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Trustees of Operating Engineers Pension Trust v. Western Explosives Systems Co.

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 29, 2018



          Gloria M. Navarro, Chief Judge.

         Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment, (ECF No. 17), filed by Plaintiffs Trustees of the Operating Engineers Pension Trust, Trustees of the Operating Engineers Health and Welfare Fund, Trustees of the Operating Engineers Journeyman and Apprentice Training Trust, and Trustees of the Operating Engineers Vacation-Holiday Savings Trust (collectively “Plaintiffs”). Defendant Western Explosives Systems Company (“Defendant”) filed a Response, (ECF No. 21), and Plaintiffs filed a Reply, (ECF No. 23). Also before the Court is Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 18). Plaintiffs filed a Response, (ECF No. 20), and Defendant did not file a Reply. For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiffs' Motion is GRANTED and Defendant's Motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This action concerns claims for unpaid benefit contributions under ERISA and the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”). (Am. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 13). Plaintiffs are trustees for collectively bargained multiemployer fringe benefit funds, commonly referred to as “Taft-Hartley Trusts.” (Id. ¶ 3). The trusts were established by the International Union of Operating Engineers, Local Union No. 12 (“Local 12”) and various employer associations in Southern Nevada and California. (Id.).

         On June 21, 2002, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant granted a “proxy” to the Nevada Contractors Association (“NCA”) for purposes of collective bargaining with Local 12. (Ramos Decl. ¶ 8, Ex. 1 to Pls.' MSJ, ECF No. 17-1); (Notice of Proxy, Ex. 1-B to Pls.' MSJ, ECF No. 17-2). As a result of this proxy, Plaintiffs contends that Defendant bound itself to the Master Labor Agreement (“MLA”) for Southern Nevada, which was negotiated between Local 12 and the NCA. (Pls.' MSJ 2:6-12, ECF No. 17). Under the MLA, an employer is required to pay contributions for all “covered work” by its employees. (Id. 3:21-4:2).

         On August 19, 2002, Defendant sent Plaintiffs an inactive status request form, stating “[w]e do not presently employ Operating Engineers . . . and ask to be relieved of the requirement to file monthly Report Forms with your Trusts.” (Inactive Form, Ex. 1-H to Pls.' MSJ, ECF No. 17-9). In this request form, Defendant stipulated to pay contributions in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”) should it begin employing persons performing covered work. (Id.). In addition, Defendant sent Plaintiffs two “no-man” reports, which are documents submitted by a signatory employer claiming it has no employees performing covered work. (Id.); (Ramos Decl. ¶ 15, Ex. 1 to Pls.' MSJ).

         After May 14, 2003, Defendant ceased appearing in the NCA's Operating Engineers Proxy List. (Proxy List, Ex. 1-C to Pls.' MSJ, ECF No. 17-4); (Ramos Decl. ¶ 12, Ex. 1 to Pls.' MSJ). Plaintiffs aver that Defendant ceased appearing because it terminated its proxy with NCA. (Pls.' MSJ 3:3-4). Regardless, Plaintiffs claim “termination of its proxy with NCA did not terminate its [CBA] with Local 12”; rather, termination of the proxy caused Defendant to be bound to the “short form” CBA with Local 12, which incorporated the MLA. (Id. 3:3-7); (Short Form Agreement, Ex. 1-E to Pls.' MSJ, ECF No. 17-6). Defendant contests ever becoming a party to the MLA or the short-form agreement. (Def.'s MSJ 4:21-5:2, ECF No. 18). Nonetheless, Defendant sent Local 12 a notice of termination of the short-form agreement with an effective termination date of July 1, 2016, which Local 12 thereafter accepted. (Termination Letter, Ex. 5 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 18-4); (Termination Acceptance, Ex. 6 to Def.'s MSJ, ECF No. 18-5).

         On January 30, 2017, Plaintiffs conducted an audit of Defendant's payroll records to determine compliance with the CBA. (Babel Decl. ¶¶ 4-6, Ex. 3 to Pls.' MSJ, ECF No. 17-11). Although Defendant denied being bound by the MLA, Defendant agreed to Plaintiffs' audit of its payroll to “avoid a dispute and hopefully resolve any disagreement.” (Def.'s MSJ 4:16-17). After conducting the audit, Plaintiffs purportedly found unpaid contributions for the covered work of four employees between May 2015 and January 2016. (Babel Decl. ¶¶ 7-9, Ex. 3 to Pls.' MSJ); (Audit, Ex. 3-A to Pls.' MSJ). Based on these findings, Plaintiffs request from Defendant $55, 881.06 in unpaid contributions, $5, 588.10 in liquidated damages, and prejudgment interest at a rate of three percent. (Pls.' MSJ 12:3-7).


         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, 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). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See Id. “Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable jurors, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor.” Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Shumway, 199 F.3d 1093, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 1999)). A principal purpose of summary judgment is “to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).

         In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. “When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case.” C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323- 24. If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).

         If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987). In other words, the nonmoving party cannot avoid summary judgment by relying solely on conclusory allegations that are unsupported by factual data. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposition must go beyond the assertions and allegations of the pleadings and set forth specific facts by producing competent evidence that shows a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.

         At summary judgment, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The evidence of the nonmovant is “to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor.” Id. at 255. But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Id. at 249-50.

         III. ...

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