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Empire State Carpenters Welfare v. Conway Construction of Ithaca, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

April 4, 2018

EMPIRE STATE CARPENTERS WELFARE, ANNUITY AND APPRENTICE TRAINING FUNDS, SOUTH CENTRAL DISTRICT COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS DEFINED BENEFIT FUND, AND THE EMPIRE STATE REGIONAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS, Plaintiffs,
v.
CONWAY CONSTRUCTION OF ITHACA, INC., Defendant.

          For the Plaintiffs Virginia & Ambinder, LLP By: Martin C. Fojas, Esq. Michele A. Moreno, Esq.

          For the Defendant Coughlin & Gerhart LLP By: Joseph J. Steflik, Jr., Esq.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          DENIS R. HURLEY, U.S.D.J.

         Empire State Carpenters Welfare Annuity and Apprentice Training Funds, by Patrick Morin and Joseph Olivieri as Trustees, and South Central District Council of Carpenters Defined Benefit Fund, by David F. Haines and Frank Jones, as trustees (the "Funds"), and the Empire State Regional Council of Carpenters, by Patrick Morin, Business Manager (the "Union") (collectively the "Plaintiffs" or "Empire") filed the present action against defendant Conway Construction of Ithaca, Inc. ("Defendant" or "Conway Construction") to recover unpaid fringe benefit contributions pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"). Both parties thereafter moved for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56.

         By Orders dated March 15, 2012 and September 14, 2015, I denied Conway Construction's motion for summary judgment, granted Empire's application seeking the same relief, and directed entry of judgment awarding Empire $202, 958.75 in damages stemming from Conway Construction's unpaid contributions to Empire's employee benefit funds. Defendant appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals which, by summary order issued on September 28, 2016, vacated that judgment and remanded the matter for further proceedings consistent with its opinion. As explained by the Circuit:

The District Court mistakenly concluded that Conway "points to no conduct on its behalf pre-April 2003 negating an intent to be bound by the 2001 Agreement, other than the fact that Conway consistently refused to sign the CBA." To the contrary, during discovery John Conway testified that "[a]s long as the funds were available from, let's say, the economy . . . I told Empire's union representatives' I'd stay as long as I could. And at that time when I could no longer support their people and cost, I'd have to terminate before I lost my company." A reasonable juror could construe this testimony to mean that Conway never manifested an intent to be bound by the 2001 CBA and, instead, informed the plaintiffs that he sought merely to compensate union employees at a certain rate until it was longer economically feasible to do so.

Empire State Carpenters Welfare v. Conway Construction of Ithaca, Inc., 661 Fed.Appx. 97, 98-99 (2d Cir. 2016)(Summary Order).

         Upon remand, a non-jury trial took place before me on August 21, 22, and November 20, 2017. Empire presented two witnesses, viz. John Conway ("Conway"), the vice-president of Conway Construction, and Scott Colton ("Colton"), a business representative for the Northeast Counsel of Carpenters. Plaintiff also introduced, pursuant to a stipulation, the deposition of Mick Pavlick ("Pavlick") a business agent of the Union. Conway Construction presented Conway as its witness, together with an affidavit of G. David Weaver ("Weaver").[1]

         The purpose of this decision is to provide my Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, with the core issue being "whether Conway's conduct manifested an intent to be bound to the terms of the 2001 [to 2006] CBA." Id. at 99.

         Format of Decision

         By way of format, a brief, largely undisputed overview of the early interaction between the Plaintiffs and Defendant will be provided, followed by the contentions of the parties and the applicable law. Against that backdrop, detailed findings of fact on contested issues will be provided along with concomitant conclusions of law.

         Part I - Undisputed Facts

         1. Conway Construction, which does "[m]ostly carpentry work [, ] . . . demolition [and] renovation[s], " commenced operations in 1996. (Tr. at 21:23-25; id. at 24:18-21.)

         2. In November 1996, Conway Construction signed a collective bargaining agreement with the Union, which had an effective date of June 1, 1995 and expired on April 30, 1998 (the "1995 CBA"). (Joint Pre-Trial Order ("PTO"), Art. VII, Stip. of Law and Fact, ¶ 6.)

         3. For reasons nondecipherable from the trial record, the parties continued to abide by the terms of the 1995 CBA until mid-2001, i.e. beyond its April 30, 1998 scheduled expiration date.

         4. Conway Construction was not a member of either the Construction Trade Employers of South Central New York Inc. ("CTE") or the Construction Industry Employees Association of South Central New York ("CIE") and did not designate its ...


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