Hampton et al v. Maritime Association International Longshoreman Association Pension Retirement Welfare and Vacation Funds
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Denying 23 MOTION to Strike 22 Response in Opposition to Motion, and Objection to Response in Opposition to Motion; Granting 20 MOTION for Summary Judgment (Signed by Judge George C Hanks, Jr) Parties notified.(lusmith, 3)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
July 14, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
ANTHONY C. HAMPTON, et al,
§ CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:15-CV-247
INTERNATIONAL LONGSHOREMAN §
ASSOCIATION PENSION RETIREMENT §
WELFARE AND VACATION FUNDS, §
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs are three individual members of the International Longshoremen’s
Association Local 24 who filed suit against the Maritime Association ILA Pension
Retirement Welfare and Vacation Funds (“the Funds”), through their Trustees;
contending the Trustees of the Funds misapplied certain funds when they placed
money into a pension account rather than into a “Vacation and Holiday Pay” fund.
Accordingly, Plaintiffs assert causes of action for breach of contract and breach of
fiduciary duty against the Trustees of the Funds. Dkt. 1.
Defendants have now moved for summary judgment on all of these claims.
After reviewing the motion, the response, the reply, and the summary judgment
record as a whole, the Court finds that there is no genuine dispute of material fact and
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment in their favor.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Summary judgment is appropriate where “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 genuine dispute of material fact exists ‘if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.’” Johnson v. World
All. Fin. Corp., 830 F.3d 192, 195 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Anderson v. Liberty
Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). “When assessing whether a dispute as to any
material fact exists, [the Court] consider[s] all the evidence in the record but
refrain[s] from making credibility determinations or weighing the evidence; instead,
[the Court] draw[s] all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.” Haire
v. Bd. of Supervisors of La. State Univ. Agric. & Mech. Coll., 719 F.3d 356, 362 (5th
Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). Accordingly, in conducting this analysis, “evidence and
factual inferences are viewed “in the light most favorable to the [nonmovant].” Bryan
v. McKinsey & Co., 375 F.3d 358, 360 (5th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). However, “a
party cannot defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations, unsubstantiated
assertions, or ‘only a scintilla of evidence.’” Turner v. Baylor Richardson Med. Ctr.,
476 F.3d 337, 343 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069,
1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc)). Instead, “[t]he party opposing summary judgment is
required to identify specific evidence in the record and to articulate the precise
manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim.” Ragas v. Tenn. Gas
Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455,458 (5th Cir. 1998).
A. Breach of Contract Claim
Plaintiffs allege Defendants’ alleged diversion of funds “is and was contrary”
to the I.L.A. Master Contract of 2004. However, Defendants argue there is no
evidence that the Trustees of the Funds are parties to this contract. The Court agrees
The 2004 Master Contract is attached as an exhibit to Defendants’ motion for
summary judgment, and it states that it is between “United States Maritime
Alliance, Ltd.” and the “International Longshoremen’s Association, AFL-CIO (For
and on Behalf of Itself and Each of its Affiliated Districts and Locals Representing
Longshoremen, Clerks, Checkers and Maintenance Employees Working On Ships and
Terminals in Ports on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States).” The first
party, the United States Maritime Alliance, Ltd. is further defined as “[t]he
multiemployer management group . . . consist[ing] of the carriers, stevedores, marine
terminal operators, and port associations that are members of USMX [and those that
later become members] as well as those carriers and other employers bound hereto
by operation of law.” Plaintiffs contend that, because the 2004 Master Contract creates
the Funds, then the Funds are “creatures of contract,” and so are the Defendants
themselves, and thus privity exists. Plaintiffs do not supply a citation to support this
argument. Both parties generally rely on Texas law to support their positions.
