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Boland v. Hetrick

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 2, 2017

JAMES BOLAND, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN E. HETRICK d/b/a HETRICK MASONRY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The plaintiffs, the fiduciaries of the Bricklayers & Trowel Trades International Pension Fund (the “Pension Fund”) and the International Masonry Institute (the “Masonry Institute”), [1]see Complaint (“Compl.”) ¶ 1, seek to recover unpaid contributions and associated damages under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1109(a), 1132(a), (g), 1145 (2012) (“ERISA”), from the defendant, John E. Hetrick d/b/a Hetrick Masonry (“Hetrick Masonry”), see Compl. ¶¶ 1, 6. Currently before the Court is the plaintiffs' Motion for Entry of Judgment by Default and to Close Case (“Pls.' Mot.”). See Pls.' Mot. at 1. Upon careful consideration of the plaintiffs' submissions, [2] the Court concludes that it must grant the plaintiffs' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Pension Fund and the Masonry Institute are multiemployer, employee benefit plans within the meaning of ERISA. See Compl. ¶¶ 3-4 (citing 29 U.S.C. §§ 1002(3), (37)). Both plans are established and maintained pursuant to collective bargaining agreements between affiliates of the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (the “Union”) and Hetrick Masonry to provide health and pension benefits for their Union members employed by Hetrick Masonry. See id. ¶¶ 7-8; see also Pls.' App., Declaration of David F. Stupar in Support of Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment (“Stupar Decl.”) ¶ 7; Compl., Exhibit (“Ex.”) A (Agreement between Hetrick Masonry and Bricklayers Union #15 (Mar. 12, 1987) (“Agreement 1”)); id., Ex. B (Agreement between Construction Employers Association of North Central West Virginia, Inc. and the B.A.C. District Council of WV Bricklayers/Cement Masons Local Union No. 15 of Fairmont, West Virginia (Dec. 1, 2009 through May 31, 2013) (“Agreement 2”)); id., Ex. C (Agreement between Construction Employers Association of North Central West Virginia, Inc. and the B.A.C. District Council of WV Bricklayers/Cement Masons Local Union No. 15 of Fairmont, West Virginia (June 1, 2013 through May 31, 2017) (“Agreement 3”)).

         “Pursuant to the Agreements, [Hetrick Masonry] agreed to make certain payments to the [Pension Fund], [the Masonry Institute], and [the] Local Funds for each hour of covered work it performed.” Compl. ¶ 9; see also Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶¶ 3, 7; Compl., Ex. B (Agreement 2), art. XV, at 22-23 (providing amount to be contributed); id., Ex. C (Agreement 3), art. XV, at 22- 23 (same). To fulfill its obligations under the Agreements, Hetrick Masonry is also required to submit monthly reports calculating the amount due to the Union. See Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶ 7; see also id., Stupar Decl., Ex. 1 (General Collection Procedures of the Central Collection Unit of the Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers (“Collection Procedures Agreement”)) ¶ 1. Furthermore, under the terms of the Agreements, “[the p]laintiffs are entitled to conduct audits of the books and records of [Hetrick Masonry] to determine whether contributions have been made in compliance with [Hetrick Masonry's] obligations.” Compl. ¶ 11; Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶ 9.

         An audit conducted by an independent firm (“Audit 1”) “revealed that Hetrick [Masonry] failed to properly submit required reports and contributions for covered work performed” from “January 2012 through March 2015.” Compl. ¶ 12; Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶ 10. The plaintiffs allege that pursuant to Audit 1, Hetrick Masonry owes them “$53, 861.01 in delinquent contributions, ” $6, 906.81 in interest “assessed on the estimated delinquent contributions, ” $10, 772.25 in liquidated damages, and audit costs of $11, 201.31. See Compl. at 5-6; Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶ 10.

         On February 29, 2016, the plaintiffs filed this action and requested the following monetary relief: (1) “delinquent contributions in the amount of $56, 806.79 due to the [Pension Fund], [the Masonry Institute], and Local Funds, plus any and all additional amounts that accrue and/or are found to be due and owing through the date of [the] judgment, ” Compl. at 6; (2) “interest in the amount of $6, 906.81, ” id.; (3) “liquidated damages in the amount of $10, 772.25, ” id.; (4) “late fees determined due to the Local Funds [in the amount of] $12, 679.63, ” id., (5) $400 in filing fees; (6) “the costs of conducting [Audit 1] in the amount of $11, 201.31, ” id.; and (7) attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $5, 000.00, plus “such additional amounts as may be incurred, ” id. at 7. In addition, the plaintiffs requested mandatory injunctive relief in the form of an order requiring Hetrick Masonry to: (1) produce “all delinquent fringe benefit reports owed . . . for the time period of May 2015 through the present”; (2) produce “all payroll records and other documents needed by the auditors to calculate delinquent contributions and related amounts due for the period of April 2015 through the present”; and (3) “comply with its obligations to correctly report and contribute to the [Pension Fund], [the Masonry Institute], and Local Funds, in a timely manner, all reports and contributions due and owing, and to pay the costs and disbursements of this action.” Id. Hetrick Masonry neither entered an appearance nor otherwise responded to the plaintiffs' Complaint, and thus, the Clerk of the Court entered a default against Hetrick Masonry on April 14, 2016. See Default (Apr. 14, 2016), ECF No. 5.

