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Bigham v. Genz-Ryan Plumbing & Heating Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 30, 2017

James Bigham, Robert Vranicar, Patrick Welty, John Quarnstrom, Michael Mitchell, Mike McCauley, Marcus Vitse, Dave Holzer, and Jim Bowman as Trustees of the Sheet M Workers' Local 10 Pension Fund, and Sheet M Workers Local 10 Pension Fund, Plaintiffs,
v.
Genz-Ryan Plumbing & Heating Co., Defendant.

          Benjamin D. Sandhal, Esq., Joseph D. Weiner, Esq., and Michael G. Congiu, Esq., Littler Mendelson, PC, counsel for Employer.

          Amy L. Court, Esq., Carl S. Wosmek, Esq., and Christy E. Lawrie, Esq., McGrann Shea Carnival Straughn & Lamb, Chtd, counsel for Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Donovan W. Frank United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         After arbitration, Plaintiffs filed suit seeking an order vacating the arbitrator's order. Before the Court are the parties' motions for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 38, 43.) For the reasons outlined below, the Court denies Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment Vacating the January 5, 2016 Arbitration Award and grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Factual Background

         Defendant Genz-Ryan Plumbing & Heating Company retained a multi-employer bargaining association (“SMARCA”) to negotiate with the Sheet M Workers' Local 10 Union (the “Union”). Genz-Ryan, the Union, and SMARCA signed a collective bargaining agreement that was in effect from May 1, 2005 to April 30, 2008. (The “CBA.”) As part of the CBA, Genz-Ryan was required to contribute to the Union members' retirement fund. The retirement fund was operated by trustees. Plaintiffs in this case are the fund and trustees. (Generally, the “Fund, ” and the “Trustees.”)

         The CBA expired on April 30, 2008, unless it was extended through a reopening process. If the agreement was reopened, then the CBA would remain in effect until “conferences relating thereto ha[d] been terminated by either party.” (Doc. No. 41 (“Congiu Decl.”) ¶ 1, Ex. 1 at 27.) On December 17, 2007 (five months before the agreement expired), Genz-Ryan gave notice that it was revoking its agreement with SMARCA to negotiate with the Union. Genz-Ryan intended to negotiate its own separate contract with the Union. Despite this, on January 2, 2008, the Union gave notice reopening the CBA. After that, Genz-Ryan reiterated its intent to negotiate a separate contract, but SMARCA and the Union began negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement without Genz-Ryan. SMARCA and the Union reached an agreement on May 2, 2008; Genz-Ryan refused to join it.

         After the CBA expired on April 30, 2008, Genz-Ryan notified the Fund that it would no longer be contributing to the retirement fund. Because Genz-Ryan was exiting the fund, Genz-Ryan faced a withdrawal liability for any unpaid vested benefits. When Genz-Ryan asked in 2008, the Fund told Genz-Ryan that it had no withdrawal liability.

         In March 2008, Genz-Ryan began negotiating with the Union for a separate, non-SMARCA agreement. On June 25, 2008, Genz-Ryan declared negotiations were at an impasse. The next day, Genz-Ryan made its final offer. The parties met two more times, but never resolved (or even discussed) the issues that led to the impasse. (Doc. No. 40 at 9.) The last meeting was on October 27, 2008. On October 28, 2008, the Union e-mailed that it would rework the proposal and schedule another meeting. (See Congiu Decl. ¶ 16, Ex. 16.) Genz-Ryan never responded to the October 28, 2008 e-mail, nor did the Union ever follow up with a new proposal.

         II. Procedural History

         On May 14, 2008, the Union filed an NLRB charge against Genz-Ryan. Based on the charge, the NLRB then filed a complaint against Genz-Ryan alleging that Genz-Ryan had failed to abide by the CBA during the negotiations after April 30, 2008. (Congiu Decl. ¶ 1, Ex. 1 at 3 ¶ 10.) On November 18, 2008-mere weeks after the parties last met-an ALJ held a hearing on the NLRB complaint. In that litigation, Genz-Ryan argued that it was no longer bound by the CBA. The ALJ agreed and found that the CBA terminated after April 30, 2008. The union appealed, and the parties settled.

         Additionally, on July 23, 2008, the Fund and the Trustees filed a lawsuit against Genz-Ryan in the District of Minnesota seeking to recoup unpaid contributions for fringe benefits. Trustees of the Sheet M Local No. 10 Control Bd. Trust Fund v. Genz-Ryan Plumbing & Heating Co., Civ. No. 08-4752, 2009 WL 2171001 (D. Minn. July 17, 2009). Genz-Ryan argued that it had no unpaid contributions because it had paid the fringe benefits through April 30, 2008. The Fund and Trustee argued that the CBA continued after April 30, 2008, because the parties had reopened negotiations. Genz-Ryan argued, however, that the negotiation conferences had ended at the latest on October 27, 2008, which terminated the agreement. ...


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