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Ottley v. Sheepshead Nursing Home

January 28, 1986


Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Keenan, J.) dismissing the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction in an action to recover delinquent contributions to employee benefit funds. Reversed and remanded.

Author: Miner

Before: CARDAMONE, PRATT and MINER, Circuit Judges.

MINER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiffs, Local 144, Hotel, Hospital, Nursing Home & Allied Services Union, SEIU-CIO ("Local 144"), and eight trustees of the multi-employer employee benefit funds established for the members of Local 144 ("trustees"), appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (John F. Keenan, Judge) dismissing both of the claims pleaded in their complaint against defendant Sheepshead Nursing Home ("Sheepshead"). In the first claim, brought pursuant to section 302 of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185 (1982), Local 144 and the trustees sought confirmation of a February 1, 1985 arbitration award directing Sheepshead to make immediate payment of certain contributions, with interest, to the employee benefit funds ("funds"). The second claim was brought by the trustees under the provisions of section 502(e)(1) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1)(1982), for injunctive relief directing Sheepshead to pay the same delinquent contributions as well as timely future contributions as they become due, interest, liquidated damages, costs and attorneys' fees. In dismissing the complaint, the district court held that Section 301 of the LMRA confers federal subject matter jurisdiction only over a defendant who is an "employer" with the meaning of the Act. Political subdivisions are exempted from being considered employers under the Act, 29 U.S.C. § 152(2), and the district court held that these plaintiffs were collaterally estopped from litigating the political subdivision exemption to the LMRA, claimed by Sheepshead, by virtue of a decision in an action to which Local 144 was a party in the New York Supreme Court. We reverse.


On April 1, 1978, Local 144 entered into three-year collective bargaining agreements*fn1 with the Greater New York Health Care Association ("Association"), a multi-employer nursing home organization of which Sheepshead then was a member. Among other things, the agreements required the members to make regular contributions to the funds administered by the trustees. Following Sheepshead's withdrawal from the Association in 1980, Local 144 and the Association entered into new collective bargaining agreements covering the period 1981-1984. On June 30, 1982, Sheepshead made a separate agreement with Local 144 by which it adopted the new agreements with certain modifications. While Sheepshead agreed to continue its contributions to the funds, the modifications allowed it to renegotiate any of the economic terms of the new collective bargaining agreements it was unable to implement.*fn2

By letter dated July 28, 1982, Sheepshead notified Local 144 that it was unable to implement is contributions to the funds at rates in excess of ten percent and requested renegotiation of the contractual obligation to contribute at considerably higher rates.*fn3 When renegotiation efforts proved unsuccessful, the issue was referred for advisory mediation and fact-finding pursuant to the arrangement between Sheepshead and Local 144. Although commenced, mediation proceedings never were concluded, and the mediator issued no recommendations. After sending its letter to Local 144 on July 28th, Sheepshead remitted regular contributions to the funds at the reduced rate of ten percent until November of 1983, when it ceased payments altogether.

On February 1, 1985, Local 144's claims for delinquent fund contributions were submitted to an arbitrator. On the same day, the arbitrator made an award directing Sheepshead to pay the funds the sum of $338,499.40 plus interest in the amount of $104,149.79.*fn4 Prior to the arbitration award, certain residents of Sheepshead had applied to the New York Supreme Court, Kings County, for the appointment of a receiver in order to forestall the closing of the facility by the New York State Health Department for violations of health and safety regulations. The application was made under the provisions of N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2810(2) (McKinney 1985).*fn5 On October 17, 1984, over the objection of the Commissioner of Health ("Commissioner"), who had sought to revoke Sheepshead's operating certificate, Supreme Court Justice Aronin appointed Alan I. Chopp receiver of Sheepshead with full authority to operate the facility. The order of appointment directed that the receiver take charge of all assets and records and that there be no involuntary transfer of patients during the period of receivership. Joint Appendix at 238-41. Chopp was a professional nursing home administrator and consultant whose name appeared on the Commission's list of those qualified to serve as nursing home receivers. He previously had served as a consultant to Sheepshead and intended to purchase the nursing home facility. Joint Appendix at 161.

In the district court, Local 144 and its trustees moved for confirmation of the arbitrator's award and for a preliminary injunction directing the current payment of fund contributions together with interest, costs and attorneys' fees. Sheepshead cross-moved to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, based on the political subdivision exemption of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 152(2), and to vacate the arbitrator's award.*fn6 Applying the doctrine of collateral estoppel in granting the motion to dismiss, Judge Keenan relied on Greenblatt v. Ottley, 106 Misc. 2d 169, 430 N.Y.S.2d 958 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. Albany County 1980), wherein it was held that a receiver appointed under the provisions of the New York Public Health Law was included within the political subdivision exemption and was not an employer as defined in the LMRA and therefore not subject to its provisions. Since Judge Keenan found that the definitional provisions of the LMRA and ERISA were the same, he dismissed the ERISA claim as well.

Local 144, a party to the Greenblatt action, joins the trustees in arguing on this appeal that the collateral estoppel doctrine was applied improperly by the district court. Sheepshead takes the opposite view and argues also that the dispute between the parties now is mooted by virtue of a Memorandum of Understanding dated April 4, 1985 providing for the receiver to make contributions to the funds commencing October 17, 1984, the date of the receiver's appointment.


"It is now well settled that a federal court must give to a state-court judgment the same preclusive effect as would be given that judgment under the law of the State in which the judgment was rendered." Migra v. Warren City School District Board of Education, 465 U.S. 75, 104 S. Ct. 892, 896, 79 L. Ed. 2d 56 (1984); Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 96, 66 L. Ed. 2d 308, 101 S. Ct. 411 (1980); 28 U.S.C. § 1738 (1982). New York courts apply the doctrine of collateral estoppel or issue preclusion to bar relitigation of questions previously decided where (1) the particular factual and legal issues in question were necessarily raised and decided in the prior action; (2) the party against whom the doctrine is invoked had a full and fair opportunity to litigate those issues in the previous action; and (3) the issues in the present controversy and in the prior action are identical. Gramatan Home Investors Corp. v. Lopez, 46 N.Y.2d 481, 485-86, 414 N.Y.S.2d 308, 311, 386 N.E.2d 1328 (1979).

The identity of the material issues necessarily decided in the previous proceeding is the controlling element. Ryan v. New York Telephone Co., 62 N.Y.2d 494, 500-01, 478 N.Y.S.2d 823, 826, 467 N.E.2d 487 (1984). The burden of demonstrating identicality rests upon the party claiming the benefits of the collateral estoppel doctrine. Kaufman v. Eli Lilly & Co., 65 N.Y.2d 449, 456, 492 N.Y.S.2d 584, 588, 482 N.E.2d 63 (1985); Schwartz v. Public Administrator, 24 N.Y.2d 65, 73, 298 N.Y.S.2d 955, 962, 246 N.E.2d 725 (1969). On the record before us, Sheepshead has failed to show clearly that there is no distinction between the factual issues decided in Greenblatt v. Ottley and those presented here.

In Greenblatt, Local 144 was the respondent in a proceeding brought to stay an arbitration it had initiated on behalf of certain employees of the Kings Harbor Health Care Center ("Kings Harbor"). Robert Greenblatt, the petitioner in the proceeding, was an employee of the New York State Department of Health designated to take charge of the Kings Harbor facility by the Commissioner, who had been appointed as receiver of the facility pursuant to N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2810(2).*fn7 In granting the stay of arbitration, Judge Doran observed that one of ...

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