Uppman in Worthington, Carlson in Faribault, Westerman in New Prague, Krueger in Mankato, and Korpi in Rush City are covered." The dispute is whether the collective bargaining unit includes only the named individuals specifically outlined in section 2 of the 1969 letter, or if it includes the drivers who replaced the named individuals on the designated routes. If the agreement does not include all the drivers on the designated route, then the collective bargaining unit does not include the replacement drivers -- the drivers at issue in this dispute. If the drivers are not part of the collective bargaining unit, Old Dutch is not liable to the Pension Fund under Section 515 of ERISA.
Section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") obligates an employer to pay to a multiemployer plan contributions that are required "under the terms of the plan or under the terms of a collectively bargained agreement." Sections 502(e)(1) and 502(g)(2) of ERISA authorize the multiemployer plan's trustees to enforce the terms of the plan or collective bargaining agreement by bringing an action in federal district court for unpaid contributions, prejudgment interest thereon, liquidated damages, reasonable attorney's fees and costs, and other appropriate relief. Old Dutch was a party to a multiemployer collective-bargaining agreement that made monthly contributions to the Central States pension fund. Therefore, §§ 502(e)(1) and 515 of ERISA provide a remedy for trustees who do not receive contractually promised contributions from employers. Whether or not Central States is entitled to this remedy turns on the interpretation of the terms of the collective bargaining agreement.
When considering a contract in the context of an ERISA claim, federal common law rules of interpretation apply. Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. The Kroger Co., 73 F.3d 727, 731 (7th Cir. 1996). First, it must be determined whether the collective bargaining agreement is ambiguous. Whether the collective bargaining agreement is ambiguous is a question of law. Id. at 732. The collective bargaining unit is ambiguous if it is susceptible to more than one reasonable interpretation. Id. (citing Brewer v. Protexall, Inc. 50 F.3d 453, 458 (7th Cir. 1994)). If the collective bargaining agreement is unambiguous, this court may declare its meaning as a matter of law. If it is unclear, then questions of interpretation must be resolved by the trier of fact. Id. (citing Jos. Schlitz Brewing Co. v. Milwaukee Brewery Workers' Pension Plan, 3 F.3d 994, 999 (7th Cir. 1993), aff'd 513 U.S. 414, 130 L. Ed. 2d 932, 115 S. Ct. 981 (1995)).
Neither the Pension Fund nor Old Dutch claim that the collective bargaining agreement is ambiguous; they agree that it is unambiguous, but disagree as to its interpretation. When parties suggest different, yet reasonable interpretations of a contract, the contract is ambiguous. Id. (citing Murphy v. Keystone Steel and Wire Co., 61 F.3d 560, 565 (7th Cir. 1995)); see also Rodriguez-Abreu v. Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., 986 F.2d 580, 586 (1st Cir. 1993) (because the parties attribute reasonable but differing meanings to the term "vested", we find that the term is ambiguous). When the language of a collective bargaining agreement is unclear, as here, the court must determine the "parties' actual intent" at the time of the agreement's execution. Northwest Administrators, Inc. v. B.V. & B.R., Inc., 813 F.2d 223, 226 (9th Cir. 1987). In this case, however, determining the parties actual intent raises issues of material fact that can not be properly resolved at the summary judgment stage.
In examining the collective bargaining agreement, the court concludes that the paragraph stating: "feeder line routes now operated by McFarlane in Rochester, Uppman in Worthington, Carlson in Faribault, Westerman in New Prague, Krueger in Mankato, and Korpi in Rush City are covered", is ambiguous. The paragraph is susceptible to more than one reasonable meaning, thus rendering the collective bargaining agreement ambiguous. It could mean that only the named drivers were part of the collective bargaining agreement or it could possibly mean that all drivers on the designated route are part of the collective bargaining agreement. Because of this ambiguity, this court does not have the power to declare its meaning as a matter of law. The trier of fact must interpret the terms of this paragraph.
Since, this court has the authority to determine the collective bargaining unit and the determination by the NLRB is not binding on this court, this court has the authority to determine if Old Dutch is liable to Central States for unpaid contributions under ERISA. However, because the paragraph at issue is ambiguous and at the heart of this dispute, the trier of fact must determine its meaning. Therefore, Central States and Old Dutch are not entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
For the reasons set forth above, the court denies both parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. The parties are instructed to discuss settlement before the next date scheduled in this case.
Ann Claire Williams, Judge
United States District Court
Dated: JUN 24 1997