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Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund v. Bristol Manor Healthcare Center, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

January 28, 2016



         For BRISTOL MANOR HEALTHCARE CENTER, Defendant: Carissa D. Siebeneck, LEAD ATTORNEY, BIRCH HORTON BITTNER & CHEROT, PC, Washington, DC; Ronald Gilbert Birch, LEAD ATTORNEY, BIRCH, HORTON, BITTNER & CHEROT, Washington, DC; David F. Jasinski, PRO HAC VICE, JASINSKI, P.C., Newark, NJ.

         Re Document No.: 36


         RUDOLPH CONTRERAS, United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund is an " employee benefit plan" and a " multiemployer plan" under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).[1] The Fund provides pension benefits to eligible employees of contributing employers. Defendant Bristol Manor Healthcare Center, Inc. is one of the Fund's contributing employers. Claiming that Bristol Manor failed to pay the Fund contributions, interest, liquidated damages, and audit documents required under the applicable collective bargaining and trust agreements, the Fund and its Trustees brought suit against Bristol Manor under ERISA and the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA).[2]

         Plaintiffs have now moved for summary judgment on their claims for unpaid contributions, interest, liquidated damages, outstanding remittance reports, and attorney's fees and costs. Because Bristol Manor does not, in its opposition to Plaintiffs' motion, show a genuine dispute as to any material fact impacting Plaintiffs' claims or requested remedies, the Court will grant the Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment.[3]


         A. Bristol Manor's Contribution Obligations to the Fund

         Defendant Bristol Manor is a New Jersey corporation. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 3, ECF No. 36 [hereinafter Pls.' Statement]; Def.'s Resp. to Pls.' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ¶ 3, ECF No. 37-2 [hereinafter Def.'s Resp.]. In 2010, Bristol Manor entered a collective bargaining agreement with 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, New Jersey Region. See Pls.' Statement Ex. 1, at 8, 40, ECF No. 36-1 [hereinafter Collective Bargaining Agreement].[4]

         The collective bargaining agreement required Bristol Manor to make contributions to the Fund based on the number of paid hours worked by employees covered by the agreement. See id. at 31. Covered employees included " C[ertified] N[ursing] A[ssistant]s, dietary, housekeeping, recreational aides, L[icensed] P[ractical] N[urse]s, and all other employees excluding professional employees, registered nurses, cooks, confidential, office clerical employees, supervisors, watchmen and guards." Id. at 8. For contribution purposes, paid hours worked excluded overtime pay, allowances given to employees to aid them in furnishing and maintaining their own uniforms, and pay in recognition of unused sick leave. Id. at 31.

         Under the collective bargaining agreement, Bristol Manor also agreed to be bound to the trust agreement establishing the Fund, and to the Fund's collection policies. See id. at 33. See generally Pls.' Statement Ex. 2, ECF No. 36-2 [hereinafter Trust Agreement]; Pls.' Statement Ex. 3, ECF No. 36-3 [hereinafter Collections Policy]. The trust agreement affirmed Bristol Manor's obligation to send required contributions to the Fund, accompanied by any reports the Fund might require. Trust Agreement Art. III, § 3.1.

         An " employee benefit plan" and " multiemployer plan" under ERISA, the Fund provides pension benefits to eligible employees of contributing employers. Am. Compl. ¶ 4, ECF No.13; Pls.' Statement ¶ 1; Def.'s Resp. ¶ 1; see also 29 U.S.C. § § 1002(3), 1002(37). On April 30, 2009, the Fund issued a notice announcing that it was in " critical status," as defined under the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (PPA).[5] See Pls.' Statement Ex. 4, at 2-3, ECF No. 36-4 [hereinafter Critical Status Notices].[6] The PPA requires plans in critical status to adopt a rehabilitation plan that, among other things, imposes surcharges on contributing employers. 29 U.S.C. § 1085(e)(1), (7); Critical Status Notices 1-2. Accordingly, the Fund adopted its rehabilitation plan in November 2009. See Pls.' Statement Ex. 5, at 1, ECF No. 36-5 [hereinafter Rehabilitation Plan Notice].

