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CITRIN v. O'HARA

March 14, 1996

YALE CITRIN, in his capacity as an Association Trustee for the Joint Apprentice and Training Program of the Elevator Industry, and on behalf of all of the Association Trustees, Petitioners, against CHRISTOPHER ERIKSON and JAMES O'HARA, as Union Trustees of the Joint Apprentice and Training Program of the Elevator Industry, Respondents.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDELSTEIN

 EDELSTEIN, District Judge:

 Petitioners ask this Court: (1) to award attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements; (2) to order that the JATP Trust Fund be used to reimburse Petitioners' attorneys' fees, costs, and disbursements; and (3) to select an impartial umpire to resolve the parties' dispute from the list of impartial umpires submitted by the parties. In response, Respondents argue that: (1) this Court should not award Petitioners attorneys' fees, costs, or disbursements; (2) if this Court does award Petitioners attorneys' fees, these fees should be paid from the JATP Trust Fund; and (3) this Court should select an impartial umpire to resolve the parties' dispute from the list of impartial umpires submitted by the parties. For the reasons discussed below, this Court grants both Petitioners' motion for attorneys' fees and the parties' request that Petitioners' attorneys' fees be paid from the JATP Trust Fund, and this Court appoints an impartial umpire from the lists submitted respectively by the parties.

 BACKGROUND

 The petition underlying the motions currently pending before this Court concerned the administration of a trust fund established pursuant to the LMRA and ERISA. Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *1, 1996 WL 11190, at *1. Sections 302(c)(5)-(6) of the LMRA authorize employee benefit trust funds for the purpose of "defraying costs of apprenticeship or other training programs." 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5)-(6); Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *15, 1996 WL 11190, at *6. ERISA defines an "employee welfare benefit plan" as any plan, fund, or program established or maintained by an employer, an employee organization, or by both, for the purpose of providing its participants or their beneficiaries with "apprenticeship or other training programs, . . . or . . . any benefit described in section 302(c) of the Labor Management Relations Act. . . ." 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1)(A)-(B); see Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *16, 1996 WL 11190, at *6.

 The JATP trust fund was created and is jointly administered by the Elevator Industries Association, Inc. ("the Association") and Local Union No. 3 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("the Union"). Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *3, 1996 WL 11190, at *3. Pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement between the Association and the Union, in 1976, the parties entered into a trust agreement that created the Joint Apprenticeship Training Program. Id. at *2, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3014, *5; see (Trust Agreement Creating the Joint Apprenticeship and Training Program for the Elevator Industry ("JATP Trust Agreement")). As set forth in the JATP Trust Agreement, the JATP established an apprentice school

 
for the benefit of the elevator industry and to help meet its staffing needs by providing and maintaining training and/or retraining programs for the benefit of Employees, or persons who wish to become Employees, . . . and to devise and implement such programs as may be necessary from time to time to fulfill these objectives.

 Id. (quoting JATP Trust Agreement Art. III, P 3.1).

 Approximately one year before Petitioners applied to this Court, a dispute arose between the Association Trustees and the Union Trustees over the commencement of a new JATP apprenticeship class. Id. The Association Trustees attempted to commence a new first-year JATP apprenticeship class according to the terms of the JATP Trust Agreement. The Union Trustees refused to give their consent to the commencement of a new JATP class "unless and until a longstanding provision of the collective bargaining agreement between the Union Trustees and the Association Trustees [was] changed." Id. Petitioners' made several attempts to break the Trustees' deadlock on their own, but Respondents continued to withhold both their consent to the commencement of a new JATP class and their cooperation in resolving the deadlock concerning the new JATP class. Id. at *2-3.

 In an effort to resolve this dilemma, Petitioners applied to this Court to appoint an impartial umpire to break the Trustees' deadlock, pursuant to LMRA section 302(c), 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5)(B). Id. at *3 Section 302(c) of the LMRA mandates the selection of an impartial umpire in the case of an unresolvable disagreement among trustees of a benefit fund, and provides that, in the event the trustees are unable to agree upon an umpire, they may petition the district court to appoint one for them. 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5)(B); Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, 1996 WL 11190, at *7. Petitioners asserted that this Court had jurisdiction over their petition under section 302 of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 186(c), section 502 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132, and 28 U.S.C. § 1337. Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *8, 1996 WL 11190, at *3. Petitioners claimed that they had satisfied each of the prerequisites for petitioning a district court under LMRA section 302(c). Id. at *23. Specifically Petitioners argued that their dispute constituted a genuine deadlock on an issue of the JATP Trust administration, that no agreed neutral person was available to break the impasse, and that the parties had failed to agree on an impartial umpire. Id. Respondents opposed the petition, and maintained that Petitioners had failed to satisfy the prerequisites for petitioning this Court pursuant to LMRA section 302(c). Id. at *20-*21, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *20-*21.

