Trustees of the U.A. Local 38 Defined Benefit Pension Plan v. Trustees of the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters National Pension Fund

Filing 43

ORDER ON CROSS PETITIONS re Denying 1 Petition to Vacate Arbitration Award filed by Trustees of the U.A. Local 38 Defined Benefit Pension Plan; re Granting 17 Counterclaim/Cross Petition to Confirm the Liability Award and Damages Award, filed by Trustees of the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters National Pension Fund. The arbitration awards are CONFIRMED. Defendant shall file a proposed form of judgment approved as to form by plaintiff within (7) days of the date of this Order. Signed by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on 1/21/16. (fs, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 1/21/2016)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 9 TRUSTEES OF THE U.A. LOCAL 38 DEFINED BENEFIT PENSION PLAN, Plaintiff, 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 12 13 14 Case No.: 15-cv-04703-YGR ORDER ON CROSS PETITIONS Re: Dkt. Nos. 1, 17 vs. TRUSTEES OF THE PLUMBERS AND PIPE FITTERS NATIONAL PENSION FUND, Defendant. 15 This dispute originally came before the Court in a declaratory judgment action filed by 16 plaintiff Trustees of the U.A. Local 38 Defined Benefit Pension Plan (“Local 38”), requesting that the 17 Court declare whether ERISA or the common law of contracts applied to the parties’ ongoing 18 arbitration dispute. Trustees of the U.A. Local 38 Defined Benefit Pension Plan v. Trustees of the 19 Plumbers Pipe Fitters National Pension Fund, Case No. 13-cv-5528-YGR (the “Related Case”). The 20 Court found that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) required the choice of law issue to be decided 21 by the arbitrator and dismissed Local 38’s declaratory action. (Related Case, Dkt. No.46.) Local 38 22 appealed and sought a stay of arbitration pending appeal, which was denied by both this Court and the 23 Ninth Circuit. The arbitration proceeded, and on April 6, 2015, the arbitrator issued his decision on 24 liability finding that Local 38 must pay defendant Trustees of the Plumbers and Pipe Fitters National 25 Pension Fund (“NPF”) full-rate reciprocity (the “Liability Award”). Then, on August 13, 2015 the 26 arbitrator issued a damages decision, ordering Local 38 to reciprocate certain employer contributions 27 to NPF (the “Damages Award”). 28 Local 38 filed a petition to vacate the Damages Award (Dkt. No. 1) and NPF filed a cross 1 2 petition to confirm the Liability and Damages Awards (Dkt. No. 17). Having carefully considered the 3 papers submitted, and for the reasons set forth below, the Court DENIES the petition to vacate, 4 GRANTS the petition to confirm, and CONFIRMS the Liability and Damages Awards. None of the 5 bases for vacatur proffered by Local 38 satisfy any of the grounds specified in 9 U.S.C. § 10(a) for 6 vacating an arbitration award. The standard is high and Local 38 has not met its burden. 7 8 9 I. BACKGROUND Plaintiff Local 38 and defendant NPF are both signatories to the United Association Pension Reciprocal Agreement (the “Agreement”). (Dkt. No. 1-1, “Baker Decl.,” Exh. 4.) By way of Northern District of California background and summary, the Agreement’s purpose is to facilitate the transfer, i.e. reciprocation, of 11 United States District Court 10 funds when members of one local union visit and work in the territory of another local union. In such 12 cases, the traveling member’s employer makes pension contributions into the visited local’s pension 13 fund. The Agreement then requires reciprocity of those “employer contributions” from the visited 14 fund to the member’s home fund. 15 The instant dispute concerns whether Local 38 was reciprocating to NPF all of the 16 contributions it received on behalf of travelers whose home fund was NPF, as NPF contends is 17 required under the Agreement. On January 31, 2007, NPF first demanded “full reciprocity for NPF’s 18 Travelers” from Local 38. (Baker Decl., Exh. 23.) NPF sent dozens of similar demand letters to 19 Local 38 throughout the ensuing years. Then in 2013 the parties submitted their ongoing dispute to a 20 reciprocity coordinator in attempt to resolve the allegedly deficient contributions, pursuant to the 21 Agreement. NPF’s demand through the reciprocity coordinator included approximately $100,000 in 22 full-rate reciprocity contributions, as well as an additional $100,000 in Pension Protection Act 23 (“PPA”) contributions. The instant dispute focuses on the latter category, or whether PPA 24 contributions are “employer contributions” within the meaning of the Agreement. 25 The reciprocity coordinator process proved unsuccessful and NPF initiated arbitration as set 26 forth in the Agreement. On a November 2013 conference call with the arbitrator, the parties 27 discovered they disagreed as to whether ERISA or the law of contracts should apply to the arbitrated 28 2 1 claims. The arbitrator directed Local 38 to bring a declaratory judgment action in federal court to 2 determine which body of law would apply. 3 A. Related Case Proceedings 4 On November 27, 2013, Local 38 filed a declaratory action requesting this Court “guide the 5 Arbitrator in resolving the dispute between the parties.” (Related Case, Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 44.) 