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Trustees of Plumbers Local Union No. 1 Welfare Fund v. Temperini Mechanical, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

September 19, 2014

TRUSTEES OF THE PLUMBERS LOCAL UNION NO. 1 WELFARE FUND, ADDITIONAL SECURITY BENEFIT FUND, VACATION AND HOLIDAY FUND, TRADE EDUCATION FUND, AND 401(K) SAVINGS PLAN, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
TEMPERINI MECHANICAL, INC., ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

I. LEO GLASSER, Senior District Judge.

Before the Court is a motion for attorneys' fees and costs by The Trustees of the Plumbers Local Union No. 1 Welfare Fund, Additional Security Benefit Fund, Vacation and Holiday Fund, Trade Education Fund, and 401(k) Savings Plan ("Local Trustees"), Trustees of the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund, and Trustees of the International Training Fund ("National Trustees, " and together with the Local Trustees, "Plaintiffs" or "Trustees") after the Trustees obtained a judgment against Temperini Mechanical, Inc. ("TMI") and TMI's owner, Joseph Temperini ("Temperini") (collectively, "Defendants") for violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ("ERISA"). For the following reasons, the motion is GRANTED, with a lower attorneys' fees award than the Trustees request.

BACKGROUND

The facts relevant to this motion are as follows. TMI, a plumbing contractor operating in New York City, employs several members of Local Union No. 1 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (the "Union"). Temperini is TMI's President, CEO, and majority owner. The Trustees are employer and employee trustees of multiemployer benefit funds administered at the local and national levels (the "Funds").

TMI and the Union are parties to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA"), which Temperini signed as TMI's President on November 29, 2006. Dkt. No. 18-2. The CBA states that TMI must make monthly contributions to the Funds, and in the event TMI fails to contribute on time, it is liable for the delinquent contributions plus interest, liquidated damages, and "all costs including, but not limited to, reasonable audit and accounting expenses, witness costs and attorney's fees, disbursements and court costs...." Dkt. No. 18-1 at 19 (emphasis added). From October 2005 through March 2011 and March through September 2012, TMI failed to remit the required contributions to the Funds.

The Trustees commenced this action on November 16, 2012. Dkt. No. 1. In their complaint, they alleged that by failing to pay contributions owed under the CBA, Defendants violated ERISA and the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 141 et seq. See id. On January 27, 2014, the Trustees moved for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 16. On June 13, 2014, the Court granted their motion and found that TMI and Temperini were jointly and severally liable under ERISA for the delinquent contributions, and that the Local and National Trustees were entitled to judgment in the amount of $229, 839.96 and $34, 022.76, respectively. Dkt. No. 28.[1]

On July 7, 2014, the Trustees moved this Court to award $20, 375.22 in attorneys' fees and $110.50 in costs, pursuant to Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Dkt. No. 29. Defendants filed their opposition on July 21, 2014. Dkt. No. 32. In their motion, the Trustees argue that as prevailing plaintiffs, they are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under ERISA and the CBA. They submitted as an attachment to the motion the declaration of Richard Epstein, an associate at the law firm of Virginia and Ambinder, LLP ("V&A"), counsel to the Trustees. They also provided timesheet records, which apportion the fees and costs between the local and national Funds, and list the date, hours expended, and descriptions of the work performed by each V&A attorney and legal assistant. See Epstein Decl., Ex. A. The Epstein Declaration states that V&A's total billings in this matter amount to $20, 375.22[2] for 88.69 hours of work. ¶ 7. The timesheets show that V&A charged an hourly rate of $200-250 for attorneys and $90-200 for legal assistants.[3] See id., Ex. A.

DISCUSSION

I. Entitlement to a Fee Award

a. CBA

Attorneys' fees are recoverable where the parties have so agreed in a valid contract. See, e.g., U.S. Fidelity and Guar. Co. v. Braspetro Oil Servs. Co., 369 F.3d 34, 74 (2d Cir. 2004). In New York, a contractual fee arrangement is enforceable where the language is "unmistakably clear" and unambiguously applies to the dispute at issue. Coastal Power Int'l Ltd. v. Transcon. Capital Corp., 182 F.3d 163, 165 (2d Cir. 1999); Olympus Imaging America Inc. v. Reifschneider S.A., No. 10-CV-4516, 2011 WL 2490596, at *1 n.1-2 (E.D.N.Y. June 22, 2011) (pursuant to contract, defendant was required to pay attorneys' fees and court costs incurred in plaintiff's collection of delinquent payments). The CBA makes it unmistakably clear that the Trustees can recover "... all costs including, but not limited to, reasonable... attorney's fees, disbursements and court costs" incurred in pursuing their action for delinquent contributions. See CBA at 19 (emphasis added).

b. ERISA

Section 502 of ERISA similarly provides that the court shall award reasonable fees and costs where plaintiffs in an action to recover delinquent contributions obtain a favorable judgment. See 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2). An award of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs is therefore warranted here, where the Trustees sought to recover delinquent contributions from Defendants and prevailed. See Trs. of United ...


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