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Salas v. GE Oil & Gas

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

May 12, 2017

GASPAR SALAS, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
GE OIL & GAS, Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas

          Before SMITH, PRADO, and GRAVES, Circuit Judges.

          EDWARD C. PRADO, Circuit Judge:

         Plaintiff-Appellee Gaspar Salas brought claims against Defendant- Appellant GE Oil & Gas ("GE") for discrimination and retaliation. The district court granted GE's motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the case. However, the court later reopened the case and withdrew its prior order compelling arbitration. Because the district court lacked jurisdiction to do so, we VACATE and REMAND for further proceedings consistent with this decision.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Salas is a former employee of GE. When Salas accepted employment at GE's predecessor, Dresser, Inc., he agreed to arbitrate all disputes between the two parties. After GE acquired Dresser, Inc., GE introduced its own dispute resolution program called Solutions. GE advised Salas that if he continued to work at the company after November 1, 2013, he would "agree to participate in and abide by" this arbitration program. Salas did continue to work at GE past this date. In June 2014, Salas brought suit against GE in the district court claiming discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII. GE then moved to compel arbitration. The district court granted this motion in December 2014 and dismissed Salas's claims without prejudice.

         The parties did not move forward with arbitration. Each side blames the other for the delay. In February 2016, Salas filed a motion in the district court to compel arbitration; GE opposed this motion as redundant. After a telephonic conference on this motion, the district court issued an order on March 30, 2016, reopening the case and withdrawing its earlier order compelling arbitration. The district court noted in this order that the parties had "failed" to arbitrate. After the court denied GE's motion for reconsideration, GE timely appealed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The parties contest both whether the district court had subject matter jurisdiction to issue its March 30, 2016 order and whether we have appellate jurisdiction over that order. We address appellate jurisdiction first.

         A. Appellate Jurisdiction

         GE contends that this Court has appellate jurisdiction under the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA"), which permits an appeal from an order "denying an application . . . to compel arbitration." 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(C). Salas argues that the district court's order dated March 30, 2016, was not an order denying a motion to compel arbitration, and that in any event GE appealed the order denying its motion for reconsideration.

         The district court's order dated March 30, 2016, followed a telephonic conference on Salas's motion to compel arbitration. Although the order did not explicitly mention Salas's motion, the order withdrew the court's prior order granting GE's motion to compel arbitration and reopened the case. In essence, then, the court's March 30, 2016 order did deny an application to compel arbitration. Compare Moss v. First Premier Bank, 835 F.3d 260, 264 (2d Cir. 2016) (finding appellate jurisdiction over an order that "lifted a prior stay under Section 3 [of the FAA] and vacated a prior order compelling arbitration"), and Koveleskie v. SBC Capital Mkts., Inc., 167 F.3d 361, 363 (7th Cir. 1999) (finding appellate jurisdiction over "a minute order"-in which "the district court refused to compel arbitration"-because "there [was] no doubt from the record that the district court denied the defendant's motion [to compel arbitration] and clearly meant to foreclose arbitration"), with Van Dusen v. Swift Transp. Co., 830 F.3d 893, 897 (9th Cir. 2016) (finding no appellate jurisdiction over "a case management order designed to lead to a decision on a motion to compel arbitration"). Additionally, GE's motion for reconsideration tolled its time to appeal. Fed. R. App. P. 4. This Court therefore has appellate jurisdiction under 9 U.S.C. § 16(a)(1)(C).

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         GE principally argues that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to reopen the case. Because the district court fully dismissed this case in December 2014, GE contends, the court could no longer exercise jurisdiction other than to enforce an ...


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