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Fowler v. Omnova Solutions

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

August 22, 2017

FREDDIE W. FOWLER PLAINTIFF
v.
OMNOVA SOLUTIONS; OMNOVA Solutions Consolidated Pension Plan DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          NEAL B. BIGGERS, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Presently before the court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. Upon due consideration of the motions, responses, exhibits, and supporting and opposing authority, the court is ready to rule.

         Factual and Procedural Background

         The plaintiff, Freddie Fowler, began working for Defendant Omnova Solutions (“Omnova”) in 1976. More than three decades later, on May 15, 2010, Fowler and other employees initiated a lawful economic strike against Omnova. Fowler has not returned to work since that date.

         In August of 2015, Fowler filed a claim for “regular early retirement” benefits with Defendant Omnova Solutions Consolidated Pension Plan (“the Plan”). Pursuant to the Plan, “an [e]mployee who has attained the age 55 . . . and has completed 10 full years of [c]ontinuous service” is eligible for regular early retirement benefits. Thus, this particular benefit requires both an “age” and “years of service” minimum.

         The defendants denied Fowler's claim after determining that he had not met the “age” requirement. Defendants based this determination on their insistence that Fowler had ceased being an employee on August 15, 2010, and at that time he was only fifty-four (54) years of age.

         Fowler appealed the adverse decision and his appeal was denied on February 2, 2016. He subsequently requested that the matter be submitted to arbitration in accordance with the Plan's grievance procedure but the defendants refused.

         Fowler filed the instant suit on September 6, 2016, asserting a demand for arbitration or, in the alternative, a claim for benefits. The parties have now filed cross-motions for summary judgment as to the demand for arbitration only.

         Standard of Review

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Courts have placed the burden upon the moving party to show an absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the movant makes such a showing, the burden then shifts to the non-movant to “go beyond the pleadings and . . . designate specific facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial.” Id. at 324. A genuine issue exists “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must view the underlying facts in the “light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.” United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962). As such, all reasonable inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant. Id. “Summary judgment, although a useful device, must be employed cautiously because it is a final adjudication on the merits.” Jackson v. Cain, 864 F.2d 1235, 1241 (5th Cir. 1989).

         Analysis

         Fowler now asks this court to compel arbitration under 9 U.S.C. § 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (the “FAA”) based upon an ...


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