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Quality Automotive Services, LLC v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

United States District Court, District Circuit

August 15, 2013

QUALITY AUTOMOTIVE SERVICES, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
PENSION BENEFIT GUARANTY CORPORATION, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ELLEN SEGAL HUVELLE, United States District Judge

Plaintiff Quality Automotive Services, LLC (“QAS”) has sued the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”), challenging its determination of “substantial damage” to the Freight Drivers and Helpers Local No. 557 Pension Fund as arbitrary and capricious. Before the Court are plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Mar. 13, 2013 [ECF No. 15] (“Pl.’s Mot.”)) and defendant’s Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (Apr. 12, 2013 [ECF No. 17] (“Def.’s Mot.”)). For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff’s motion will be denied, and defendant’s motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

I. STATUTORY FRAMEWORK

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“MPPAA”), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1381 et seq., seeks to protect the viability of multiemployer pension plans. It provides that when a contributing employer withdraws from a multiemployer pension plan, that employer owes withdrawal liability in the amount of its share of the plan’s unfunded vested benefits. See 29 U.S.C. § 1381. However, there are a number of exceptions to that rule, including one for withdrawals from plans that receive contributions primarily from employers engaged in the trucking industry. See Id . § 1383(d). Under this “trucking industry exception, ” a withdrawal occurs—and withdrawal liability is incurred—only if:

(A) an employer permanently ceases to have an obligation to contribute under the plan or permanently ceases all covered operations under the plan, and
(B) either:
(i) [PBGC] determines that the plan has suffered substantial damage to its contribution base as a result of such cessation, or
(ii) the employer fails to furnish a bond issued by a corporate surety company that is an acceptable surety for purposes of section 1112 of this title, or an amount held in escrow by a bank or similar financial institution satisfactory to the plan, in an amount equal to 50 percent of the withdrawal liability of the employer.

Id. § 1383(d)(3) (emphasis added). The statute goes on to state:

If, after an employer furnishes a bond or escrow to a plan under paragraph (3)(B)(ii), [PBGC] determines that the cessation of the employer’s obligation to contribute under the plan (considered together with any cessations by other employers), or cessation of covered operations under the plan, has resulted in substantial damage to the contribution base of the plan, the employer shall be treated as having withdrawn from the plan on the date on which the obligation to contribute or covered operations ceased, and such bond or escrow shall be paid to the plan. [PBGC] shall not make a determination under this paragraph more than 60 months after the date on which such obligation to contribute or covered operations ceased.

Id. § 1383(d)(4) (emphasis added).

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

CSX Corporation owns an intermodal railroad loading and unloading facility in Jessup, Maryland, called the Annapolis Junction Facility. (Administrative Record [ECF Nos. 6-10, 13] (“AR”) at 1, 1378.) Total Distribution Services, Inc. (“TDI”), a subsidiary of CSX Corporation, hires subcontractors to operate the facility. (Id. at 1385.) Beginning in August 2005, QAS began operating the facility as a subcontractor for TDI. (Id. at 1378, 1385.) QAS signed a collective bargaining agreement with Freight Drivers and Helpers Local Union No. 557 (“Local 557”) and employed members of Local 557 at the facility. (Id. at 1, 1378, 1385.) Pursuant to the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, QAS contributed to the Freight Drivers and Helpers Local No. 557 Pension Fund (“the Fund”) based on the number of hours worked by its union employees. (Id. at 1, 1378.)

Effective July 31, 2007, TDI replaced QAS with another subcontractor, Annapolis Junction Rail Solutions (“AJRS”). (Id. at 1378-79, 2084.) At that time, QAS ceased to have any obligation to contribute to the Fund. (Id. at 6, 1411, 1379.) As QAS had done, AJRS signed the Local 557 collective bargaining agreement, hired members of Local 557, and began contributing to the Fund. (Id. at 1379, 2084.)

On December 3, 2009, the Fund assessed withdrawal liability against QAS in the amount of $2, 045, 014. (Id. at 6, 1438, 2081, 2083.) Thereafter, QAS’s parent company, MCS Properties, LLC, deposited 50% of the assessed ...


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