         Bristol Manor negotiated its collective bargaining agreement in 2010, the year after the Fund reached critical status and adopted its rehabilitation plan. Hence, the 2010 collective bargaining agreement set Bristol Manor's contribution rates " in accordance with the Pension Fund Preferred Schedule" detailed in the fund's rehabilitation plan. Collective Bargaining Agreement 33; see also Rehabilitation Plan Notice (discussing the rehabilitation plan's " Preferred" and " Default" schedules for employer surcharges). Starting on April 1, 2010, the collective bargaining agreement required Bristol Manor to contribute to the Fund an amount equal to 2.2% of its hourly salary payments to covered employees. See Collective Bargaining Agreement 31. The next year, on April 1, 2011, Bristol Manor's contribution amount increased to 2.37% of hourly salary payments. See id. And on April 2, 2012, the contribution amount became 2.55% of hourly salary payments. See id. In later years, the rehabilitation plan's Preferred Schedule provided for additional increases. See Rehabilitation Plan Notice App. B, at 3.

         B. The Fund's Collection Procedures

         The Fund's " Statement of Policy for Collection of Delinquent Contributions" set procedures for collecting Bristol Manor's contributions. See Collections Policy. That policy declared that contributions are due " by the 15th day of the month following the month in which the work was performed for which the contributions are owed." Id. § 2.1. Supporting remittance reports had to accompany the contributions. Id. § 2.2; see also Trust Agreement Art. III, § 3.1 (" Each Employer . . . shall make such reports to the Fund as may be required by the Trustees." ). Contributions were not timely made unless they were accompanied by these supporting remittance reports. Collections Policy § 2.2.

         C. Additional Remedies Available to the Fund for Late or Unpaid Contributions

         The Fund's trust agreement and collection policy declared that, if Bristol Manor did not submit its contributions and remittance reports by the due dates set each month, the Fund could collect interest and liquidated damages on Bristol Manor's delinquent contributions, as well as attorney's fees and costs if a lawsuit or other legal action was filed. See Trust Agreement Art. III, § 3.2; Collections Policy § § 2.4, 5.1-5.4. The Fund's collection policy also specified that " [t]he obligations to pay interest, liquidated damages and fees chargeable under this policy are contractual in nature and independent of the provisions of ERISA Section 502(g)." Collections Policy § 5.5; cf. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g) (stating, in the codified version of ERISA section 502(g), that in actions for delinquent contributions, a court shall award prevailing plans their unpaid contributions, interest on the unpaid contributions, additional interest or liquidated damages, attorney's fees and costs, and other legal or equitable relief the court deems appropriate).

         a. Interest

         Under the Fund's collection policy, Bristol Manor was required to pay interest on contributions " not received by the end of the month in which they are due." Collections Policy § 2.4. This meant that, typically, the Fund provided " a 15-day grace period prior to assessing interest on amounts owed." Anderson Decl. ¶ 21, ECF No. 36-6. When an interest payment was required, the collections policy specified that interest should be " calculated from the due date for the delinquent contributions through and including the date payment is actually received ty the Fund Office." Id. § 5.1. The collections policy set the interest rate at ten percent (10%) per annum. Id. If a month's interest was calculated to be less than one dollar, however, the collections policy excepted that month's interest from being charged. Id. § 2.4.

         b. Liquidated Damages

         The collection policy also allowed the Fund to claim liquidated damages from Bristol Manor " [i]f contributions and supporting remittance report(s) are not received by the 15th day of the month following the month in which contributions are due." Id. ; see also Trust Agreement Art. III, § 3.2 (giving the Fund the power to assess " liquidated damages (which . . . shall not be deemed to be a penalty) as the Trustees deem appropriate" when the Fund receives contributions after their due date). Accordingly, the Fund typically provided " a 30-day grace period to employe[r]s before assessing liquidated damages." Anderson Decl. ¶ 22. In cases, such as this one, in which " a lawsuit or other legal action is filed," the collections policy set the amount of liquidated damages as the greater of (1) the interest on the late contributions, as calculated under the collections policy, or (2) " 20% of the delinquent contributions." Collections Policy § 5.2.

         c. Attorney's Fees and Costs

         Lastly, the collection policy entitled the Fund to its attorney's fees and costs incurred in collection efforts against delinquent employers. See id. § § 5.3, 5.4.

