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Building Service 32BJ Health Fund v. GCA Services Group, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

February 3, 2017

BUILDING SERVICE 32BJ HEALTH FUND; BUILDING SERVICE 32BJ PENSION FUND; BUILDING SERVICE 32BJ SUPPLEMENTAL RETIREMENT & SAVINGS FUND; BUILDING SERVICE 32 BJ LEGAL SERVICES FUND; and THOMAS SHORTMAN TRAINING & SCHOLARSHIP FUND, Plaintiffs / Counterclaim Defendants,
v.
GCA SERVICES GROUP, INC., Defendant/Counterclaim Plaintiff.

          OPINION & ORDER

          PAUL A. ENGELMAYER United States District Judge.

         This case involves claims for unpaid contributions under two collective bargaining agreements. On August 4, 2015, five multi-employer employee benefit plans-Building Service 32BJ Health Fund ("Health Fund"), Building Service 32BJ Pension Fund, Building Service 32BJ Supplemental Retirement & Savings Fund, Building Service 32BJ Legal Services Fund, and Thomas Shortman Training & Scholarship Fund (collectively, the "Benefits Funds"-brought this action against GCA Services Group, Inc. ("GCA"). They seek payment of contributions which they claim GCA was obliged to-but did not-make between January 1, 2009 and December 31, 2012, under two sequential collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs"). They sue GCA under §§ 502(a)(3) and 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), as amended (29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(a)(3), 1145), and § 301 of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (29 U.S.C. § 185) ("Taft-Hartley"). GCA disputes that the contributions were due, and argues that the Funds' claims as to some contributions are untimely. GCA brings counterclaims under ERISA and federal common law, seeking to recover overpayments it claims that it mistakenly made to the Benefits Funds.

         Each party now moves for summary judgment on all claims. For the reasons below, the Court grants summary judgment for the Benefits Funds both as to its claims and as to GCA's counterclaims, save that the Court finds, with GCA, that the Benefits Funds' claims for contributions that accrued before August 4, 2015 are untimely.

         I. Background[1]

         A. The Parties

         The Benefits Funds are "jointly-administered, multi-employer, labor-management trust funds established and maintained pursuant to various collective bargaining agreements in accordance with Section 302(c)(5) of Taft-Hartley (29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5)), " and are employee benefit plans within the meaning of §§ 3(2)-(3) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(3). JSF ¶ 4. GCA, a for-profit domestic corporation doing business in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, is an employer within the meaning of §§ 3(5) & 515 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(5), and is an industry affecting commerce within the meaning of § 301 of Taft-Hartley, 29 U.S.C. § 185. Id. ¶ 6.

         B. The Collective Bargaining Agreements

         Under two sequential collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") with Local 32BJ Service Employees International Union (the "Union"), GCA agreed to pay contributions to the Benefits Funds on behalf of its covered employees. Id. ¶¶ 6-8. The CBAs are known as the "Hartford County Cleaning Contractors Association Agreements." The first CBA was effective between January 1, 2008 and December 31, 2011, id. Ex. A ("CBA I"); the second, between January 1, 2012 and December 31, 2015, id. Ex. D ("CBA II").

         The issue here is whether contributions for work on Connecticut state building projects were to be made based on the covered employees' hours worked or hours worked and/or paid for. As to that point, in Articles 18.2 and 19.1, CBA I provided that, as a general rule, that GCA make contributions on behalf of covered employees at certain rates "for all hours worked and/or paid for, to a maximum of forty (40) hours per week." JSF ¶¶ 8-9. But, with respect to work on state building projects, Article 33.1 of CBA I provided that such work "shall have the wage rates and the value of benefits determined by the State." Id. ¶ 9.

         Similarly, Articles 18.1 and 19.1 of CBA II required, as a general rule, that contributions be made "for all hours worked and/or paid for, including overtime." Id. ¶¶ 12-14. And Article 33.1 of CBA II stated that "[e]mployees employed at buildings covered by the Connecticut Standard Wage Law shall receive not less that the wage rates and benefits required by the Standard Wage Law." Id. ¶ 15.