6 Specifically, Local 38 sought the Court’s determination of whether ERISA or the law of contracts 7 should apply in the arbitration. NPF moved to dismiss on subject matter jurisdiction grounds. The 8 Court ultimately dismissed the declaratory judgment action, finding that the Agreement and the FAA 9 precluded the Court from entertaining Local 38’s request. (Related Case, Dkt. No. 46.) 10 The Agreement gave the arbitrator “the authority to resolve [the underlying] dispute in total, Northern District of California United States District Court 11 which includes determining what law applies as a predicate determination for the ultimate resolution.” 12 (Id. at 5:3-4.) Regardless of whether the arbitrator offered to cede this authority and allow the Court 13 to decide the issue, the Court found that NPF did not agree thereto. The parties properly invoked the 14 arbitrator’s authority to resolve their dispute and such authority cannot be unilaterally transferred to 15 the federal courts. Accepting Local 38’s invitation would contravene the Agreement and purposes of 16 the FAA. Thus, the Court declined to intervene in an ongoing arbitration on a matter directly within 17 the purview of the arbitrator’s authority: 18 19 20 21 22 For this Court to entertain questions properly before an arbitrator in advance of any final arbitration decisions would work an end-run around the [FAA’s] limited and deferential standard of judicial review for final arbitral awards. (Id. at 6:12-15.) Plaintiffs thereafter appealed this Court’s decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (the 23 “Ninth Circuit Appeal”) and took the position that the arbitration should be postponed pending 24 resolution of their appeal. (See Baker Decl., Exh. 16.) NPF disagreed, as did the arbitrator – although 25 he did acknowledge that he would honor any court-ordered stay. (See id., Exhs. 7, 14-15.) Plaintiffs 26 then requested that this Court order a stay of the arbitration pending the Ninth Circuit Appeal. 27 (Related Case, Dkt. No. 50.) Both this Court and the Ninth Circuit rejected Local 38’s bids for a stay. 28 (Id. Dkt. No. 54; Dkt. No. 17-1, “Malone Decl.,” Exh. 3.) The Ninth Circuit Appeal was fully briefed 3 1 as of April 6, 2015. On October 21, 2015, NPF moved to dismiss the appeal as moot, and the briefing 2 on NPF’s motion to dismiss is likewise complete. 3 4 B. Arbitration Proceedings In December 2014, following Local 38’s unsuccessful attempts at a stay, the arbitration 5 proceeded with briefing on the choice of law issue. On January 5, 2015, the arbitrator ruled that 6 contract law – not ERISA – should apply to the underlying reciprocity dispute. (Baker Decl., Exh. 7 21.) The arbitrator concluded that “ordinary contract law and interpretation principles would apply to 8 the claim here.” (Id.) On January 13, 2015, the first day of the evidentiary proceeding, the parties 9 stipulated to bifurcating the liability and damages portions of the proceedings as follows: 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 12 13 14 The parties have stipulated that if – and I underline that – there is any liability found, that the amounts due would be remanded to the parties but that I would retain jurisdiction in the event the parties cannot agree thereon. (Malone Decl., Exh. 7 at 17.) The arbitrator then presided over a two-day evidentiary proceeding. On April 6, 2015, the arbitrator made a liability determination in favor of NPF, requiring 15 Local 38 to “pay for travelers covered by the NPF pension fund the full amounts of employer pension 16 contributions made on their behalf while working in Local 38’s jurisdiction.” (Liability Award, Baker 17 Decl., Exh. 35 at 20.) The arbitrator further held that the doctrine of unclean hands did not apply to 18 NPF’s claims because, if NPF had unclean hands, then so did Local 38. (Id. at 14-16.) The arbitrator 19 also rejected Local 38’s statute of limitations defense, finding that no time limit applied to NPF’s 20 claims, and even if one did, it had been equitably tolled by NPF’s ongoing engagement in the 21 Agreement’s dispute resolution process. (Id. at 17-20.) Based thereon, and pursuant to the parties’ 22 stipulation to bifurcate proceedings, the arbitrator remanded the issue of damages to the parties. (Id.) 23 The parties returned to the arbitrator when they were unable to resolve whether Local 38 was 24 obligated to reciprocate PPA contributions. Following an exchange of briefs on the matter, the 25 arbitrator again ruled in favor of NPF, finding that PPA contributions are “employer contributions” 26 and must be reciprocated under the Agreement. (Damages Award, Baker Decl., Exh. 1.) The 27 arbitrator ordered Local 38 to pay more than $200,000 in PPA contributions to NPF. 28 4 Local 38 timely filed a petition to vacate the Damages Award pursuant to the FAA.1 NPF then 1 2 filed its counter petition to confirm both the Liability Award and the Damages Award pursuant to the 3 FAA and the California Arbitration Act (“CAA”).2 4 5 II. ERISA PREEMPTION OF NPF’S STATE LAW COUNTER PETITION Local 38 puts forth a perfunctory argument that ERISA preempts NPF’s state law remedy to 6 confirm the Liability and Damages Awards under the CAA.3 Local 38 summarily contends that “the 7 Supreme Court held that ERISA pre-empt[s] virtually all state law remedies,” citing Pilot Life Ins. Co. 8 v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 54 (1987). (Dkt. No. 27 at 10:27-28.) Noticeably absent from Local 38’s 9 argument is any discussion of the Supreme Court’s two-part test to determine whether a claim falls Northern District of California within the scope of ERISA section 502(a), such that is preempted by ERISA, as announced in Aetna 11 United States District Court 10 Health, Inc. v. Davila, 542 U.S. 200, 210 (2004). Under Davila, state law claims are preempted by 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 1 NPF contends that any arguments raised by Local 38 with respect to the Liability Award are waived as untimely insofar as Local 38 failed to file a petition to vacate within three months following the Liability Award. See 9 U.S.C. § 12 (petition to vacate must be served “within three months after the award is filed or delivered”). However, the Court need not reach this issue to resolve the instant petitions. As an initial matter, NPF has not clearly articulated which of Local 38’s arguments is timebarred. Although NPF attacks specific affirmative defenses Local 38 raised in opposition to its counter petition as time-barred, NPF does not explain how these grounds are sufficiently distinct from grounds raised in Local 38’s opening petition such that some are time-barred while others are not. For example, NPF contends that Local 38’s argument that “the arbitrator acted in excess of his powers by ruling that state law governed the parties dispute” is time-barred because it concerns the choice of law determination (part of the Liability Award), but does not make the same attack on Local 38’s similar argument that “the arbitrator exceeded his powers by ignoring the parties’ agreement to adjudicate the choice of law question in federal court.” In that regard, NPF’s inconsistent position is not persuasive. More importantly, the Court finds all of Local 38’s arguments – timely or not – to be without merit. NPF’s waiver argument, therefore, is moot. 2 NPF invokes the CAA because it allows confirmation of both the Liability Award and Damages Award. Cal.Code.Civ.P. § 1288 (providing a four-year window in which a petition to confirm must be filed). This procedural mechanism to confirm the Liability Award does not affect the Court’s analysis. The FAA and CAA provide for vacatur of an arbitration award under similar circumstances, and therefore, the Court may consider federal authority interpreting the FAA in adjudicating the cross petition under the CAA. Reed v. Mutual Svc. Corp., 106 Cal.App.4th 1359, n. 4 (2003). 26 3 27 28 Local 38 uses an introductory sentence and a quote to argue that ERISA controls the instant dispute and then states that the Court lacks “supplemental jurisdiction.” (Dkt. No. 27 at 10:23-11:6.) As Local 38 does not challenge jurisdiction generally, the Court construes the argument to take issue with NPF’s articulation of jurisdiction only and addresses the statement no further. 5 1 ERISA if they are (1) brought by “an individual, [who] at some point in time, could have brought his 2 claim under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B),” and (2) under circumstances in which “there is no other 3 independent legal duty that is implicated by a defendant’s actions.” Id. at 210. Both prongs of the 4 Davila test must be satisfied for preemption to occur. Marin Gen. Hosp. v. Modesto & Empire 5 Traction Co., 581 F.3d 941, 947 (9th Cir. 2009). Here, the inquiry begins and ends with the first prong. NPF’s claim to confirm the arbitration 6 7 award under the CAA is not a colorable ERISA claim. Trustees of Local Union 580 Employee Benefit 8 Funds v. General Fence, Corp., 2014 WL 1800428, at *8 (E.D.N.Y. May 5, 2014) (state law petition 9 to confirm arbitration award does not satisfy first Davila prong). A CAA claim for confirmation of an Northern District of California arbitration award is governed by California confirmation law, not by ERISA. Id. Because NPF’s 11 United States District Court 10 petition under the CAA cannot be construed as a claim that could have been brought under ERISA 12 section 502(a), it is not preempted. Id. 13 14 III. STANDARD OF REVIEW The role of the courts in reviewing arbitration awards is extremely circumscribed. Southern 15 Cal. Gas Co. v. Util. Workers Union of Am., Local 132, AFL-CIO, 265 F.3d 787, 792 (9th Cir. 2001) 16 (citing Stead Motors v. Auto. Machinists Lodge, 886 F.2d 1200, 1208 n. 8 (9th Cir. 1989) (en banc)). 17 The confirmation of an arbitration award is meant to be a summary proceeding. G.C. & K.B. 18 Investments, Inc. v. Wilson, 326 F.3d 1096, 1105 (9th Cir. 2003). Section 9 of the FAA provides that 19 when presented with an application to confirm an arbitration award, the district court “must grant such 20 an order unless the award is vacated, modified, or corrected.” 9 U.S.C. § 9. “‘Neither erroneous legal 21 conclusions nor unsubstantiated factual findings justify federal court review of an arbitral award.’” 22 Bosack v. Soward, 586 F.3d 1096, 1102 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Kyocera Corp. v. Prudential-Bache 23 Trade Servs., Inc., 341 F.3d 987, 994 (9th Cir. 2003)). Rather, grounds for vacating an award are 24 limited to those specified by statute. Hall St. Associates, LLC v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 584 25 (2008) (holding Section 10 provides the FAA’s exclusive grounds for vacatur of an arbitration award). 