SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION NATIONAL INDUSTRY PENSION FUND et al v. GLENN'S BUILDING SERVICES, INC.
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER granting in part and denying without prejudice in part 14 plaintiffs' second motion for default judgment. See text for details. Signed by Judge John D. Bates on 4/13/16. (lcjdb3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
INTERNATIONAL UNION NATIONAL
INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, et al.,
Civil Action No. 14-1942 (JDB)
GLENN’S BUILDING SERVICES, INC.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Plaintiffs, the SEIU National Industry Pension Fund and several of its trustees, brought this
action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 2001 et seq., to
recover withdrawal liability allegedly incurred by defendant, Glenn’s Building Services, when it
ceased operations in early 2014. Glenn’s has failed to appear, and following entry of default by
the clerk’s office, the Fund moved for entry of a default judgment. This Court denied that motion,
concluding that the allegations in the Fund’s complaint were insufficient to establish Glenn’s
liability. See Jun. 18, 2015, Mem. Op. & Order [ECF No. 8]. In the months since, the Fund has
filed an amended complaint and a second motion for default judgment.
Although the Fund’s
amended complaint is sufficient to establish Glenn’s liability, its second motion for default
judgment is insufficient to establish the proper amount of damages. Thus, the Fund’s second
motion for default judgment will be granted as to liability but denied as to damages.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(a) provides that the clerk of court must enter a default
“[w]hen a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or
otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise.” A court may then enter a
default judgment pursuant to Rule 55(b). “The determination of whether default judgment is
appropriate is committed to the discretion of the trial court.” Int’l Painters & Allied Trades Indus.
Pension Fund v. Auxier Drywall, LLC, 531 F. Supp. 2d 56, 57 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Jackson v.
Beech, 636 F.2d 831, 836 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). Upon entry of default by the clerk, the “defaulting
defendant is deemed to admit every well-pleaded allegation in the complaint.” Int’l Painters &
Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. R.W. Amrine Drywall Co., 239 F. Supp. 2d 26, 30 (D.D.C.
Deemed admitted by Glenn’s, the facts in the Fund’s amended complaint are sufficient to
establish that Glenn’s owes withdrawal liability. Glenn’s was required to make contributions to
its workers’ pension plan by the terms of a collective bargaining agreement with a local SEIU
union. First Am. Compl. [ECF No. 10] ¶¶ 9–10; see 29 U.S.C. § 1145. In January 2014 Glenn’s
went out of business. Ex. 2 to First Am. Compl. [ECF No. 10-2] at 10. The Fund thus determined
Glenn’s to have made a complete withdrawal from the plan, triggering an obligation to pay
withdrawal liability. First Am. Compl. ¶ 11; see 29 U.S.C. §§ 1381(a), 1383(a)(2). Two weeks
later, consistent with its statutory obligations, the Fund sent Glenn’s a letter calculating its
provisional withdrawal liability, proposing a payment schedule, and demanding payment. First
Am. Compl. ¶ 12; Ex. 2 to Pls.’ First Am. Compl.; see 29 U.S.C. § 1399(b)(1). After Glenn’s
failed to either request a review of the Fund’s calculations or make the requested payments, the
Fund sent Glenn’s a letter noting its failure to pay. First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 13–14. The letter also
warned that, if Glenn’s did not cure its failure within sixty days, the Fund would exercise its
statutory right to declare Glenn’s in default and demand immediate payment of its full outstanding
withdrawal liability, plus interest. Ex. 3 to Pls.’ First Am. Compl. [ECF No. 10-3] at 2; see 29
U.S.C. § 1399(c)(5). To date, Glenn’s has made no payments. First Am. Compl. ¶ 14. These
allegations, which Glenn’s has admitted by its default, are sufficient to establish the Fund’s claim
to the full amount of withdrawal liability.
Having established Glenn’s liability, the remaining question concerns the proper amount
of the default judgment. According to the Fund, Glenn’s owes $209,003.86 in withdrawal liability ,
plus interest, liquidated damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. Pls.’ Second Mot. for Default J. [ECF
No. 14]. But the Court cannot simply take the Fund’s word for it; Glenn’s default “does not
automatically establish default liability in the amount claimed by [the Fund].” Flynn v. Jocanz,
Inc., 480 F. Supp. 2d 218, 220 (D.D.C. 2007). “[U]nless the amount of damages is certain, the
court is required to make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded.” Int’l Painters
& Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Exec. Painting, Inc., 719 F. Supp. 2d 45, 49 (D.D.C. 2010)
(internal quotation marks omitted). In the ERISA context, calculation of the appropriate sum must
be guided by the statute, which “provides that an employer who withdraws from a multiemployer
pension plan must make withdrawal liability payments sufficient to cover that employer’s fair
share of the plan’s unfunded vested liabilities.” Nat’l Shopmen Pension Fund v. Disa, 583 F. Supp.