         C. Procedural History

         On August 4, 2015, the Benefits Funds filed a Complaint. Dkt. 1. On September 25, 2015, GCA filed an answer and counterclaims. Dkt. 10. On November 4, 2015, the Benefits Funds filed an amended answer to the counterclaims, Dkt. 29, and on November 17, 2015, the Health Fund filed its amended answer to the counterclaims, Dkt. 32.

         On March 21, 2016, the Court held a pre-motion conference as to the forthcoming cross-motions for summary judgment. See Dkt. 44. On April 18, 2016, the parties, at the Court's direction, filed Joint Stipulated Facts, and the Benefits Funds moved for summary judgment on all claims. Dkt. 41. On April 29, 2016, the Benefits Funds filed a memorandum of law in support of their motions. Dkt. 42 ("Funds Br."). On May 16, 2016, GCA moved for summary judgment on all claims, Dkt. 46, and filed a memorandum of law in support, Dkt. 47 ("GCA Br."). On May 27, 2016, the Benefits Funds filed a reply memorandum in support of its motion. Dkt. 50 ("Funds Rep. Br."). On June 13, 2016, GCA filed a reply memorandum in support of its motion. Dkt. 53 ("GCA. Rep. Br.").

         II. Standards Applicable to Summary Judgment Motions

         To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the movant must "show[] 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 movant bears the burden of demonstrating the absence of a question of material fact. In making this determination, the Court must view all facts "in the light most favorable" to the non-moving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986); see also Holcomb v. Iona Coll., 521 F.3d 130, 132 (2d Cir. 2008). To survive a summary judgment motion, the opposing party must establish a genuine issue of fact by "citing to particular parts of materials in the record." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1); see also Wright v. Goord, 554 F.3d 255, 266 (2d Cir. 2009). "A party may not rely on mere speculation or conjecture as to the true nature of the facts to overcome a motion for summary judgment, " because "conclusory allegations or denials cannot by themselves create a genuine issue of material fact where none would otherwise exist." Hicks v. Baines, 593 F.3d 159, 166 (2d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Only disputes over "facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law" will preclude a grant of summary judgment. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether there are genuine issues of material fact, the Court is "required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." Johnson v. Killian, 680 F.3d 234, 236 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing Terry v. Ashcroft, 336 F.3d 128, 137 (2d Cir. 2003)).

         HI. Discussion

         The Benefits Funds argue that GCA breached its duties under both CBA I and CBAII by making benefits contributions for covered employees' work on state building projects based solely on the hours that those employees actually worked, rather than also for hours for which the employees were paid but did not work. The Funds argue that contributions should have been based on their employees' "hours worked and/or paid for, " which would include, inter alia, sick days and paid vacation days. They argue that Article 33.1 of each CBA, the provision applicable to work on such projects, yields this result.

         The provisions of respective CBAs applicable to work on such projections state that employees "shall have the wage rates and the value of benefits determined by the State" (CBA I) and shall be compensated at "not less that the wage rates and benefits required by the Standard Wage Law" (CBA II). These provisions, the Benefit Funds claim, refer-and require benefits to be paid according to-Connecticut's prevailing wage law. See Conn. Gen. Stat. 3 l-57f(a)(6). And, the Funds argue, that law, in turn, directs the Court to the generally applicable provisions of these very CBAs, the wage provisions of which provide-in Articles 18.2 and 19.1 of CBA I, and Articles 18.1 and 19.1 of CBA II-that benefits are to be paid for "hours worked and/or paid for." In opposition, GCA argues that Articles 33.1 of CBA I and CBA II instruct that benefits are to be paid in accordance with "state law." And GCA construes "state law" to refer to the information contained on the website of the Connecticut Department of Labor (DOL), which states that benefits are paid based on hours worked, and does not refer to hours paid for. Separately, GCA objects to the Funds' summary judgment motion on the more limited ground ...


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