26 The FAA authorizes courts to vacate an award in limited circumstances, including: 27 (3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown … or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or 28 6 1 2 3 (4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made. 9 U.S.C. § 10(a). With respect to the fourth ground, arbitrators exceed or fail to execute their powers sufficiently 4 if the award constitutes a “manifest disregard of the law” or is “completely irrational.” Comedy Club, 5 Inc. v. Improv West Associates, 553 F.3d 1277, 1288 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Poweragent, Inc. v. 6 Elec. Data Sys. Corp., 358 F.3d 1187, 1193 (9th Cir. 2004)); 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(4). “‘Manifest disregard 7 of the law’ means something more than just an error in the law or a failure on the part of the 8 arbitrators to understand or apply the law. It must be clear from the record that the arbitrators [1] 9 recognized the applicable law and then [2] ignored it.” Michigan Mut. Ins. Co. v. Unigard Sec. Ins. Northern District of California Co., 44 F.3d 826, 832 (9th Cir. 1995) (internal citations omitted). “[T]o demonstrate manifest 11 United States District Court 10 disregard, the moving party must show that the arbitrator ‘underst[oo]d and correctly state[d] the law, 12 but proceed[ed] to disregard the same.’” Bosack, supra 586 F.3d at 1104 (quoting Collins v. D.R. 13 Horton, Inc., 505 F.3d 874, 879 (9th Cir. 2007)) (alterations in original). To make this showing, the 14 law alleged to have been ignored by the arbitrator “must be well defined, explicit, and clearly 15 applicable.” Carter v. Health Net of Cal., Inc., 374 F.3d 830, 838 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Merrill 16 Lynch v. Bobker, 808 F.2d 930, 934 (2d Cir. 1986)). An arbitrator cannot manifestly disregard the 17 law where “no binding precedent existed” on the issue. Collins, 505 F.3d at 883. 18 An award is completely irrational if it “fails to draw its essence from the agreement.” Comedy 19 Club, 553 F.3d at 1288 (quoting Hoffman v. Cargill, Inc., 236 F.3d 458, 461-62 (8th Cir. 2001)). “An 20 arbitration award ‘draws its essence from the agreement if the award is derived from the agreement, 21 viewed in light of the agreement’s language and context, as well as other indications of the parties’ 22 intentions.’” Lagstein v. Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London, 607 F.3d 634, 642 (9th Cir. 2010) 23 (quoting Bosack, supra, 586 F.3d at 1106.) This standard is satisfied if the arbitrator is arguably 24 interpreting the contract and that interpretation is “plausible.” See id. at 643; Sheet Metal Workers 25 Int’l Ass’n v. Arizona Mechanical & Stainless, Inc., 863 F.2d 647, 653 (9th Cir. 1988) (“as long as the 26 arbitrator is even arguably construing or applying the contract and acting within the scope of his 27 authority, that a court is convinced he committed a serious error does not suffice to overturn his 28 decision”) (quoting United Paperworkers Intern. Union, AFL-CIO v. Misco, Inc., 484 U.S. 29, 36 7 1 (1987)). “Section 10(a)’s limited grounds are ‘designed to preserve due process but not to permit 2 unnecessary public intrusion into private arbitration procedures.’” U.S. Life Ins. Co. v. Superior Nat. 3 Ins. Co., 591 F.3d 1167, 1173 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Kyocera, 341 F.3d at 998)). Ultimately, the 4 burden of establishing one of the enumerated grounds for vacatur rests with the party seeking to 5 vacate the award. Id. 6 7 IV. DISCUSSION Local 38 argues for vacatur on three grounds pursuant to Sections 10(a)(3) and (4), namely the 8 arbitrator’s: (A) refusal to postpone the arbitration proceedings during the pendency of the Ninth 9 Circuit Appeal; (B) ruling on the choice of law issue about which Local 38 sought this Court’s Northern District of California judgment in the Related Case; and (C) conclusion that Local 38 was obligated to reciprocate PPA 11 United States District Court 10 contributions made on behalf of NPF travelers to NPF as “employer contributions” under the 12 Agreement. As set forth below, Local 38 failed to meet its burden on any of its proposed grounds to 13 vacate the Liability Award or the Damages Award. 14 A. Refusal to Stay Proceedings 15 Local 38 argues that the arbitrator’s denial of its request to impose an open-ended stay of the 16 arbitration pending adjudication of the Ninth Circuit Appeal constitutes misconduct under the 17 meaning on 9 U.S.C. section 10(a)(3).4 While refusal to postpone a hearing upon a showing of 18 “sufficient cause” may constitute grounds for vacatur under 9 U.S.C. section 10(a)(3), such conditions 19 are not present here. As a threshold matter, Local 38’s premise is unfounded. The arbitrator did not 20 “rewr[ite] the Parties’ agreement to have a federal court decide the choice of law issue by informing 21 the Parties that he was ‘dissolving his offer’” (Dkt. No. 1 at 22:17-18) to allow the declaratory 22 judgment action. This contention directly contravenes this Court’s previous finding that no such 23 agreement ever existed between the parties. (Related Case, Dkt. Nos. 46, 54.) NPF expressly 24 declined Local 38’s offer to consent to the filing of the declaratory relief action and immediately 25 sought to dismiss that action. Thus, the factual basis for Local 38’s argument lacks substance. 