Trustees of the Michiana Area Electrical Workers Pension Fund v. La Places Electric Company Inc et al
OPINION AND ORDER: GRANTING 44 MOTION for Entry of Judgment under Rule 54(b) by Plaintiff Trustees of the Michiana Area Electrical Workers Pension Fund. The Plaintiff, Trustees of the Michiana Area Electrical Workers Pension Fund, to recover from the defendants, La Place's Electric Company, Inc., and LaPlace Electric, Inc., the amount of $246,910.00 for withdrawal liability, $49,382.00 in mandatory liquidated damages, $20,198.75 in attorney fees, and $1,477.86 in cost s, for a total of $317,968.61. The Plaintiffs are also entitled to a statutory award of interest on the $246,910.00 withdrawal liability outstanding at the time the Plaintiffs filed suit. All amounts subject to post-judgment interest at the rate of 1.62 %. Signed by Chief Judge Theresa L Springmann on 12/5/2017. (lhc)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
FORT WAYNE DIVISION
TRUSTEES OF THE MICHIANA
AREA ELECTRICAL WORKERS
LA PLACE’S ELECTRIC COMPANY,
INC., LAPLACE ELECTRIC, INC., and
HAROLD OSCAR LAPLACE,
Individually and d/b/a LAPLACE
CAUSE NO.: 2:14-CV-244-TLS
OPINION AND ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Entry of Judgment under Rule 54(b)
[ECF No. 44] filed by Plaintiffs, Trustees of the Michiana Area Electrical Workers Pension
Fund. The Defendants have not responded or otherwise opposed this Motion as of the date of this
Opinion and Order.
The Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment [ECF No. 32] against Defendants La Place’s
Electric Company, Inc. (LPEC); LaPlace Electric, Inc. (LEI); and Harold Oscar LaPlace, and
asked the Court to hold that each Defendant owed withdrawal liability jointly and severally to
the Plaintiffs under 29 U.S.C. § 1381 of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of
1980 (the MPPAA). On February 15, 2017, the Court issued an Opinion and Order [ECF No. 38]
granting summary judgment against Defendants LPEC and LEI, but withheld summary judgment
against LaPlace. The Court reasoned that the factual record was not developed sufficiently to
determine whether LaPlace was personally liable. (Opinion and Order 10.) The Plaintiffs now
move the Court to enter judgment against LPEC and LEI under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b)
The general rule in federal litigation is “one appeal per case.” United States v. Ettrick
Wood Prods., Inc., 916 F.2d 1211, 1218 (7th Cir. 1990); Horm v. Transcon Lines, Inc., 898 F.2d
589, 592 (7th Cir. 1990) (noting that the norm “prevents duplicative and time-consuming
appeals”). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b) provides an exception to this general rule.
Under Rule 54(b), “when multiple parties are involved, the court may direct entry of a final
judgment as to one or more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court expressly
determines that there is no just reason for delay.”
“Rule 54(b) permits entry of a partial final judgment only when all of one party’s claims
or rights have been fully adjudicated, or when a distinct claim has been fully resolved with
respect to all parties.” Lottie v. W. Am. Ins. Co., 408 F.3d 935, 938 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Factory Mut. Ins. Co. v. Bobst Group USA, Inc., 392 F.3d 922, 924 (7th Cir. 2004)). Rule 54(b)
authorizes a district court to enter final judgment on a single claim only if that claim is separate
from the claim or claims remaining for decision in the district court—separate not in the sense of
arising under a different statute or legal doctrine—but in the sense of involving different facts.
Ty, Inc. v. Publ’ns Int’l Ltd., 292 F.3d 512, 515 (7th Cir. 2002) (explaining that, unless the facts
are different, the appellate court would have to go over the same ground when the judgment
terminating the entire case is appealed); see also Lottie, 408 F.3d 938–39 (“We have insisted that
Rule 54(b) be employed only when the subjects of the partial judgment do not overlap with those
remaining in the district court.”).
“If there is a great deal of factual or legal overlap between the counts, then they are
considered the same claim for Rule 54(b) purposes.” Horwitz v. Alloy Auto. Co., 957 F.2d 1431,
1434 (7th Cir. 1992). “Rule 54(b) allows appeal without delay of claims that are truly separate
and distinct from those that remain in the district court, where ‘separate’ means having minimal
factual overlap.” Lottie, 408 F.3d at 939. “These requirements are designed to ensure that the
claim is distinct—the sort of dispute that, but for the joinder options in the Rules of Civil
Procedure, would be a stand-alone lawsuit.” Factory Mut. Ins. Co., 392 F.3d at 924. This rule is
properly “employed only when the subjects of the partial judgment do not overlap with those
ongoing in the district court.” Id.