         In May 2016, a second audit of Hetrick Masonry's payroll records was conducted (“Audit 2”), and it “revealed that . . . Hetrick Masonry failed to properly submit required reports and contributions for covered work performed” from “April 2015 through December 2015.” Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶ 11; Pls.' Mem. at 4-5. The plaintiffs now petition the Court to enter a default judgment against Hetrick Masonry and award them a monetary award in the amount of $200, 669.55, consisting of payments for delinquent contributions, interest on the delinquent contributions, liquidated damages, and attorney's fees and costs. Pls.' Mem. at 1, 5-7; Pls.' Damages at 1; Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶¶ 10-16. In their motion, the plaintiffs assert that Hetrick Masonry has made only two payments totaling $3, 200.00 toward its delinquency in September 2016. Pls.' Mem. at 5; Pls.' App., Stupar Decl. ¶ 15. To date, Hetrick Masonry has not entered an appearance or opposed the plaintiffs' motion.[3]

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Rule 55 sets forth a two-step process for a party seeking a default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55. First, “[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). Second, “the party must apply to the court for a default judgment.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). Despite a plaintiff's ability to acquire a judgment by default, there are “strong policies favoring the resolution of genuine disputes on their merits.” Jackson v. Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 835 (D.C. Cir. 1980); see Peak v. District of Columbia, 236 F.R.D. 13, 15 (D.D.C. 2006) (acknowledging the inherent unfairness of awarding judgment against a party for mere filing delays). Therefore, a “default judgment must normally be viewed as available only when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party.” Jackson, 636 F.2d at 836 (quoting H. F. Livermore Corp. v. Aktiengesellschaft Gebruder Loepfe, 432 F.2d 689, 691 (D.C. Cir. 1970)); see also Teamsters Local 639-Emp'rs Health Tr. v. Boiler & Furnace Cleaners, Inc., 571 F.Supp.2d 101, 107 (D.D.C. 2008) (Walton, J.) (“[W]hen the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party[, ] the diligent party must be protected lest he be faced with interminable delay and continued uncertainty as to his rights.”).

         “Default establishes the defaulting party's liability for the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint.” Boland v. Elite Terrazzo Flooring, Inc., 763 F.Supp.2d 64, 67 (D.D.C. 2011) (citing Adkins v. Teseo, 180 F.Supp.2d 15, 17 (D.D.C. 2001)); see also Adkins, 180 F.Supp.2d at 17 (“A defaulting defendant is deemed to admit every well-pleaded allegation in the complaint.”). “[T]he Court must ‘make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded' pursuant to the judgment ‘unless the amount of damages is certain.'” Boland v. Yoccabel Constr. Co., 293 F.R.D. 13, 17 (D.D.C. 2013) (Walton, J.) (quoting Adkins, 180 F.Supp.2d at 17). “‘[P]laintiff[s] must prove [their] entitlement to the amount of monetary damages requested' using ‘detailed affidavits or documentary evidence' on which the court may rely.” Boland v. Providence Constr. Corp., 304 F.R.D. 31, 36 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Fanning v. Permanent Sol. Indus., 257 F.R.D. 4, 7 (D.D.C. 2009)).

         III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

         A. Whether a Default Judgment Is Warranted

         The plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to a default judgment because “[t]o date, and notwithstanding the fact that [Hetrick Masonry] is fully aware of this action and its default, [it] still has not entered an appearance or filed a pleading to contest the [p]laintiffs' allegations in this case.” Pls.' Mem. at 1. Whether the entry of a default judgment is appropriate is committed to the sound discretion of this Court. Jackson, 636 F.2d at 835. “To warrant a default judgment, the defendant must be considered a totally unresponsive party, and its default plainly willful, reflected by its failure to respond to the summons and complaint, the entry of default, and the motion for a default judgment.” Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Nat'l Pension Fund v. Liberty House Nursing Home of Jersey City, 232 F.Supp.3d 69, 76 (D.D.C. 2017) (quoting Teamsters, 571 F.Supp.2d at 107). Given that Hetrick Masonry has not filed an appearance or otherwise responded to the summons and complaint, the entry of the default, and the plaintiffs' motion for a default judgment, “and especially in light of the plaintiffs' uncontested allegation that [Hetrick Masonry] entered into settlement discussions” with them, see Yoccabel Constr. Co., 293 F.R.D. at 17, the Court finds that Hetrick Masonry is aware of these proceedings, but has been a “totally unresponsive party, ” Serv. Emps. Int'l Union Nat'l Pension Fund, 232 F.Supp.3d at 76, and therefore, entry of a default judgment is appropriate in this case.

         B. ...


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