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Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund v. Jersey City Healthcare Providers, LLC

United States District Court, District of Columbia

February 13, 2019

SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION NATIONAL INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
JERSEY CITY HEALTHCARE PROVIDERS, LLC, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs, Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund and the Fund's Trustees, bring this action against Defendant, Jersey City Healthcare Providers, LLC, under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). See 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Based on alleged non-payments and underpayments to Plaintiffs' pension fund from January 2012 through April 2017, Plaintiffs seek $34, 383.66 in outstanding contributions, liquidated damages, interest, and audit testing fees. Plaintiffs also request attorneys' fees and costs and additional accrued interest. Defendant argues that it has made and continues to make all proper pension fund contributions. Plaintiffs have moved for summary judgment.

         Upon consideration of the pleadings, [1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as it currently stands, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court concludes that Defendant was required to make increased supplemental contribution payments following the passage of the Multiemployer Pension Reform Act of 2014 (“MPRA”). See 29 U.S.C. § 1085. Because Defendant failed to make the increased supplemental contributions from September 2015 to April 2017, Plaintiffs are owed $32, 715.50 in damages to account for the unpaid contributions, interest, and liquidated damages. The Court also concludes that Plaintiffs are owed $1, 668.16 in unpaid contributions, interest, liquidated damages, and audit testing fees resulting from the pension fund's 2012-2013 audit of Defendant. Accordingly, Plaintiffs are GRANTED $34, 383.66 in total damages based on Defendant's September 2015 to April 2017 unpaid supplemental contributions and on Defendant's 2012-2013 audit. Finally, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motion for injunctive relief requiring Defendant to remit reports and contributions going forward in accordance with the collective bargaining agreements, the pension fund's documents, and federal law as Defendant has demonstrated a repeated unwillingness to comply with these requirements.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs and Defendant entered into a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) spanning the period from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2014. CBA, Ex. 1, ECF No. 18-1, 5. As is relevant to this case, the CBA established terms and conditions of employment for certified nursing assistants (“CNAs”), dietary staff, housekeeping staff, and recreational aides. Id. at 1A. Even though, by its terms, the CBA expired on March 31, 2014, Defendant has continued to make payments and remit reports to the pension fund in accord with the terms and conditions of the CBA. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶ 6; Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 84.

         Under the terms of the CBA, Defendant “agrees to make periodic contributions on behalf of all employees covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement to the Service Employees International Union National Industry Pension Fund” and “agrees to become and remain a participating employer in the Fund throughout the term of this Collective Bargaining Agreement, including any extensions thereof.” CBA, Ex. 1, ECF No. 18-1, 25.1-2. The CBA also states that Defendant “agrees to be bound by the provisions of the Agreement and Declaration of Trust establishing the Fund, as it may from time to time be amended, and by all resolutions and rules adopted by the Trustees pursuant to the powers delegated to them by the Agreement, including collection policies.” Id. at 25.4.

         Pursuant to the Trust agreement, the trustees adopted a Statement of Policy for Collection of Delinquent Contributions (“Collection Policy”). See generally Collection Policy, Ex. 3, ECF No. 18-3. Under the Collection Policy, employers are required to make contributions to the pension fund on or before the 15th of the month after the month in which the work was performed. Id. at 2.1. If the contributions are not received by their due date, the pension fund is entitled to collect interest on delinquent contributions at the rate of 10% per annum. Id. at 5.1. The Collection Policy further permits the pension fund to collect liquidated damages for any month where an employer is delinquent in its contributions. Id. at 5.2. The amount of liquidated damages is calculated as the greater of the interest due or 20% of the delinquent contributions. Id.

         Pursuant to the Pension Protection Act of 2006 (“PPA”), the pension fund was determined to be in “critical” status for the plan years 2009 through 2017. See 29 U.S.C § 1085. Employers were notified of the pension fund's critical status by letters sent annually from 2009 to 2017. Ex. 4, ECF No. 18-4 (critical status letters to employers). Because the plan was in critical status, the PPA required the plan to implement a rehabilitation plan to correct its financial situation. 29 U.S.C. § 1085(e)(1). Under the rehabilitation plan adopted by the pension fund, employers were required to make supplemental contributions. Ex. 5, ECF no. 18-5 (letter to employers explaining rehabilitation plan). Employers could choose to make their supplemental contributions under a Preferred Schedule or a Default Schedule. Id.

         When Defendant negotiated its CBA in 2010, the parties agreed upon the Preferred Schedule for supplemental contributions. CBA, Ex. 1, ECF No. 18-1, 25.3. When the CBA expired on March 31, 2014, the pension fund was still in critical status. CBA, Ex. 1, ECF No. 18-1, 5 (setting the term of the contract). Following the CBA's expiration, the parties failed to successfully negotiate a new CBA. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶ 28; Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 82.

         Lacking a new CBA, the pension fund continued to charge Plaintiffs for supplemental contributions at the same rate as had been charged prior to the CBA's expiration-37.6% of its base contractual contribution-until January 1, 2015. But, relying on the enactment of the MPRA, on January 1, 2015, the pension fund implemented a continuation of the Preferred Schedule which increased the rate of Defendant's supplemental contributions. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶¶ 29-30. Defendant contends that the rate of its supplemental contributions should not have increased because the MPRA was inapplicable as the parties' CBA expired prior to the MPRA's enactment. Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶¶ 29-30.

