U.S. Federal Labor Relations Authority

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File 2: Opinion of Chairman Cabaniss

[ v60 p455 ]

Separate Opinion of Chairman Cabaniss:

      I write separately, not to express disagreement with the dismissal of this case, but with the analysis underlying the belief that this case is even properly before the Authority for resolution.

      Consistent with the court's holding in United States Dep't of the Treasury, United States Customs Serv. v. FLRA, 43 F.3d 682 (D.C. Cir. 1994), I question whether a defamation claim amounts to a grievance under our Statute (§ 7103(a)(9)) because the law of defamation does not appear "to have been issued for the very purpose of affecting the working conditions of employees-not one that merely incidentally does so." Id. at 689. The court also noted that "[t]he term `affecting working conditions,' [found in § 7103(a)(9)(C)(ii)] in turn, must have been thought to impose a real limitation on an arbitrator's authority." Id. If the grievance does not involve a law, rule, or regulation issued for the very purpose of affecting the working conditions of employees, then the grievance is "outside both the arbitrator's and the FLRA's jurisdiction." Id. And, regarding that jurisdictional question, "the Authority may question, sua sponte, whether it has subject matter jurisdiction to consider the merits of a dispute." United States Small Bus. Admin., Washington, D.C., 51 FLRA 413, 423 n.9 (1995) (citing to United States Dep't of the Army, Army Reserve Pers. Ctr., 34 FLRA 319 (1990)).

      I also have concerns about the pursuit of what appears to be a violation of state law through the negotiated grievance procedure/arbitration process. [*]  I am not aware of the defamation claim here being based on anything other than state law, and the initial defamation lawsuit was filed in state court. The relation between Federal and state law is governed by the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, Article VI, clause 2, which provides that the laws of the United States "shall be the supreme law of the Land; . . . any Thing in the Constitution of or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding." Additionally, "[a] corollary to [the Supremacy Clause] is that the activities of the Federal Government are free from regulation by any state." Mayo v. United States, 319 U.S. 441, 445 (1943). Further, it is "well settled" that the activities of Federal instrumentalities are "shielded by the Supremacy Clause from direct state regulation unless Congress provides `clear and unambiguous' authorization for such regulation." Goodyear Atomic Corporation v. Miller, 486 U.S. 174, 180 (1988); see also McFalls v. OPM, 72 MSPR 252, 261 (1996) (the Merit Systems Protection Board "is a Federal administrative tribunal established to adjudicate claims arising under applicable Federal statutes and regulations. . . . Therefore, it generally must follow Federal law, rather than state law.").

      Finally, because the underlying defamation lawsuit was filed against the individual agency manager rather than his agency, the conclusion I draw from the mootness analysis is that the arbitration proceeding also was against that individual rather than the agency. As such, I question whether a defamation claim seeking redress against an individual employee addresses the "law, rule, or regulation affecting conditions of employment" requirement set out in § 7103(a)(9)(C)(ii) of our Statute. Consequently, I find no basis for this arbitration proceeding to have ever properly been before the Authority for adjudication, mootness or not.

File 1: Authority's Decision in 60 FLRA No. 89
File 2: Opinion of Chairman Cabaniss

Footnote *  for 60 FLRA No. 89 - Opinion of Chairman Cabaniss

   Regarding footnote 5, the majority's decision relies on the disposition of a state court defamation lawsuit (which was ultimately removed to the United States District Court for the substitution of the United States as the defendant) as the basis for the case now becoming moot. If the legal issue in the initial grievance and the subsequent lawsuit were not the same matter, there would then seem to be no basis for the majority's finding that the Union no longer has a legally cognizable interest in the arbitration dispute.