In the instant case, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs’ request complies with Rule 54(b).
The Court has already found that there are no genuine issues of material fact concerning both
LPEC and LEI’s joint and several liability under the MPPAA, and that the Plaintiffs are entitled
to judgment as a matter of law against both LPEC and LEI. The only remaining issue for the
Court to determine is whether La Place is jointly and severally liable as well. This factual inquiry
has no bearing on LPEC and LEI’s already-determined joint and several liability. While there is
a common actor across these three entities (La Place himself), the facts that may establish La
Place’s personal liability are separate from those which established liability for LPEC and LEI.
The Court notes that while parties often request certification under Rule 54(b) to appeal a
district court’s decision, the Plaintiffs here appear to seek certification for a different reason. The
Plaintiffs have successfully obtained summary judgment against two jointly and severally liable
defendants (LPEC and LEI), but cannot presently collect until the Court or a jury determines
whether a third defendant (La Place) is also jointly and severally liable. La Place has experienced
health issues, and the Court has already vacated one trial date because of these health issues. (See
ECF No. 42.) There does not appear to be any reason to delay an appeal by the Defendants or
collection by the Plaintiffs.
In its Opinion and Order, the Court held that Defendants LPEC and LEI are jointly and
severally liable to Plaintiffs’ fund for the full amount of the assessed withdrawal liability, which
is $246,910.00. Delinquent withdrawal liability is treated as a delinquent contribution within the
meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1145. See 29 U.S.C. § 1401(d). Delinquent withdrawal liability is
therefore enforceable under 29 U.S.C. § 1132. When the Court enters judgment on behalf of a
plan in an action brought by a fiduciary, such as the Trustee-Plaintiffs, for or on behalf of a plan
to enforce contribution obligations, “the court shall award the plan” unpaid contributions,
interest on the unpaid contributions, double interest or liquidated damages, reasonable attorney’s
fees and costs, and any other relief the Court deems appropriate. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)
(emphasis added). The “double interest” provision provides that the prevailing plan is entitled to
either a second award of interest on the unpaid contributions or 20% of the unpaid contributions,
whichever is greater. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)(C)(i)–(ii). Further, the interest penalty provision
applies to contributions that are unpaid at the date of suit. See Operating Eng’rs Local 139
Health Benefit Fund v. Gustafson Constr. Corp., 258 F.3d 645, 654 (7th Cir. 2001). These
statutory remedies are mandatory. See Moriarty ex rel. Local Union No. 727 v. Svec, 429 F.3d
710, 720–21 (7th Cir. 2005). In the instant case, the liquidated damages for the withdrawal
liability total $49,382.00.
The Plaintiffs have submitted evidence that attorneys’ fees total $20,198.75, with an
additional $1,477.86 in costs. The Court has wide discretion to determine whether attorneys’ fees
are reasonable. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). In the Seventh Circuit, district
courts must examine whether attorneys’ fees represent a large multiple of the damages claimed
or recovered, and also explain the claimed hourly rate. Moriarty v. Svec, 233 F.3d 955, 965, 968
(7th Cir. 2001). Here, attorneys’ fees represent less than 10% of the withdrawal liability, a
fraction of the total award rather than a multiple. Further, the Plaintiffs have submitted a detailed
time schedule and affidavit to support the attorneys’ fees and cost calculation. Attorney Teresa
A. Massa billed at rates of $200.00 and $225.00 per hour, which is in line with rates for similar
cases. See, e.g., Local 1546 Welfare Fund v. BBHM Mgmt. Co., No. 08-C-6133, 2011 WL
1740034, at *2 (N.D. Ill. May 5, 2011); Misch v. Piping Techs. N., Inc., No. 2:06-CV-425, 2010
WL 535713, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Feb. 4, 2010). Given the Plaintiffs’ highly detailed submission, the
Court can make the finding that the requested fees and costs are reasonable.
For these reasons, in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), the Court
finds that there is no just reason for delay. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS the Motion for
Entry of Judgment Under Rule 54(b) [ECF No. 44] and DIRECTS the Clerk of court to enter
judgment in favor of the Trustees of the Michiana Area Electrical Workers Pension Fund and
against Defendants La Place’s Electric Company, Inc., and LaPlace Electric, Inc. The Trustees
are awarded $246,910.00 for withdrawal liability, $49,382.00 in mandatory liquidated damages,
$20,198.75 in attorney fees, and $1,477.86 in costs, for a total of $317,968.61. The Plaintiffs are
also entitled to a statutory award of interest on the $246,910.00 withdrawal liability outstanding
at the time the Plaintiffs filed suit.
SO ORDERED on December 5, 2017.
s/ Theresa L. Springmann
CHIEF JUDGE THERESA L. SPRINGMANN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?