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SCHNEIDER MOVING & STORAGE CO. v. ROBBINS ET AL.
decided*fn*: April 18, 1984.
SCHNEIDER MOVING & STORAGE CO
ROBBINS ET AL.
CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE EIGHTH CIRCUIT.
Powell, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.
JUSTICE POWELL delivered the opinion of the Court.
The issue presented in these two cases is whether the trustees of two multiemployer trust funds may seek judicial enforcement of the trust terms against a participating employer without first submitting to arbitration an underlying dispute over the meaning of a term in the employer's collective-bargaining agreement.
Respondents are the trustees of two multiemployer trust funds, the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund and the Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Health and Welfare Fund (Trust Funds).*fn1 Petitioners are two employers -- Prosser's Moving & Storage Co. (Prosser's) and Schneider Moving & Storage Co. (Schneider) -- who have agreed to participate in the trust funds. Respondents filed separate complaints against petitioners in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, claiming that petitioners had failed to meet their contribution requirements and had refused to allow an audit of their payroll records. Respondents requested the District Court to order an accounting and immediate payment of all sums thereby determined to be due. They alleged federal subject-matter jurisdiction under § 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act (LMRA), 29 U. S. C. § 185(a), and § 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U. S. C. § 1132.*fn2 Petitioners defended on the ground that respondents' complaints raised disputed interpretations under the collective-bargaining agreements that first must be submitted to the applicable arbitration procedures.*fn3 The District Court agreed with petitioners and
dismissed the suits pending arbitration. It held that although arbitration is not a prerequisite for "simple collection matters" in which the employer's liability under the collective-bargaining agreement is clear, arbitration is required in claims such as these where interpretation of the collective-bargaining agreement is at issue.
A three-judge panel for the Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit reversed and held that arbitration was not a prerequisite to federal suit in these two cases. Robbins v. Prosser's Moving & Storage and Schneider Moving & Storage, Nos. 80-2116, 80-2117 (CA8, Mar. 24, 1982) (per curiam). An en banc court of the Eighth Circuit agreed with the panel. After examining competing considerations under the federal labor laws and under the federal laws governing employee trust funds, the court held that the relevant agreements indicated no intent on the part of the parties to require the arbitration of contractual disputes between the trustees and the employers and thus that failure to arbitrate could not bar respondents' suits. The en banc court, therefore, reversed the decision of the District Court and remanded for further proceedings. 700 F.2d 433 (1983). We granted certiorari in view of an apparent conflict among the Circuits on this issue.*fn4 464 U.S. 813 (1983). We now affirm.
As resolved by the Court of Appeals, these cases present a narrow question of contract interpretation. The en banc court considered only whether the parties to the collective-bargaining agreements and the trust agreements intended to require the arbitration of disputes between the trustees and the employer before the trustees could exercise their contractual right to sue in federal court.*fn5 Because of its resolution of this issue, the Court of Appeals did not reach respondents' argument that requiring the trustees to submit their disputes with the employer to the applicable arbitration procedures was prohibited as a matter of law. If we agree with the Court of ...
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