26 27 28 4 Local 38 additionally states that the arbitrator’s refusing to stay the arbitration violated 9 U.S.C. section 10(a)(4), but cites no authority in support thereof. 8 1 Nor is the argument itself tenable. Local 38 makes no attempt to demonstrate that the 2 arbitrator had no “reasonable basis” to deny the stay or that the denial amounts to a “denial of 3 fundamental fairness,” as it must show to be entitled to vacatur. El Dorado School Dist. # 15 v. 4 Cont’l Cas. Co., 247 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2001); Fordjour v. Washington Mut. Bank, 2010 WL 5 2529093, at *5 (N.D.Cal. June 18, 2010). The Court finds no grounds to conclude that the arbitrator’s 6 decision to deny the stay had no reasonable basis when two federal courts – this Court and the Ninth 7 Circuit – made the same determination. In fact, this Court found that entry of a stay would be 8 fundamentally unfair, and it would prejudice and likely harm NPF in pursuing its claims efficiently. 9 (Related Case, Dkt. No. 54.) Accordingly, this basis for vacatur is DENIED. Northern District of California B. Choice of Law 11 United States District Court 10 Local 38 attacks the arbitrator’s ruling on the choice of law issue by arguing that the ruling 12 itself exceeded the scope of his powers.5 See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(4). Specifically, Local 38 contends 13 that his ruling that state contract law governed NPF’s claims was outside the scope of his powers 14 because it was (1) not properly before him as the parties agreed to allow this Court to decide the issue, 15 (2) in “manifest disregard” of the law of ERISA, and (3) completely irrational as it was not derived 16 from the Agreement. The Court addresses each of these arguments in turn. 1. The Choice of Law Issue Was Properly Before the Arbitrator 17 18 First, Local 38 contends that the choice of law issue was not properly before the arbitrator 19 because the parties agreed to bring a declaratory action in federal court. As discussed, supra, this 20 Court has explicitly rejected such a contention on multiple occasions. Furthermore, the Court 21 dismissed the declaratory action on the basis that the arbitrator – and the arbitrator alone – possessed 22 the authority to decide the choice of law issue. Thus, the choice of law issue was properly before the 23 arbitrator. It can only be vacated upon a showing that his decision was in manifest disregard of the 24 25 26 27 28 5 Local 38 also makes passing reference to misconduct with respect to the arbitrator’s failure to honor the parties’ alleged agreement to resolve the choice of law dispute in federal court. (Dkt. No. 1 at 5:11-12.) This basis for vacatur fails for at least two reasons. First, for the reasons discussed in Sections IV(A) and (B)(1), infra, the Court found that no such agreement existed. Second, Local 38 wholly fails to develop or support this misconduct argument under 9 U.S.C. section 10(a)(3). 9 1 law or was completely irrational under 9 U.S.C. section 10(a)(4). For the reasons discussed below, 2 Local 38 has demonstrated neither. 3 4 2. The Choice of Law Decision Did Not Manifestly Disregard ERISA With respect to manifest disregard, Local 38 contends that Ninth Circuit precedent compels 5 the application of ERISA, not state contract law, to NPF’s claims. In particular, Local 38 argues that 6 the arbitrator’s decision that ERISA does not preempt the area is contrary to the Ninth Circuit’s 7 decision in IT Corp. v. Gen. Am. Life Ins. Co., 107 F.3d 1415 (9th Cir. 1997). However, a decision 8 “contrary to” binding precedent is not necessarily in “manifest disregard” thereof. Local 38 does not 9 even attempt to address the standard of manifest disregard by showing first that the arbitrator Northern District of California recognized the applicability of IT Corp., and second, that he then ignored it. Michigan Mut., 44 F.3d 11 United States District Court 10 at 832. This failure is unsurprising given the arbitrator did not address IT Corp. in his decision. Local 12 38 is therefore left arguing that the arbitrator incorrectly concluded that “ordinary contract law and 13 interpretation principles would apply to the claim here.” (Baker Decl., Exh. 21.) Reduced to its 14 essence, Local 38’s argument is the arbitrator made an “erroneous legal conclusion” and nothing 15 more. Kyocera, 341 F.3d at 994 (“Neither erroneous legal conclusions nor unsubstantiated factual 16 findings justify federal court review of an arbitral award…”). Local 38’s effort to reframe legal error 17 into manifest disregard of the law does not persuade. It simply cannot justify federal court 18 intervention in the arbitration award. 19 20 3. The Choice of Law Decision Was Not Irrational With respect to irrationality, Local 38 argues that the arbitrator’s application of contract law to 21 the underlying dispute was completely irrational insofar as his decision was not derived from the 22 Agreement. Again, Local 38’s argument ignores the legal standard for showing that an arbitration 23 decision was completely irrational. This argument, at most, goes toward the correctness of the 24 arbitrator’s interpretation the Agreement. “Under § 10(a)(4), the question for a judge is not whether 25 the arbitrator construed the parties’ contract correctly, but whether he construed it at all.” Oxford 26 Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, 133 S.Ct. 2064, 2071 (2013). To prevail, Local 38 would have to 27 establish the arbitrator was not even arguably interpreting the Agreement, but if he were, that his was 28 not a “plausible” interpretation thereof. Sheet Metal Workers, 863 F.2d at 653. The arbitrator 10 1 unquestionably construed the Agreement in making his choice of law determination. Indeed, the 2 arbitrator specifically references Section 10 of the Agreement, the same portion on which Local 38 3 now relies to argue for a contrary result. (See Baker Decl., Exh. 7; Dkt. No. 27 at 11-13.) 