         Based on Defendant's failure to pay the increased rates for supplemental contributions, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant underpaid its monthly contributions between September 2015 and April 2017. Including delinquent contributions, interest, and liquidated damages, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant owes $11, 814.09 for dietary and housekeeping employees, $19, 532.56 for CNAs, and $1, 368.85 for recreational employees. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶¶ 35-44. Accordingly, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant owes a total of $32, 715.50 for delinquent contributions, interest, and liquidated damages based on a failure to pay increased supplemental contribution rates between September 2015 and April 2017. Defendant disputes this amount, contending that it made all required payments during this timeframe. Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 105.

         In addition to the alleged damages owed from September 2015 to April 2017, Plaintiffs argue that Defendant also owes damages based on a prior audit of Defendant's contributions. In 2014, the pension fund audited Defendant's contributions for calendar years 2012-2013. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶ 45; Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 45. Defendant produced hundreds of pages of records in response to the pension fund's audit request, including records indicating hours worked, amounts paid, and employment status of employees. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶ 47; Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 85.

         Based on the results of the 2012-2013 audit, the pension fund determined that Defendant owed $63.23 in delinquent contributions, interest, and liquidated damages for its dietary and housekeeping employees. Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 18-9, ¶¶ 53-58. The pension fund also determined that Defendant owed $1, 604.93 in delinquent contributions, interest, liquidated damages, and audit testing fees for its recreational employees. Id. at ¶¶ 59-65. Accordingly, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant owes a total of $1, 668.16 in delinquent contributions, interest, liquidated damages, and audit testing fees based on the 2013-2013 audit. Defendant disputes this amount, contending that it made all required payments during this timeframe. Def.'s Res. To Pls.' Statement of Material Facts, ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 105.

         On August 15, 2017, Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit under ERISA to collect $34, 383.66 in allegedly unpaid contributions, interest, liquidated damages, audit testing fees. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. The parties subsequently engaged in discovery. See generally Joint Discovery Plan, ECF No. 15. Plaintiffs have now moved for summary judgment. See generally, Pls.' Mot, ECF No. 18.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Summary judgment is appropriate where “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). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a “material” fact. Id. Accordingly, “[o]nly disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided based on just any disagreement as to the relevant facts; the dispute must be “genuine, ” meaning that there must be sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant. Id.

         In order to establish that a fact is or cannot be genuinely disputed, a party must (a) cite to specific parts of the record-including deposition testimony, documentary evidence, affidavits or declarations, or other competent evidence-in support of its position, or (b) demonstrate that the materials relied upon by the opposing party do not actually establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). Conclusory assertions offered without any factual basis in the record cannot create a genuine dispute sufficient to survive summary judgment. See Ass'n of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Dep't of Transp., 564 F.3d 462, 465-66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). Moreover, where “a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, ” the district court may “consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).

         When faced with a motion for summary judgment, the district court may not assess credibility or weigh evidence; instead, the evidence must be analyzed in the light most favorable to the non-movant, with “all justifiable inferences ... drawn in his favor.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “‘If material facts are at issue, or though undisputed, are susceptible to divergent inferences, summary judgment is not available.'” Moore v. Hartman, 571 F.3d 62, 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (quoting Kuo-Yun Tao v. Freeh, 27 F.3d 635, 638 (D.C. Cir. 1994)). In the end, the district court's task is to determine “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. In this regard, the non-movant must “do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). “If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50 (internal citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs bring this case seeking delinquent contributions and other damages under Section 515 of ERISA which provides that “[e]very 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 plan or such agreement.” 29 U.S.C. § 1145. This section of 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). Accordingly, it is “well-established that the failure to make contributions to a union trust fund as required by a collective bargaining agreement constitutes a violation of ERISA § 515.” Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Davanc Contracting, Inc., 808 F.Supp.2d 89, 95 (D.D.C. 2011) (internal quotations omitted). Moreover, when a Court determines that an employer violated Section 515 of ERISA by failing to make contributions to a pension fund as required by a collective bargaining agreement or by the pension fund's documents, the plan is entitled to recover the contributions, interest, liquidated damages, reasonable attorneys' fees and costs, and all other appropriate equitable relief. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2).

         Plaintiffs move for summary judgment as to all known outstanding contributions, liquidated damages, interest, and audit testing fees in the amount of $34, 383.66 plus attorneys' fees and costs and additional accrued interest. Defendant has two primary arguments as to why the Court should not grant summary judgment. First, Defendant contends that it was not required to pay the increased rate for supplemental contributions between September 2015 and April 2017. But, the Court concludes that Defendant was required to make supplemental contributions at the increased rate based on the MPRA. Second, Defendant claims that there are genuine disputes of material fact as to the alleged damages owed. But, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have produced sufficient evidence proving that they are entitled to the requested $34, 383.66 in damages and Defendant has not provided contrary evidence. In addition to monetary damages, the Court also concludes that Plaintiffs have established that injunctive relief requiring Defendant to act in accordance with the collective bargaining agreements, the pension fund's documents, and federal law is appropriate. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         A. Applicability of the MPRA to Defendant's Supplemental Contributions

          The Court will first address whether or not Defendant was required to pay an increased rate for supplemental contributions to the pension fund pursuant to the MPRA between September 2015 and April 2017. Due to the pension fund's critical status, Defendant was obligated to make supplemental contributions under the rehabilitation plan. Ex. 5, ECF No. 18-5 (explaining the rehabilitation plan to employers). The parties dispute the amount of supplemental contributions owed between September 2015 and April 2017. As ...


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