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Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund v. Roseen Realty Corp.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

April 2, 2018




         In this suit, the Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund and its Trustees (the Fund) seek unpaid pension fund contributions from Roseen Realty Corporation (doing business as the Arnold Walter Nursing Home) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. The Fund claims that Arnold Walter owes $29, 830.53 in contributions and interest, plus attorney's fees and costs. Arnold Walter asserts that the Fund's calculations for both amounts are unreliable. For the reasons explained below, I find that no genuine dispute exists as to any material fact, and will enter summary judgment for the Fund.

         I. Background

         The Fund seeks unpaid contributions from Arnold Walter for a period of seventeen months, from July 2015 through November 2016. Decl. of Kisha Smith, Ex. A, Mot. Summ. J. (Smith Decl.).[1] Arnold Walter is obligated to pay a base rate of contributions pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), which was renewed by a binding arbitration opinion and award "for the period of March 1, 2012 through June 30, 2018." Compl. ¶ 10.[2] Under the CBA, Arnold Walter must pay 2.75% of eligible employees' gross earnings, Compl. ¶ 11, and submit monthly remittance reports that "contain the names of each covered employee and the number of compensable hours for each employee during the reporting month." Compl. ¶ 15.

         On top of the base rate, Arnold Walter must pay (1) interest on delinquent contributions "at the rate often percent (10%) per annum, " (2) liquidated damages (calculated as the greater of interest owed or "20% of the delinquent contributions, "), and (3) attorney's fees and costs. Compl. Ex. 5 at 8-9. These obligations are spelled out in the Fund's Collections Policy, id.9 and authorized by the Fund's Agreement and Declaration of Trust (Trust Agreement), Compl. Ex. 4, Sec. 3.2, both of which are explicitly incorporated into the CBA. Compl. Ex. 1, Art. 30, Sec. 30.4 ("The Employer hereby agrees to be bound by the provisions of the Agreement and Declaration of Trust establishing the Fund ... and by all resolutions and rules adopted by the Trustees ... including collection policies, receipt of which is hereby acknowledged."). Under the Collections Policy, attorney's fees must be "assessed ... at a reasonable hourly rate (which rate shall be no less than the hourly rate charged to the Fund for such services) for all time spent by legal counsel in collection efforts." Compl. Ex. 5 at 8.

         The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) "makes a federal obligation of an employer's contractual commitment to contribute to a multiemployer pension fund." Flynn v. R.C Tile, 353'F.3d 953, 958 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The Fund constitutes a "multiemployer plan." Compl. ¶5.

Every employer who is obligated to make contributions to a multiemployer plan under the terms of the plan or under the terms of a collectively bargained agreement shall, to the extent not inconsistent with law, make such contributions in accordance with the terms and conditions of such plans or such agreement.

29 U.S.C. § 1145. If judgment is awarded for a violation of this section, "the court shall award the plan" the exact sort of relief that the Fund seeks in this case: "the unpaid contributions . . . interest on the unpaid contributions ... liquidated damages ... reasonable attorney's fees and costs ... and ... other legal or equitable relief as the court deems appropriate." 29 U.S.C. § H32(g)(2).

         Arnold Walter also must pay a surcharge to comply with the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (the PPA), which is an amendment to ERISA. Under the PPA, a multiemployer benefit plan that is in "critical status" must "adopt and implement a rehabilitation plan, " 29 U.S.C. § 1085(a)(2), and can impose supplemental contributions that are "reasonably necessary to emerge from critical status." Id. at § 1085(e)(1). Failure to pay the rehabilitation plan's extra contributions "shall be treated as a delinquent contribution under section 1145 of this title [ERISA] and shall be enforceable as such." Id. at § lO85(e)(3)(C)(iv).

         The Fund calculates that Arnold Walter owes $29, 830.53 in unpaid base and supplemental contributions, along with interest on unpaid amounts and liquidated damages. Mot. Summ. J. 7; Smith Decl. ¶ 28. The Fund reached this total based on the remittance reports that Arnold Walter submitted, taking "the hours reported by the Defendant itself and multiplying] it by the base rate for contributions ... and the rate of supplemental contributions as required by the Fund's Rehabilitation Plan." Mot. Summ. J. 6-7; Smith Decl. ¶ 6. The difference between the amount due and the amount paid is the underpayment, from which interest and liquidated damages can be calculated. Smith Decl. ¶¶ 26-27, Ex. A (dated March 15, 2017); PL's Statement of Mat. Facts Not in Dispute ¶ ("interest [is] calculated through March 15, 2017"). The Fund has submitted a chart detailing the month-by-month totals, in lieu of providing the actual remittance reports and financial records. Id. at 8.

         The Fund also claims that Arnold Walter owes a total of $11, 217.00 in attorney's fees and costs. Decl. of Andrew Lin, Mot. Summ. J. (Lin Decl.) (documenting $6, 950.00 in attorney's fees and $510 in costs); Supp. Decl. of Andrew Lin (Supp. Lin Decl.) (documenting $4, 267.00 in additional attorney's fees).[3] All told, the Fund asks for summary judgment in the amount of $41, 047.53.

         In response, Arnold Walter submits an affidavit from one of its attorneys, who asserts that "[t]o the extent Plaintiffs believe required contributions have not been made, the Pension Fund has improperly included .. . certain individuals who have not met the required threshold criteria, " because "only employees who have been employed at least ninety (90) days are eligible to have contributions made on their behalf." Decl. of David Jasinksi ¶¶ 6, 10 Def.' s Opp. Mot. Summ. J. The declaration also says that "on a monthly basis, Arnold Walter determines how much it owes in pension fund contributions and creates a remittance report listing the pension fund contribution amounts." Id. ¶ 7. "These remittance reports along with payment... are then remitted to the Pension Fund." Id. ¶ 8. Mr. Jasinski alleges that "Arnold Walter has paid ... for individuals who . . . met the applicable threshold eligibility criteria, " id. ¶ 9, but that "Plaintiffs' inconsistent calculations of alleged amounts owed have muddied the waters .. . such that determining any actual amounts payable to the Pension Fund has not been possible." Id. ¶ 11. Finally, Arnold Walter asserts that in some respects the Fund's attorneys have billed "an excessive and unreasonable amount of time." Opp. 6; see also Jasinski Decl. 3.

         II. Legal Standards

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, a ¶movant must show 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); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986); Celotex Corp v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A factual dispute is material if it could alter the outcome of the suit under the substantive governing law, and genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. "[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the [record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex, 477 U.S. at ...

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