4 The only remaining inquiry is whether the arbitrator’s interpretation that the Agreement does 5 not require ERISA to govern all disputes arising thereunder is plausible. Lagstein, 607 F.3d at 645. 6 The Court finds that it is. While the parties vigorously litigated this issue in front of the arbitrator, 7 they all agree only one provision of the Agreement, Section 10, even remotely applied to this topic. 8 Section 10 of the Agreement provides: 9 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 12 The trustees of any signatory pension fund shall not be liable for any acts of the trustees of any other pension benefit trust fund signatory to this Agreement; nor shall any trustee be personally liable for any action taken pursuant to this Agreement except to the extent liability is imposed by operation of [ERISA] or applicable provisions of Canadian and provincial law. 13 (Baker Decl., Exh. 4) (emphasis supplied). A plain reading of Section 10 shows that it only works to 14 protect trustees of one fund from liability for the acts of another fund, and also protects trustees from 15 personal liability unless ERISA imposes such personal liability. It does not, as Local 38 argues, 16 require that any liability under the Agreement be imposed pursuant only to ERISA. The Court finds 17 plausible the arbitrator’s determination that “Section 10 of the Agreement referencing ERISA 18 concerning personal liability of Trustees [was] not implicated by NPF in its simple breach of contract 19 action.” (Id.) (emphasis supplied.) Nor was the arbitrator’s decision unreservedly wrong. Rather, the 20 plain language suggests Section 10 is simply inapplicable to NPF’s claims. Therefore, the arbitrator 21 acted within the scope of his powers by finding that contract law, not ERISA law, applied. The award 22 is not irrational within the meaning of the FAA. 23 Accordingly, this basis for vacatur is DENIED. 24 C. PPA Contributions as “Employer Contributions” Under the Agreement 25 Local 38 next argues that the arbitrator exceeded the scope of his powers by determining that 26 PPA contributions must be reciprocated as “employer contributions” to NPF under the Agreement. 27 See 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(4). Local 38 attacks this determination as outside the scope of the arbitrator’s 28 powers on three bases, specifically arguing that (1) NPF’s demand for PPA contributions was not 11 1 properly before the arbitrator because NPF did not exhaust required pre-arbitration remedies under the 2 Agreement, (2) the ruling is in manifest disregard of ERISA, and (3) the award of PPA contributions 3 is completely irrational as it is not drawn from and possibly ignores express terms of the Agreement. 4 The Court addresses each below. 5 6 1. PPA Contributions Were Properly Before the Arbitrator First, Local 38 contends that NPF’s request for an award of more than $200,000 in PPA arbitration, in violation of the Agreement’s pre-arbitration procedures. Section 13 of the Agreement 9 requires disputing parties to attempt to resolve disputes amongst themselves in the first instance, then 10 with the help of a reciprocity coordinator, before submitting the dispute to an arbitrator. (Baker Decl., 11 Northern District of California contributions was not properly before the arbitrator because NPF failed to raise the issue prior to 8 United States District Court 7 Exh. 4.) NPF does not contest the enforcement or applicability of Section 13. Rather, NPF argues 12 that its many demands for full reciprocation of 100 percent of employer contributions over seven 13 years included PPA contributions. In NPF’s view, its failure to itemize PPA contributions explicitly 14 is of no consequence. The arbitrator agreed: “[t]here is no convincing showing that NPF forfeited or 15 forgave Local 38’s full payment of its 100 percent reciprocity obligations under the Agreement,” 16 including PPA contributions. (Damages Award at 10.) Thus, Local 38 essentially asks the Court to 17 undo the arbitrator’s factual finding that NPF satisfied the pre-arbitration procedures under the 18 Agreement. The Court cannot second-guess an arbitrator’s factual finding and substitute its judgment 19 for that of the fact finder (the arbitrator). Kyocera, 341 F.3d at 994 (“unsubstantiated factual 20 findings” do not “justify federal court review of an arbitral award”). This basis for vacatur fails. 