However, “Texas law does not provide a cause of action for breach of
contract against a defendant who is not a party to the underlying contract.” Stewart
Title Guar. Co. v. Stewart Title Latin Am., Inc., 4:12-CV-03269, 2017 WL 1078759,
at *4 (S.D. Tex. Mar. 21, 2017) (internal citations omitted). Accordingly, the Court
finds that Defendants cannot not be held liable for t h e a l l e g e d breach of a contract
to which they are not a party, and they are therefore entitled to summary judgment on
the breach of contract claim.
there is no competent
summary judgment evidence to
demonstrate that the Defendants have taken any actions that would be contrary to the
Agreement. In an attempt to defeat the Defendants’ motion, Plaintiffs submitted the
affidavits of Plaintiff Anthony C. Hampton and Plaintiff Ricky Henderson, who both
state that they are members of the ILA Local 24 and that they have “personal
knowledge that the Board of Trustees of Maritime Association-ILA Retirement Fund
are diverting Container Royalty 5 (CRS) funds from the vacation and holiday plan to
the pension plan with knowledge that such diversion is in violation of the master
contract.” Such conclusory affidavits cannot defeat a motion for summary judgment
of the kind presented here. Accordingly, on this basis as well, the Court finds that
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ breach of contract claim.
B. Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim
Similarly, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment
in their favor on Plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claim. As noted above, Plaintiffs’
summary judgment evidence was primarily composed of self-serving statements and
legal conclusions in their own affidavits. Even assuming that this is a properly pled
claim under ERISA for a breach of fiduciary duty by Trustees, Plaintiffs’ evidence
fails to raise a genuine dispute of material fact as to whether Defendants’ alleged
actions were, in fact, a breach of any duty owed to Plaintiffs.
First, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on the
question of whether there is competent summary judgment evidence to show that they
were fiduciaries within the meaning of ERISA. It is not enough to merely allege that
a person or entity is a “fiduciary” under ERISA in order to bring a claim-instead,
the inquiry is more nuanced. “A fiduciary within the meaning of ERISA must be
someone acting in the capacity of manager [or] administrator.” Pegram v. Herdrich,
120 S.Ct. 2143, 2151 (2000). Merely performing administrative duties as required by
the plan is not a fiduciary function. See 29 C.F.R. § 2509.75-8; Walker v. Federal
Express Corp., 492 Fed. App’x. 559, 565 (6th Cir. 2012); Barrs v. Lockheed Martin
Corp., 287 F.3d 202, 207 (1st Cir. 2002); Plumb v. Fluid Pump Service, Inc., 124
F.3d 849,854-55 (7th Cir. 1997). “[T]he issue of ERISA fiduciary status is a mixed
question of fact and law.” Keith v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., CV H-15-1030, 2017 WL
2537296, at *4 (S.D. Tex. June 9, 2017) (citing Reich v. Lancaster, 55 F.3d 1034,
1044 (5th Cir. 1995)). Defendants here contend that the acts complained of were not
discretionary, but that they instead deposited the monies received in the manner they
were required to by the settlor and the Plan itself. On the record before it, the Court
Further, there is no evidence that the alleged acts themselves were a breach of
any specific duties owed to the Plaintiffs, or that the Plaintiffs were harmed by the
actions. As the Fifth Circuit has noted, “ERISA does not expressly enumerate the
particular duties of a fiduciary, but rather relies on the common law of trusts to define
the general scope of a fiduciary’s responsibilities.” Martinez v. Schlumberger, Ltd.,
338 F.3d 407, 412 (5th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted), Plaintiffs have
simply not produced any competent summary judgment evidence to withstand
Defendants’ motion here; and the Court is bound to render summary judgment in
For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion for
summary judgment because there is no genuine dispute of material fact on Plaintiffs’
claims, and Defendants are entitled to judgment in their favor as a matter of law.
Further, the Court OVERRULES the Defendants’ objection to the Plaintiffs’
late-filed Reply and further DENIES the Motion to Strike the Reply.
A final judgment will be entered separately.
SIGNED at Galveston, Texas, this 14th day of July, 2017.
George C. Hanks Jr.
United States District Judge
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