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Trustees of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters Pension Fund v. AL Treiber Associates

March 30, 2009

TRUSTEES OF THE CHICAGO REGIONAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS PENSION FUND, CHICAGO REGIONAL COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS WELFARE FUND, AND CHICAGO REGIONAL COUNCIL OF JUDGE JAMES B. ZAGEL CARPENTERS APPRENTICE & TRAINEE PROGRAM FUND, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
AL TREIBER ASSOCIATES, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James B. Zagel United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff trust funds and Defendant employer are bound by a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("Agreement"), which requires Defendant to pay fringe benefit contributions to the trust funds. On June 12, 2008, Plaintiffs, pursuant to theresults of an audit, filed a complaint against Defendant alleging that Defendant underpaid contributions and breached the Agreement. Defendant now moves to dismiss on the basis of res judicata. For the following reasons, I deny Defendant's motion to dismiss.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests the sufficiency of a complaint, not the merits of a case. Autry v. Northwest Premium Servs., Inc., 144 F.3d 1037, 1039 (7th Cir. 1998). Defendant's motion to dismiss should be granted only if Plaintiffs cannot prove any set of facts in support of their claim that would entitle them to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

Furthermore, I must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true, drawing all reasonable inferences from those facts in Plaintiffs' favor. Cleveland v. Rotman, 297 F.3d 569, 571 (7th Cir. 2002). Stated another way, I should not grant Defendant's motion "unless no relief could be granted 'under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations.'" Nance v. Vieregge, 147 F.3d 589, 590 (7th Cir. 1998) (quoting Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984)). That said, Plaintiffs' "obligation to provide the grounds of [its] entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl., Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007).

III. STATEMENT OF RELEVANT FACTS

This action arises under section 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

29 U.S.C. § 502 (2007). Plaintiff trust funds are multi-employer plans. Plaintiffs and Defendant employer are bound by a Collective Bargaining Agreement which requires Defendant to pay fringe benefit contributions to the trust funds based upon the hours worked by its carpenter employees. On June 12, 2008, Plaintiffs, pursuant to theresults of an audit, filed a complaint against Defendant alleging that Defendant underpaid contributions from October 2005 through June 2007 in breach of the Agreement ("audit case"). It is apparent from Plaintiffs' pleadings that the audit was completed in November 2007. The contributions owed to the trust funds as a consequence of this breach are $16,848.63.

However, this is not the first action brought by Plaintiffs against Defendant. On April 28, 2008, Plaintiffs filed a suit against Defendant alleging that Defendant breached the Agreement by failing to submit reports to the trust funds from January 2008 through April 2008 and by failing to pay liquidated damages on previously submitted contributions ("collection case"). Defendant has tendered to Plaintiffs a check for the unpaid amount alleged in the collection case and now seeks dismissal of the audit case on the basis of res judicata.

IV. DISCUSSION

"The doctrine of res judicata bars relitigation of a claim for relief decided on the merits in a previous suit involving the same parties or their privies." Simon v. Allstate Employee Group Med. Plan, 263 F.3d 656, 658 (7th Cir. 2001). The doctrine "bars not only those issues which were actually decided in a prior suit, but also all issues which could have been raised in that action." Brzostowski v. Laidlaw Waste Sys., 49 F.3d 337, 338 (7th Cir. 1995). In order to properly apply the principle of claim preclusion,three elements must exist: "identity of claims, identity of parties, and a prior final judgment on the merits." Perry v. Globe Auto Recycling, Inc., 227 F.3d 950, 952 (7th Cir. 2000). Plaintiffs concede that the parties in the audit and collection cases are identical. However, because the claims involved here do not arise from the same transaction, I need not reach the issue of finality of judgment.

A. Identity of Claims

Plaintiffs maintain that the collection case and the current action do not involve identical claims, as Plaintiffs in the collection case sought recovery for delinquent monthly payments, whereas in the present action, Plaintiffs seek to collect contributions stemming from Defendant's alleged underpayment of contributions owed to the trust based upon the hours worked by employees. Courts find an identity of the causes of action if the claims arise from the "same core of operative facts," which includes "the same incident, events, transaction, circumstances, or other factual nebula as a prior suit that had gone to final judgment." Cole v. Bd. of Trs., 497 F.3d 770, 772-73 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). A plaintiff who splits ...


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