21 22 2. The Award of PPA Contributions Did Not Manifestly Disregard ERISA Second, Local 38 argues that the award of PPA contributions as employer contributions must 23 be vacated because it manifestly disregards the law of ERISA. Local 38’s arguments on this point 24 merely constitute disagreement with the arbitrator’s interpretation of ERISA, which is not sufficient 25 under the “manifest disregard” standard to vacate his award. Bosack, 586 F.3d at 1102; Kyocera, 341 26 F.3d at 994. To prevail, Local 38 must show that is clear from the record (1) that the arbitrator 27 recognized applicable law and then (2) ignored it. Michigan Mut., 44 F.3d at 832. The law alleged to 28 have been ignored by the arbitrator “must be well defined, explicit, and clearly applicable.” Carter, 12 1 374 F.3d at 838. By contrast, here, Local 38 provides a litany of objections to the arbitrator’s 2 statutory interpretation and his application of that interpretation to the Agreement – not any refusal to 3 apply a clear statutory command. 4 Local 38 focuses heavily on ERISA section 305 (“Section 305”)6 in support of its argument 5 that the arbitrator manifestly disregarded the law. Limited background on PPA contributions is 6 necessary to appreciate the issue. Under the PPA, if a multi-employer defined benefit pension plan 7 (such as Local 38) becomes “endangered,” the plan’s trustees must propose to the plan’s parties 8 options for a “funding improvement plan” (“FIP”). 29 U.S.C. §§ 1085(b)(1), (c). The PPA defines a 9 FIP as a “plan which consists of the actions, including options or a range of options to be proposed to Northern District of California the bargaining parties, formulated to provide, based on reasonably anticipated experience and 11 United States District Court 10 reasonable actuarial assumptions, for the attainment by the plan” during the FIP period of certain 12 requirements. Id. § 1085(c)(3)(A). A plan’s bargaining parties can opt to increase employer 13 contributions or decrease future benefits to attain the FIP, among other options. Id. 14 Here, apparently Local 38 became endangered and its bargaining parties chose a FIP involving 15 increased employer contributions rather than decreased future benefits. Thus, during the relevant time 16 period, employers of traveling employees working in Local 38’s territory paid increased 17 contributions, i.e. the PPA contributions, to Local 38 pursuant to Local 38’s FIP. According to Local 18 38, Section 305 and the Agreement together entitle it to retain all PPA contributions and not 19 reciprocate PPA contributions to a traveler’s home fund (including NPF). In particular, Local 38 20 argues that Section 305(d) prohibits the use of PPA contributions for any purpose other than funding 21 purposes under Local 38’s FIP, including for the benefit of travelers. 22 Local 38 has not pointed to any particular language in Section 305(d) that prohibits 23 reciprocation of PPA contributions under a reciprocity agreement. While Section 305(d) generally 24 prohibits the use of PPA contributions to increase benefits (subject to certain exceptions) for members 25 26 27 28 6 ERISA section 305 is also codified in the Internal Revenue Code section 432. See 29 U.S.C. § 1085 (Section 305); 26 U.S.C. § 432. 13 1 of the endangered plan, see 29 U.S.C. § 1085(d)(1)(B),7 it does not address the relevant issue: whether 2 such contributions should be reciprocated to a traveler’s home fund under a reciprocity agreement. 3 The arbitrator recognized Local 38’s reliance on Section 305(d), but found it inapplicable insofar as 4 this “is not a case where it would be seeking to use FIP employer contributions for other than FIP 5 funding purposes.” (Damages Award at 9.) Contrary to Local 38’s suggestion, the arbitrator merely 6 disagreed that Section 305(d) mandated a different result. He did not disregard or ignore Section 7 305(d). 8 9 Local 38 also contends that the arbitrator manifestly disregarded Section 305(b)(3)(B)(i). (See, e.g., Dkt. No. 27 at 17-18, n.10.) The Court disagrees. Section 305(b)(3)(B)(i) instructs plan Northern District of California actuaries to consider demographic data of that plan’s members to calculate a FIP – the exact 11 United States District Court 10 proposition for which the arbitrator cites that provision. The arbitrator agreed with Local 38’s 12 contention that its actuaries were not required to consider traveler demographics because travelers are 13 not eligible for Local 38 benefits. (Damages Award at 9.) Local 38’s attempt to now turn this 14 statement on its head by positing that the arbitrator ruled “that Local 38’s actuaries had to take 15 Traveler demographic data into account when calculating the Local 38’s Pension Plan’s [FIP]” 16 ignores a plain reading of his award. 17 Moreover, no binding Supreme Court or Ninth Circuit precedent was considered and ignored 18 by the arbitrator. Collins, 505 F.3d at 883. As the parties concede, only two district courts have 19 arguably addressed the question of whether PPA contributions are “employer contributions” as that 20 term is used in the Agreement. Bd. of Trustees of the Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Local 863 Pension Fund 21 v. C&S Wholesale Grocers, 5 F.Supp.3d 707 (D.N.J. 2014); Lehman v. Nelson, 2014 WL 4540160 22 (W.D.Wash. Sept. 11, 2014). And, those decisions came to differing conclusions. In C&S 23 Wholesalers, the court held that PPA surcharges should not be considered “contributions” to calculate 24 an employer’s annual payments upon withdrawal from the plan. C&S Wholesalers, 5 F.Supp.3d at 25 26 27 28 7 Section 305(d)(1)(B) provides: “A plan may not be amended after the date of the adoption of a [FIP] under subsection (c) so as to increase benefits, including future benefit accruals, unless the plan actuary certifies that such increase is paid for out of additional contributions not contemplated by the [FIP], and, after taking into account the benefit increase, the multiemployer plan still is reasonably expected to meet the applicable benchmark on the schedule contemplated in the [FIP].” 