Tuesday, February 20, 2018

CNH Industrial N.V. v. Reese, Docket No. 17-515, Per Curiam

Interpretation (contracts): Collective-bargaining agreements: Extrinsic evidence: Declaratory relief: Vested rights: Injunction:

This Court has long held that collective-bargaining agreements must be interpreted “according to ordinary principles of contract law.” Tackett, 574 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 7) (citing Textile Workers v. Lincoln Mills of Ala., 353 U. S. 448, 456–457 (1957)).

(…) A contract is not ambiguous unless it is subject to more than one reasonable interpretation.

(…) Principle of contract law that the written agreement is presumed to encompass the whole agreement of the parties.

The “traditional principle,” Tackett explained, is that “‘contractual obligations will cease, in the ordinary course, upon termination of the bargaining agreement.’” Id., at ___ (slip op., at 13) (quoting Litton Financial Printing Div., Litton Business Systems, Inc. v. NLRB, 501 U. S. 190, 207 (1991)). “Contracts that are silent as to their duration will ordinarily be treated not as ‘operative in perpetuity’ but as ‘operative for a reasonable time.’” 574 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 13) (quoting A. Corbin, Corbin on Contracts §553, p. 216 (1960)).

Like Tackett, this case involves a dispute between retir­ees and their former employer about whether an expired collective-bargaining agreement created a vested right to lifetime health care benefits.

When the 1998 agreement expired in 2004, a class of CNH retirees and surviving spouses (collectively, the retirees) filed this lawsuit, seeking a declaration that their health care benefits vested for life and an injunction pre­venting CNH from changing them.

When a contract is ambiguous, courts can consult extrinsic evidence to determine the parties’ inten­tions. See 574 U. S., at ___ (GINSBURG, J., concurring) (slip op., at 1) (citing Williston on Contracts §30:7, pp. 116–124 (4th ed. 2012) (Williston)). But a con­tract is not ambiguous unless, “after applying established rules of interpretation, it remains reasonably susceptible to at least two reasonable but conflicting meanings.” Id., §30:4, at 53–54.

“When the intent of the parties is unambiguously ex­pressed in the contract, that expression controls, and the court’s inquiry should proceed no further.” Tackett, supra, at ___ (GINSBURG, J., concurring) (slip op., at 1) (citing Williston §30:6, at 98–104).

(U.S.S.C., Feb. 20, 2018, CNH Industrial N.V. v. Reese, Docket No. 17-515, Per Curiam)

Conventions collectives, éventuellement autres contrats collectifs : leur interprétation est régie par le droit général des contrats. Un certain nombre de ces principes sont ici rappelés :

Un contrat n'est pas ambigu, sauf s'il permet plus d'une interprétation raisonnable.

L'accord écrit est présumé contenir l'accord complet des parties.

Les obligations des parties prennent fin au terme du contrat collectif ; les contrats qui ne prévoient rien s'agissant de leur durée sont considérés comme restant en vigueur pendant une durée raisonnable.

Quand un contrat est ambigu, la cour peut se référer à des moyens de preuves extérieurs aux fins de déterminer l'intention des parties.

Quand l'intention des parties est clairement exprimée dans le contrat : cette expression l'emporte, et les investigations de la cour à cet égard prennent fin.

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