         D. Bristol Manor's Alleged Late and Unpaid Contributions

         Between May 2010 and June 2015, the Fund's records show that it received many of Bristol Manor's required contributions after the dates on which the contributions were due. See Anderson Decl. Exs. A--C (listing the Fund's due dates and receipt dates for Bristol Manor's contributions); Jasinski Decl. Ex. A, ECF No. 37-4 (same). The Fund's records also show that Bristol Manor often made contributions in amounts less than the amounts the Fund calculated were actually due; these alleged underpayments occurred with increasing frequency over time. See Anderson Decl. Exs. A--C (listing the amounts Bristol Manor paid as well as the amounts the Fund calculated to be due); Jasinski Decl. Ex. A (same). Accordingly, the Fund assessed interest and liquidated damages on Bristol Manor's allegedly late and unpaid contributions. See Anderson Decl. Exs. A--C (including columns for interest, liquidated damages, and additional interest due); Jasinski Decl. Ex. A (same, though the numbers in the columns differ).


         On November 26, 2012, Plaintiffs filed suit under ERISA and the LMRA to collect the unpaid contributions, interest, and liquidated damages Bristol Manor allegedly owed and to obtain audit documents from Bristol Manor. See Compl. 1-2, 6, ECF No. 1. For more than one year afterward, little progress was made in this case because of difficulties serving Bristol Manor and the parties' inactivity during their settlement negotiations. See SEIU Nat'l Indus. Pension Fund v. Bristol Manor Healthcare Ctr., 307 F.R.D. 37, 39-40 (D.D.C. 2014) (recounting this case's history).

         On January 13, 2014, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that sought the same relief but alleged more specific damages. See Am. Compl. 1-2, 8-10. After Bristol Manor failed to respond within twenty-one days of service as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(a)(1)(A), Plaintiffs filed for an entry of default, the clerk entered the default, and Plaintiffs filed a motion for partial default judgment. See Pls.' Aff. for Clerk's Entry of Default, ECF No. 18; Default, ECF No. 19; Pls.' Mot. Partial Default J., ECF No. 20. On its review of the matter, the Court found that Bristol Manor did not willfully default, that setting aside the entry of default would not prejudice Plaintiffs, and that Bristol Manor asserted a meritorious defense to Plaintiffs' claims. SEIU Nat'l Indus. Pension Fund, 307 F.R.D. at 41-43. Accordingly, the Court vacated the entry of default, denied Plaintiffs' motion for default judgment, and allowed the case to proceed to resolution on the merits. Id. at 43.

         The parties then conducted discovery over a six-month period. See Scheduling Order, ECF No. 32 (setting the discovery schedule). Plaintiffs now move for summary judgment on their claims against Bristol Manor. See Pls.' Mot. Summ. J., ECF No. 36. As before, Plaintiffs seek judgment on all known outstanding contributions Bristol Manor owes, as well as liquidated damages and interest. Pls.' Mem. P. & A. Supp. Mot. Summ. J. 1, ECF No. 36. Plaintiffs allege that both ERISA and the Fund's trust agreement and collections policy authorize their requested damages. See id. at 8 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)). Plaintiffs also seek attorney's fees, court costs, as well as injunctive relief in the form of an order requiring Bristol Manor to submit missing remittance reports for June 2015. Id. Lastly, Plaintiffs ask that the Court retain jurisdiction over the matter to order Bristol Manor to pay any amounts due based on the June 2015 reports, as well as any additional attorney's fees and costs accrued. Id. [7]


         Under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must grant summary judgment if " the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A " material" fact is one capable of affecting the substantive outcome of the litigation. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A dispute is " genuine" if there is enough evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-movant. See Scott v. Harris, 550 U.S. 372, 380, 127 S.Ct. 1769, 167 L.Ed.2d 686 (2007). The inquiry under Rule 56 is essentially " whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 251-52.

         The principal purpose of summary judgment is to streamline litigation by disposing of factually unsupported claims or defenses and determining whether there is a genuine need for trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The movant bears the initial burden of identifying portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of any genuine issue of material fact. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. In response, the non-movant must point to specific facts in the record that reveal a genuine issue that is suitable for trial. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. The non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations or denials but must instead present affirmative evidence. Laningham v. U.S. Navy, 813 F.2d 1236, 1241, 259 U.S.App.D.C. 115 (D.C. Cir. 1987) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 257).

         In considering a motion for summary judgment, a court must " eschew making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence," Czekalski v. Peters, 475 F.3d 360, 363, 374 U.S.App.D.C. 351 (D.C. Cir. 2007), and all underlying facts and inferences must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, seeAnderson, 477 U.S. at 255. Nevertheless, conclusory assertions offered without any evidentiary support do not establish a ...

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