14 1 721-25. On the other hand, the court in Lehman held that ERISA and the parties’ reciprocity 2 agreement – which the arbitrator found to be similar to the Agreement here – required full 3 reciprocation of all contributions, including contributions the visiting fund sought to withhold under 4 its FIP. Lehman, 2014 WL 4540160 at *8-9. In Lehman, the district court emphasized that a visited 5 fund “merely acts as a conduit to the money transferred to the [home] fund,” an argument which the 6 arbitrator found compelling and adopted. Ultimately, the arbitrator found Lehman more persuasive 7 and applicable under the circumstances. An arbitrator’s reasoned decision to adopt the rationale of 8 one non-binding decision over another cannot demonstrate a “manifest disregard of law,” especially 9 where neither party presents binding precedent on the issue. Local 38’s attempt to pigeon-hole de 10 Northern District of California United States District Court 11 12 novo review into the exacting standard on review of an arbitration award does not persuade. 3. The Award of PPA Contributions Was Not Irrational Lastly, Local 38 asks this Court to vacate the Damages Award on the basis that the arbitrator’s 13 determination was not drawn from the Agreement. Local 38 baldly asserts the arbitrator’s 14 determination that the term “employer contributions” encompasses PPA contributions under the 15 Agreement “is, at best, irrational.” (Dkt. No. 1 at 15:13-14.) On this point, again, Local 38 sidesteps 16 the relevant standard, focusing instead on the underlying merits. “[C]onvincing a court of an 17 arbitrator’s error – even his grave error – is not enough.” Oxford Health, 133 S.Ct. at 2070. The 18 Court may only vacate the award as irrational if the arbitrator was not “arguably construing” the 19 Agreement. Id. Even a cursory review of the Damages Award shows that the arbitrator construed the 20 Agreement in making his determination. (See Damages Award at 5-7.) Indeed, the arbitrator’s 21 decision heavily relies on his determination that Section 1(c) of the Agreement, defining “employer 22 contributions,” encompasses a broad enough definition to include PPA contributions: 23 24 25 26 27 The terms of the Agreement, as quoted, are unambiguous and absolute: “[T]he full payment of 100% of the contributions which an employer makes to a signatory pension fund for the purpose of providing a plan of pension benefits for employees.” “Full payment of 100” percent means, by normal reading, all such contributions provided they are “for the purpose of providing a plan of pension benefits for employees.” For the purposes of the Agreement, all contributions, including PPA contributions, are for that purpose. 28 15 1 (Damages Award at 4-5.) That Local 38 would interpret the term “employer contributions” as not 2 including PPA contributions cannot compel vacatur of the arbitrator’s decision. The Court “need only 3 find that the [arbitrator’s] interpretation of the agreement was plausible.” Lagstein, 607 F.3d at 645. 4 The Court finds that it was. It is certainly plausible to conclude that the phrase “100% of the 5 contributions” would include PPA contributions in this context. Whether the Court “would find [the 6 arbitrator’s] arguments convincing were it up to [the Court] to interpret the contract is beside the 7 point.” Oxford Health, 133 S.Ct at . (quoting Berklee Coll. of Music v. Berklee Chapter of the Mass. 8 Fed’n of Teachers, Local 4412, 858 F.2d 31, 34 (1st Cir. 1988)). 9 *** 10 It bears repeating that the role of the courts in reviewing arbitration awards is extremely Northern District of California United States District Court 11 circumscribed. This has been long settled, and oft repeated: “It is the arbitrator's construction [of the 12 contract] which was bargained for; and so far as the arbitrator's decision concerns construction of the 13 contract, the courts have no business overruling him because their interpretation of the contract is 14 different from his.” Id. at 2070-71 (quoting United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel & 15 Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 599 (1960)). This basis for vacatur is likewise DENIED. 16 17 18 V. CONCLUSION For these reasons, the petition to vacate the Damages Award is DENIED. The Court likewise 19 rejects all defenses against the petition to enforce the Liability Award. The FAA and CAA require the 20 Court grant an application to confirm an arbitration award “unless the award is vacated, modified, or 21 corrected.” 9 U.S.C. § 9; Cal.Code.Civ.P. § 1286. The cross petition to confirm the Liability Award 22 and Damages Award, therefore, is GRANTED. The arbitration awards are CONFIRMED. 23 24 Judgment shall issue by separate order. Defendant shall file a proposed form of judgment, approved as to form by plaintiff, within seven (7) days of the date of this Order. 25 This Order terminates Docket Numbers 1 and 17. 26 IT IS SO ORDERED. 27 28 Dated: January 21, 2016 ____________________________________ YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE 16

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