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Portis v. Ruan Transportation Management Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division

December 19, 2016

DONALD WAYNE PORTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
RUAN TRANSPORTATION MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS, INC. Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Hon. Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge

         Donald Wayne Portis, proceeding pro se, filed this action against his former employer, Ruan Transportation Management Systems, Inc. ("Ruan"), alleging that he was terminated in retaliation for complaining about safety violations, in violation of Virginia Code § 40. 1-51.2:1. On June 26, 2015, the court granted Ruan's motion to compel arbitration and stayed the casepursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 3. The parties subsequently participated in an arbitration hearing conducted by Arbitrator Norman R. Harlan. On October 9, 2016, the arbitrator issued an arbitration award in favor of Ruan. Portis has moved to vacate the arbitration award, arid Ruan has filed a responsive request to confirm the award. For the following reasons, the court will deny Portis' motion and confirm the arbitration award.

         Background

         Portis began working as a truck driver for Ruan in October of 2007. His employment was terminated on November 21, 2012. During the course of his employment, Portis filed complaints regarding alleged safety violations at Ruan's facility in Salem, Virginia. Portis maintains that he was terminated as a result of those complaints.

         Portis' employment with Ruan was governed by a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between Ruan and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local Union No. 171 (the "Union"). Under the terms of the CBA, Ruan could discipline or discharge an employee only "for just cause." See Ray Aff. Ex. B. at 1, Dkt. No. 4-1. The CBA also prohibited Ruan from discriminating against any employee "in any terms or conditions of employment" for any "prohibited basis of discrimination under applicable state, federal, or local laws." Id. at 1. The CBA further provided that employees could challenge any "alleged violation" of the terms of the CBA through the grievance and arbitration procedure set forth in Article 6 of that agreement. Id. at 3.

         On March 16, 2015, Portis filed the instant action alleging that his employment was terminated in violation of Virginia Code § 40.1-51.2:1, which prohibits employers from "discharging] or in any way discriminate[ing] against an employee because the employee has filed a health or safety complaint . . . ." On May 1, 2015, Ruan filed an amended motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration of Portis' claims. The court granted Ruan's I motion and stayed the case in favor of arbitration on June 26, 2015. The court directed Portis to file a grievance pursuant to the procedures set forth in the CBA within 90 days.

         Portis filed a grievance with the Union on October 6, 2015. On July 14, 2016 and July 15, 2016, the arbitrator conducted an evidentiary hearing regarding the grievance. Portis was represented by counsel at the evidentiary hearing. During the hearing, the arbitrator heard testimony from several witnesses, including Portis and Richard Israel, who supervised Portis at the time of his termination.

         On October 19, 2016, the arbitrator issued an award in favor of Ruan. The arbitrator found that Ruan terminated Portis for just cause as required by the CBA, and that it did not retaliate against Portis for filing safety complaints.

         On November 14, 2016, Portis submitted a letter requesting to proceed with his employment discrimination claim in this court. The court construes the letter as a pro se motion to vacate the arbitration award. In its response to the motion, Ruan requests that the court confirm the award. The matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition.

         Discussion

         The court's authority to review an arbitration award is "substantially circumscribed." Patten v. Signator Ins. Agency. Inc., 441 F.3d 230, 234 (4th Cir. 2006). "In fact, the scope of judicial review for an arbitrator's decision is among the narrowest known at law because to allow full scrutiny of such awards would frustrate the purpose of having arbitration at all the quick resolution of disputes and the avoidance of the expense and delay associated with litigation." Three S Delaware. Inc. v. DataQuick Info. Sys., Inc., 492 F.3d 520, 527 (4th Cir. 2007) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). "In order for a reviewing court to vacate an arbitration award, the moving party must sustain the heavy burden of showing one of the grounds specified in the Federal Arbitration Act (the "FAA") or one of certain limited common law grounds." MCI Constructors. LLC v. City of Greensboro, 610 F.3d 849, 857 (4th Cir. 2010).

         The FAA provides four grounds on which an arbitration award may be vacated: "(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means; (2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them; (3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct . . .; or (4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made." 9 U.S.C. § 10(a). In addition to the grounds specified in the FAA, "permissible common law grounds for vacating [an arbitration] award 'include those circumstances where an award fails to draw its essence from the contract, or the award evidences a manifest disregard for the law.'" MCI Constructors, 610 F.3d at 857 (quoting Patten, 441 F.3d at 234). Under Fourth Circuit precedent, "a manifest disregard of the law is established only where the arbitrator[] understands and correctly states the law, but proceeds to disregard the same." Patten, 441 F.3d at 235 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         In this case, Portis does not argue or offer any evidence to reflect that there was evident partiality, corruption, or misconduct on the part of the arbitrator. Nor does he argue that the arbitrator exceeded his powers or manifestly disregarded controlling law. Instead, Portis contends that Richard Israel "lied" about an encounter that he had with Portis on November 17, 2012, prior to Portis' termination, and that the arbitrator should not have credited Israel's testimony over his own. Pl's Mot. to Vacate at 2, Dkt. No. 37.

         The court construes Portis' arguments regarding the alleged perjury of an arbitration witness to suggest that the arbitration award was procured by fraud. See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1). In order for an award to be vacated on this ground, "a party who alleges that an arbitration award was procured by fraud must demonstrate: (1) that the fraud occurred by clear and convincing evidence; (2) that the fraud was not discoverable by due diligence before or during the arbitration hearing; and (3) [that] the fraud materially related to an issue in the arbitration." Barahona v. Dillard's Inc., 376 F.App'x 395, 397 (5th Cir. 2010). As the party seeking to vacate the arbitration award, Portis bears the burden of proving all three prongs. See Id. at 398 & n.2 (declining to reach two of the ...


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