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Hope v. Board of Trustees of Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association Local 530 Welfare Plan

June 23, 2006

MICHAEL HOPE, JOSEPH COLLINS, PHILIP ECKEL, JAMES HARRIS, AND FRANCESCO RAFFA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF OPERATIVE PLASTERERS' AND CEMENT MASONS' INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION LOCAL 530 WELFARE PLAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sifton, Senior Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Michael Hope, Joseph Collins, Philip Eckel, James Harris, and Francesco Raffa commenced this action on May 16, 2006 against defendant Board of Trustees of Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association Local 530 Welfare Plan ("the Welfare Plan") under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). The complaint alleges that the defendant improperly terminated the plaintiffs' employment benefits coverage in violation of the Welfare Plan's terms. Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction directing defendant to provide plaintiffs with coverage until April 1, 2007.

Presently before the Court are plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction and defendant's motion for attorney's fees. For the reasons and upon the findings of fact and conclusions of law that follow, plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction is denied and defendant's motion for attorney's fees is denied.

BACKGROUND

What follows sets forth this Court's findings of fact and conclusions of law as required by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 52(a) and 65. The facts are drawn from the complaint and the parties' submissions in connection with this motion; they are essentially undisputed.

Plaintiffs Michael Hope, Joseph Collins, James Harris, and Philip Eckel are employed by Art In C�뮜똪 ("AIC"), located in Brooklyn, New York, as plasterers. Plaintiff Francesco Raffa has been employed as a plasterer by several different companies located in New York City. These individual plaintiffs were participants, as defined by Section 3(7) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(7),*fn1 of the Welfare Plan. AIC is an employer within the meaning of Section 3(5) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(5),*fn2 and Section 2(2) of the Labor-Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 152(2).*fn3

Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons' International Association Local 530 ("Local 530"), headquartered in the Bronx, New York, is a labor organization within the meaning of Section 2(5) of the LMRA, 29 U.S.C. § 152(5).*fn4 The Welfare Plan constitutes a welfare benefit plan under Section 3(3) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(3),*fn5 and the Board of Trustees of the defendant Welfare Plan is the plan sponsor under Section 3(16)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(16)(B).*fn6 Carmen Barrasso, who has provided an affidavit in support of defendant's opposition to the instant motion, is the administrator of the Welfare Plan as defined by Section 3(16)(A) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(16)(A).*fn7

In July 2002, AIC signed a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with Local 530. AIC paid contributions to the Welfare Plan fund on behalf of plaintiffs Hope, Harris, Collins, and Eckel through the pay period ending September 30, 2005.*fn8 In November 2005, the plasterers employed by AIC voted to elect Bricklayers and Allied Craft Workers Local Union No. 1 ("Local 1") as their exclusive bargaining representative instead of Local 530, and on November 8, 2005, the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") certified Local 1 as the exclusive bargaining agent for the plasterers employed by AIC. AIC's obligation to pay contributions to the plan ceased as of that date. Thereafter, AIC entered into a CBA with Local 1. Plaintiff Raffa was employed by Cooper Plastering Corp., a signatory to a CBA with Local 530, until March 31, 2005, after which point he was not employed by a Local 530 CBA signatory.

The Welfare Plan provides welfare benefits to members of the Local 530. Prior to May 1, 2006, the Welfare Plan benefits were described in the Summary Plan Description dated January 1, 2005 ("the 2005 SPD"), and prior to 2005, the plan's benefits were described in the Summary Plan Description dated January 1, 2003 ("the 2003 SPD"). Both the 2003 SPD and the 2005 SPD contained the following language:

WHO IS ELIGIBLE FOR COVERAGE UNDER THE WELFARE PLAN? All full-time employees covered under the Collective Bargaining Agreements of Contributing employers with Local 530 Operative Plasterers' and Cement Masons', and for whom the employer makes a contribution to the Fund. The 2003 SPD and 2005 SPD further provided:

The coverage for yourself and your eligible depends will terminate on the day any of the following occur unless otherwise noted:

1) If you cease to be employed by a contributing employer, your eligibility continues to the end of the month in which your employment ceases.

2) If your employer ceases to be a contributing employer (or fails to make necessary contributions on a contractual due date), your eligibility continues to the end of the month ...


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