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Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Standard Elec. Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

February 18, 2015

CENTRAL STATES, SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST AREAS PENSION FUND and ARTHUR H. BUNTE, JR., as Trustee, Plaintiffs,
v.
STANDARD ELECTRIC CO., Defendant

For Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund, Arthur H. Bunte, Jr, as Trustee, Plaintiffs: Emily E. Gleason, LEAD ATTORNEY, Brad R. Berliner, Central States Funds, Rosemont, IL; Albert M. Madden, Central States Law Department, Rosemont, IL; Andrew James Herink, Central States Funds Law Department, Rosemont, IL.

For Standard Electric Company, A Michigan Corporation, Defendant: Brian P. Swanson, Elizabeth L. Peters, Masud Labor Law Group, Saginaw, MI.

Page 811

Memorandum Opinion and Order

Gary Feinerman, United States District Judge.

For many years, Defendant Standard Electric Company's collective bargaining agreement (" CBA" ) with International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Local Union No. 486--a non-party to this suit--required Standard to participate in a multiemployer pension plan administered by Plaintiff Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund. In early April 2011, Standard and Local 486 agreed between themselves to revise their CBA and stop participating in the Central States pension plan, retroactive to March 31, 2011. In this suit under § 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (" ERISA" ), 29 U.S.C. § 1132, Central States alleges that because the CBA had a year-to-year evergreen clause, and because Standard and Local 486 did not timely terminate the CBA by March 31, 2011, Standard was obligated to continue contributing to the pension fund through March 31, 2012. Doc. 1. (The other plaintiff, the Fund's trustee, will be ignored for ease of exposition.) The operative complaint seeks a judgment against Standard for its allegedly delinquent contributions from April 2011 through March 2012, plus interest and liquidated damages. Doc. 34. Standard has moved for summary judgment, Doc. 24, and Central States has moved for partial summary judgment as to liability, Doc. 35. Central States' motion is granted and Standard's motion is denied.

Background

When considering Central States' motion, the facts are viewed in the light most favorable to Standard, and when considering Standard's motion, the facts are considered in the light most favorable to Central States. See In re United Air Lines, Inc.,

Page 812

453 F.3d 463, 468 (7th Cir. 2006). Because the court will rule in favor of Central States, the following facts are set forth as favorably to Standard as the record and Local Rule 56.1 permit. See Hanners v. Trent, 674 F.3d 683, 691 (7th Cir. 2012). That said, the pertinent facts are almost entirely undisputed, either by agreement or because the fact simply recites what a document states.

Standard is a commercial distributor of electrical supplies. Doc. 38 at ¶ 2. In 1978, Standard and Local 486 entered into a participation agreement with the Central States pension fund. Doc. 42 at ¶ 9. The participation agreement required Standard to contribute to the pension fund for the benefit of its employees " during the life of the current [CBA] between the parties and during all renewals and extensions thereof." Id. at ¶ 10; Doc. 25-3 at p. 3, ¶ 7. The participation agreement further provided that " the obligation to make contributions to the Fund shall be terminated when and if such contributions are no longer required by a [CBA] between the parties." Doc. 25-3 at p. 3, ¶ 7. The participation agreement bound Standard and Local 486 to Central States' Trust Agreement:

The Union [Local 486] and the Employer [Standard] agree to be bound by, and hereby assent to, all of the terms of the Trust Agreement creating said CENTRAL STATES, SOUTHEAST AND SOUTHWEST AREAS PENSION FUND, all of the rules and regulations heretofore and hereafter adopted by the Trustees of said Trust Fund pursuant to said Trust Agreement, and all of the actions of the Trustees in administering such Trust Fund in accordance with the Trust Agreement and rules adopted.

Doc. 42 at ¶ 11; Doc. 25-3 at p. 3, ¶ 1.

Article III, § 7(a) of the Trust Agreement states: " An Employer is obliged to contribute to the Fund for the entire term of any collective bargaining agreement accepted by the Fund on the terms stated in that collective bargaining agreement ...." Doc. 42 at ¶ 21 (emphasis added); Doc. 37-4 at 12. Article III, § 1 of the Trust Agreement addresses the circumstances under which Standard could relieve itself of its obligation to contribute to the pension fund once the CBA has terminated:

Except as provided in [inapplicable provisions], the obligation to make such contributions shall continue (and cannot be retroactively reduced or eliminated) after termination of the collective bargaining agreement until the date the Fund receives a) a signed contract that eliminates or reduces the duty to contribute to the Fund or b) written notification that the Employer has lawfully ...

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