collective-bargaining agreement" or that the union breached its duty of fair representation. DelCostello v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, 462 U.S. 151, 163-65, 76 L. Ed. 2d 476, 103 S. Ct. 2281 (1983); Hines v. Anchor Motor Freight, Inc., 424 U.S. 554, 563, 47 L. Ed. 2d 231, 96 S. Ct. 1048 (1976); Republic Steel Corp. v. Maddox, 379 U.S. 650, 652-53, 13 L. Ed. 2d 580, 85 S. Ct. 614 (1965); Young v. U.S. Postal Service, 907 F.2d 305, 307 (2d Cir. 1990).
As stated above, in the instant case, after Meehan received notification that confirmed his waiver of life insurance, he failed to file a grievance or take any other step to vacate his waiver. Thus, Meehan clearly failed to exhaust his procedural remedies. See Republic Steel, 379 U.S. at 652-53 ("It cannot be said, in the normal situation, that contract grievance procedures are inadequate to protect the interests of an aggrieved employee until the employee has attempted to implement the procedures and found them so").
Moreover, plaintiff does not allege that the Mail Handlers Union breached its duty of fair representation. See Vaca v. Sipes, 386 U.S. 171, 190, 17 L. Ed. 2d 842, 87 S. Ct. 903 (1967) ("A breach of the statutory duty of fair representation occurs only when a union's conduct toward a member of the collective bargaining unit is arbitrary, discriminatory, or in bad faith"). Indeed, Lawrence Hill, a representative of the Mail Handlers Union, stated in deposition testimony that if Meehan had sought to grieve the issue, the union would have taken the necessary steps to file such a grievance. See Hill Deposition attached to Ausubel Declaration at Exhibit C, pp. 94-97. Therefore, defendants contend, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case.
This Court finds defendants' argument persuasive. Considering the policy of strictly construing waivers of sovereign immunity, when plaintiff's claim for life insurance is based entirely on an alleged breach of a collective bargaining agreement that is subject to grievance procedures and arbitration, this Court holds that it does not have jurisdiction under FEGLI. Accordingly, this action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
B. Statute of Limitations
Assuming, arguendo, that plaintiff has satisfied the jurisdictional prerequisites, the instant action is nevertheless barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The Supreme Court has held that actions for breach of collective bargaining agreements are subject to a six month statute of limitation. Del Costello, 464 U.S. at 172. The statute begins to run "when the claimant discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered, the acts constituting the alleged violation." Metz v. Tootsie Roll Industries, Inc., 715 F.2d 299, 304 (7th Cir. 1983), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 1070, 79 L. Ed. 2d 214, 104 S. Ct. 976 (1984). In the instant case, Meehan was sent a confirmation of his waiver on March 3, 1988. Thus, his time to commence suit would have ended by September 3, 1988. However, although Meehan worked for the Postal Service until March 12, 1989, he never filed a grievance regarding his waiver of life insurance benefits or about the alleged violation of subchapter 535.23-24 of the ELRM. Thus, the action is time barred.
Again assuming, arguendo, that the jurisdictional prerequisites were satisfied and this action is not time barred, this Court finds that Meehan waived his free life insurance. As stated above, at the December 7, 1987 orientation meeting, Meehan was informed that the Postal Service provided free basic life insurance. However, after incorrectly filling out one SF 2817, he completed another in which he waived basic life insurance. In addition, on the bottom of the January 13, 1988 memorandum, he printed: "NO LIFE INSURANCE AT THIS TIME[.] THANK YOU, MICHAEL MEEHAN."
Plaintiff argues that this writing does not satisfy the requirements of sections 535.23-24 of the ELRM for a "supplemental waiver." However, section 535.22 explicitly states that "[a] waiver becomes effective at the end of the pay period in which the SF 2817 is received by the employing office." It makes no reference to sections 535.23-.24. Thus, Meehan's waiver would have been effective even if he never completed any "supplemental waiver." Moreover, section 535.24 provides only a sample statement; it does not require specific language. Accordingly, under the facts in this case, this Court finds that Meehan's writing satisfied the requirements of section 535.23-.24 for a "supplemental waiver" and that Meehan knowingly and properly waived his right to free basic life insurance. See McDade, 469 F.2d at 143-44 (waiver of life insurance effective even when the government withheld payments for coverage for five and one-half pay periods, (until the decedent's death) without objection from the decedent).
For the reasons set forth above, defendants' motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is granted and plaintiff's motion is denied.
LEONARD D. WEXLER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: Hauppauge, New York
May 1st, 1992