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ALBRADCO, INC. v. BEVONA

April 3, 1992

ALBRADCO, INC. and ELIAS STRUM, Plaintiffs, against GUS BEVONA, as President of 32B-32J Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, and as Trustee of the Building Service 32B-J Health Fund and the Building Service 32B-J Pension Fund; 32B-32J SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION, AFL-CIO; BUILDING SERVICE 32B-J HEALTH FUND; AND BUILDING SERVICE 32B-J PENSION FUND, Defendants.

LEISURE


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PETER K. LEISURE

ORDER AND OPINION

LEISURE, District Judge,

 In this action, plaintiffs, Albradco, Inc. ("Albradco"), and Elias Strum ("Strum") (collectively "declaratory plaintiffs"), now move the Court, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, for a declaratory judgment, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201-2202, declaring that N.Y.B.C.L. § 630 is preempted by section 514 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1144, or in the alternative, by section 301(a) of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a), and for an order enjoining the application of N.Y.B.C.L. § 630 to them. Defendants, Gus Bevona, as President of 32B-32J Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO, and as Trustee of the Building Service 32B-J Health Fund and the Building Service 32B-J Pension Fund; 32B-32J Service Employees International Union, AFL-CIO; Building Service 32B-J Health Fund; and Building Service 32B-J Pension Fund (collectively "the Union"), oppose the declaratory plaintiffs' motion, and cross-move to dismiss this action, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (6), or, in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the following reasons, the declaratory judgment action is dismissed.

 BACKGROUND

 The facts underlying these motions are not in dispute. Albradco is a New York corporation that is the sole shareholder of Bradley Cleaning Contractors, Inc. ("Bradley"), a New York corporation that is currently in bankruptcy, pursuant to Chapter 7 of Title 11 of the United States Bankruptcy Code. Strum is a principal shareholder of Albradco and a former president of Bradley. At all times relevant to this action, Bradley was a party to two collective bargaining agreements with the Union that, inter alia, set forth employees' wage rates and required Bradley to make contributions to funds, governed by ERISA, which provided pension and health benefits for Bradley's employees.

 Apparently as a result of Bradley's inability to satisfy its liabilities to the Union, Gus Bevona, as president of the Union, instituted an action in January 1986 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, entitled Gus Bevona, as President of 32B-32J Service Employees International Union. AFL-CIO v. Albradco. Inc., Elias Strum. William Strum, Estate of Rose Strum and David Herbst, No. 27801/86 ("the State Court Action"). The State Court Action sought to recover the judgments against Bradley from Bradley's shareholders, pursuant to N.Y.B.C.L. § 630, which renders the ten largest shareholders of close corporations personally, jointly and severally liable for "debts, wages or salaries due and owing" to employees, § 630(a), including, as relevant here, "employer contributions to or payments of insurance benefits [and] employer contributions to pension or annuity funds." § 630(b). The defendants in the State Court Action have contested the Union's claims on various procedural and substantive grounds. However, it appears that no attempt was made to remove the State Court Action to federal court in the first instance.

 Rather, four years after the State Court Action was commenced, Albradco and Strum initiated the instant declaratory judgment action, seeking a declaration that the claims asserted in the State Court Action pursuant to N.Y.B.C.L. § 630 are preempted by ERISA. Immediately upon the filing of the instant action, the parties cross-moved for summary judgment on the issue of ERISA preemption, with the declaratory plaintiffs seeking a declaration that the State Court Action is preempted by ERISA and defendants advocating the contrary position. After the ERISA motion became fully submitted, in May 1991, the declaratory plaintiffs amended their complaint, raising the additional claim that the Union's claims under N.Y.B.C.L. § 630 are preempted by the LMRA. Thereafter, additional cross-motions for summary judgment were served and filed addressing the issue of LMRA preemption.

 DISCUSSION

 A. Scope of ERISA Preemption Doctrine

 The Court begins its analysis by examining the ERISA preemption doctrine. Congressional intent is the guiding principle in ascertaining whether a state law is preempted by a federal statute. See Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, 112 L. Ed. 2d 474, 111 S. Ct. 478, 482 (1990). "To discern Congress' intent we examine the explicit statutory language and the structure and purpose of the statute." Id. (citing FMC Corp. v. Holliday, 112 L. Ed. 2d 356, 111 S. Ct. 403, 407 (1990)).

 The preemptive force of ERISA is explicitly addressed in section 514 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1144.

 Except as provided in subsection (b) of this section, the provisions of [ERISA] shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan described in [ERISA].

 ERISA § 514(a), 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). Subsection (b), inter alia, exempts from the scope of this preemption provision "any law of any State which regulates insurance, banking or securities." ERISA § 514(b), 29 U.S.C. § 1144(b). As explained by the Supreme Court, ERISA's "pre-emption clause is conspicuous for its breadth. It establishes as an area of exclusive federal concern the subject of every state law that 'relates to' an employee benefit plan governed by ERISA." FMC Corp., supra, 111 S. Ct. at 407.

 Given the far-reaching scope of this preemption clause, courts are regularly faced with preemption defenses to actions purportedly arising under state law, and a wide array of state laws have been held to be preempted by ERISA. See, e.g., Ingersoll-Rand, supra, 111 S. Ct. at 483-85 (Texas law prohibiting termination of employee to avoid pension plan contributions); FMC Corp., supra, 111 S. Ct. at 407-409 (Pennsylvania law eliminating subrogation rights of ERISA regulated plans in actions arising from motor vehicle accidents); Mackey v. Lanier Collection Agency & Service, Inc., 486 U.S. 825, 829-30, 100 L. Ed. 2d 836, 108 S. Ct. 2182 (1988) (provision of Georgia law exempting ERISA regulated plans from garnishment); Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. v. Taylor, 481 U.S. 58, 62, 95 L. Ed. 2d 55, 107 S. Ct. 1542 (1987) (Michigan contract and tort law providing for recovery of benefits under ERISA regulated plan); Pilot Life Insurance Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 47-48, 95 L. Ed. 2d 39, 107 S. Ct. 1549 (1987) (Mississippi law granting punitive damages for improper processing of benefit claims under ERISA regulated plan); Smith v. Dunham-Bush, Inc., 959 F.2d 6 (2d Cir. 1992) (Connecticut contract and tort law providing for enforcement of oral promise to supplement ERISA regulated plan). In fact, even state laws that supplement, but do not conflict with, ERISA's civil enforcement mechanisms are preempted. See Mackey, supra, 486 U.S. at 829. *fn1"

 However, the scope of ERISA's preemption clause is not infinite. As explained by the Supreme Court, "some state actions may affect employee benefit plans in too tenuous, remote, or peripheral a manner to warrant a finding that the law 'relates to' the plan." Shaw v. Delta Air Lines, Inc., 463 U.S. 85, 100, 77 L. Ed. 2d 490, 103 S. Ct. 2890 n.21 (1983). Thus, certain actions have been held not to be preempted by ERISA. See, e.g., Mackey, supra, 486 U.S. at 825 (Georgia garnishment statute of general application); R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. v. Prevost, 915 F.2d 787, 792-93 (2d Cir. 1990) (Connecticut employee benefit plan within statutory ERISA exemption), cert. denied, 113 L. Ed. 2d 468, 111 S. ...


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