 After reviewing the parties' respective claims, the documents controlling the parties' relationship, and the JATP Trust Agreement, this Court ruled in favor of Petitioners. Id. at *17. This Court found that it had jurisdiction over the petition under all three statutes that Petitioners had advanced in support of their petition. Id. at *9. This Court further found that Petitioners had satisfied the prerequisites for petitioning a federal court for an impartial umpire pursuant to LMRA section 302(c), id. at *17, and that Respondents arguments to the contrary were meritless. Id. at *41. Consequently, this Court ruled in favor of Petitioners and ordered that the parties "each shall submit to this Court in writing the names of ten (10) persons proposed as umpire, indicating by number their priorities of choice." Id. at *48. This Court further ordered that "each person on each list must be eligible to serve as a trustee according to the criteria and the restrictions set forth in Article VII, paragraph 7.2 of the [JATP] Trust Agreement and Article VIII of the [JATP] Trust Agreement." Id. In addition, this Court stated that

 
although this Court will examine the parties' respective submissions, this Court retains complete authority and discretion to appoint an umpire, and this Court is in no way bound to select an impartial umpire from these submissions. This Court has permitted the parties to submit lists of names merely as a courtesy to the parties and as a means to resolve this dispute quickly. Ultimately, however, the selection of an appropriate impartial umpire is a matter solely left to this Court's discretion.

 Id. The Court also ordered that "the JATP Trustees shall apply the JATP Trust Fund to pay for the reasonable costs and expenses of retaining the impartial umpire in accordance with Article III, paragraph 3.3 of the Trust Agreement." Id.

 Regarding petitioner's motion for attorneys' fees, this Court found that "although section 302 of the LMRA does not authorize a court to award attorneys' fees in an action based solely on its authority, section 502(g) of ERISA does." Id. at 18 (citations omitted). Because Petitioners had properly invoked this Court's jurisdiction under ERISA section 502, this Court held that Petitioners were eligible to request attorneys' fees from this Court. Id. at 18. This Court then noted that the Second Circuit has set forth five factors that courts must weigh when considering an application for attorneys' fees. Id. This Court found, however, that it "lacked sufficient factual information to make a specific finding regarding each of the five elements that this Court must consider in order to resolve the issue of attorneys' fees," and deferred consideration of the issue pending the parties' respective submissions of supplemental memoranda of law addressing this topic. Id.

 DISCUSSION

 Since this Court issued its January 1996 Opinion, Petitioners and Respondents have timely submitted both their respective lists of persons proposed as umpire and their respective memoranda of law regarding the issue of attorneys' fees. This Court in turn will address each issue.

 I. Appointinent of an Impartial Umpire

 In accordance with this Court's January 1996 Opinion, Petitioners and Respondents each have submitted to this Court lists of persons proposed as umpires. Each parties' respective list provides the names of ten individuals selected from the American Arbitration Association's ("AAA") panel of labor neutrals, together with each person's biography. See (Letter and Submission from Norman Rothfeld, Esq., to the Honorable David N. Edelstein, United States District Judge ("Rothfeld Letter & Submission") (Jan. 22 1996) (on file with Clerk of the Southern District of New York)); (Letter and Submission from Michael J. DiMattia, Esq., to the Honorable David N. Edelstein, United States District Judge ("DiMattia Letter & Submission") (Feb. 9, 1996) (on file with Clerk of the Southern District of New York)). Two of the ten names proposed by each party appear on both parties respective lists. (Rothfeld Letter & Submission); (DiMattia Letter & Submission).

 As this Court previously noted both in its January 1996 Opinion and above, "this Court retains complete authority and discretion to appoint an impartial umpire," and "this Court permitted the parties to submit lists of names merely as a courtesy to the parties and as a means to resolve this dispute quickly." Citrin, 911 F. Supp. 673, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *48, 1996 WL 11190, at *17. In its discretion, this Court finds that it is appropriate to select an impartial umpire from the lists submitted by the parties in the instant case for the following four reasons.

 First, all of the persons whom the parties respectively propose as umpire are trained arbitrators experienced in the field of labor law. The parties' respective lists contain the names of ten individuals selected from the AAA's panel of labor neutrals. See (Rothfeld Letter & Submission); (DiMattia Letter & Submission). In order to qualify as an AAA arbitrator, an individual must have at least ten years experience in the field of law in which he wishes to serve as arbitrator, must be selected by the AAA after an application procedure that includes resume screening and an interview, and must successfully complete AAA arbitration training. Because all the individuals proposed as umpire by the parties are on the AAA's panel of labor neutrals, this Court finds that they are sufficiently experienced and qualified to serve as an impartial umpire in the instant labor dispute.

 Second, the individuals proposed as umpire by the parties fulfill the requirements set forth in the JATP Trust Agreement for serving as trustee. In this Court's January 1996 Opinion, this Court ordered that each person proposed as umpire by each party "must be eligible to serve as trustee according to the criteria and the restrictions set forth in Article VII, paragraph 7.2 of the Trust Agreement and Article VIII of the Trust Agreement." Citrin, 1996 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 214, *48, 1996 WL 11190, at *17. The list of persons proposed as umpires submitted by each party indicates that all ...


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