2d 95, 96 (D.D.C. 2008). “ERISA provides four statutory methods for calculating withdrawal
liability.” United Food & Commercial Workers Union-Emp’r Pension Fund v. Rubber Assocs.
Inc., 812 F.3d 521, 525 (6th Cir. 2016); see 29 U.S.C. § 1391; 29 C.F.R. § 4211.1(a).
Generally, courts “may rely on detailed affidavits or documentary evidence” when
determining the proper amount of a default judgment. Boland v. Alan W. Smith, Inc., 2012 WL
892911, at *1 (D.D.C. Mar. 15, 2012). ERISA cases are no exception. But given the technical
nature of ERISA liability calculations, the declarations should “set forth with specificity the
calculations used to reach [the final] amount.” See Flynn, 480 F. Supp. 2d at 220; see also Boland
v. Elite Terrazzo Flooring, Inc., 763 F. Supp. 2d 64, 69 (D.D.C. 2011) (basing the amount of a
default judgment on an affidavit that “details the calculations on which the plaintiffs base their
request”). Where the supporting declarations lack the requisite specificity, a motion for default
judgment is properly denied. See, e.g., Executive Painting, Inc., 719 F. Supp. 2d at 51–52.
The Fund offers the declaration of its Contribution Compliance Manager, who is tasked
with “monitoring the assessment of withdrawal liability against employers that cease participation
in the Fund.” Ex. 1 to Pls.’ Second Mot. for Default J. [ECF No. 14-1] (Anderson Decl.) ¶ 2. But
this declaration fails to “set forth with specificity the calculations” upon which the Fund’s request
is based. See Flynn, 480 F. Supp. 2d at 220. In fact, the declaration does not describe those
calculations at all.
Rather, it refers the Court to another unhelpful document—the “final
withdrawal liability assessment” sent to Glenn’s in 2015. Anderson Decl. ¶ 8. Although the
spreadsheet includes a box around the sum $209,003.86, labeled “Employer’s withdrawal,” it
provides no hint as to how the Fund arrived at that figure. See Ex. A to Anderson Decl. [ECF No.
14-1] at 10. And the Court’s attempt to divine some method was stymied almost immediately.
The amount of a plan’s “unfunded vested benefits” is plainly central to any withdrawal liability
calculation. See 29 C.F.R. § 4211.1(a); Disa, 583 F. Supp. 2d at 96. But none of the fields on the
Fund’s spreadsheet—with unilluminating titles like “Basic Pool,” “Reallocated Pool,” and
“Affected Benefits Pool”—deal expressly with “unfunded vested benefits.”
See Ex. A to
Anderson Decl. at 10. Absent some explanation of the Fund’s calculations, the Court is unable to
“make an independent determination of the sum to be awarded.” Exec. Painting, Inc., 719 F. Supp.
2d at 49 (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Fund’s motion for default judgment must
therefore be denied as to damages.
The Court will postpone consideration of the Fund’s requests for interest, liquidated
damages, attorneys’ fees, and costs. It observes, however, that the Fund’s claims for interest and
liquidated damages are based, at least in part, upon the SEIU National Industry Pension Plan. See
Pls.’ Second Mot. for Default J. at 6. When the Court ultimately turns to those requests, it would
likely benefit from the opportunity to review that document. There is also some reason to believe
the Pension Plan may shed light on the SEIU’s method for calculating withdrawal liability. See
29 C.F.R. § 4211.1(a) (“[A] plan determines the amount of unfunded vested benefits allocable to
a withdrawing employer in accordance with the presumptive method, unless the plan is amended
to adopt an alternative allocative method.”). The Fund could help its case, therefore, by attaching
the Pension Plan to any renewed motion for default judgment that adequately explains the Fund’s
In this case, the Fund asks the Court to assess a substantial amount of damages against an
absent defendant under a complicated statute. Before doing so, the Court has an obligation to
make an independent determination of the proper sum. The Court recognizes, of course, that
ERISA liability calculations are highly complex. It is not necessary for the Fund to describe each
individual step in its analysis. Frankly, the Court is not required—and has no desire—to verify
the withdrawal liability calculations to the last detail. But the Fund must provide at least some
evidence showing it has done the statutorily required calculations in a careful and rigorous manner.
To this point, the Fund has failed to do so. Thus, it is hereby
ORDERED that  plaintiffs’ second motion for default judgment is GRANTED in
part and DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE in part.
JOHN D. BATES
United States District Judge
Dated: April 13, 2016
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