Cashman v. Bayland Buildings Inc et al
ORDER granting 34 Motion for Summary Judgment. (cc: all counsel) (Griesbach, William)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
MICHAEL R. CASHMAN,
Case No. 15-C-0808
BAYLAND BUILDINGS, INC.,
STEVE AMBROSIUS, and
DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’
MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
Plaintiff Michael R. Cashman filed a complaint alleging ERISA and state law claims against
his former employer, Bayland Buildings, Inc.; Steve Ambrosius, Bayland’s president; and Abraham
Farley, its chief operating officer. Arising under federal law, the ERISA claims provide this Court
with jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Court has supplemental jurisdiction over the state law
claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Defendants Bayland, Ambrosius, and Farley have filed a motion
seeking summary judgment on all of Cashman’s claims. For the reasons below, Defendants’ motion
will be granted with respect to Cashman’s ERISA claims. With the federal claims gone, the Court
will follow the general rule and decline to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims, which will
be dismissed without prejudice.
Bayland, based in Hobart, Wisconsin, is a general contractor in commercial, agricultural, and
industrial markets. Steve Ambrosius is the president of Bayland, and Abraham Farley is its chief
operating officer. Bayland is employee-owned through an employee stock ownership plan (the Plan).
Employees participating in the Plan receive stock in Bayland pursuant to the Plan’s terms and
conditions. The Plan identifies Bayland as the plan administrator but indicates Bayland may
authorize an individual to act as the administrator on its behalf. (ECF Nos. 38-1 & 49-2.) Bayland
has done so, and the Plan is administered by a third-party entity, Principal Financial Group. (Def.’s
Proposed Findings of Fact (DPFOF) ¶ 6, ECF No. 36.) The Plan provides that “the Company shall
determine the amount of any contribution made to the Plan” and allocates any contribution among
qualifying participants based on “point determinations.” (ECF No. 38-1.)
Cashman began working for Bayland as its vice president of sales in 2007. Cashman’s 2007
employment agreement required that Bayland pay him a base salary, plus commission based on the
price of each sales contract, as well as other benefits, including health insurance and inclusion in the
Plan. (ECF No. 38-3.) In 2013, Bayland divided the sales department into two sectors: commercial
sales and agricultural sales. Cashman became Bayland’s vice president of commercial sales and
signed a new employment agreement in 2013 reflecting the position change. (ECF No. 38-4.) The
agreement incorporated a new commission formula, under which Cashman received commission on
the net profit of all commercial sales and agricultural projects. Bayland remained obligated to pay
Cashman a base salary, provide benefits, and include Cashman in the Plan. (Id.)
Cashman’s employment contract with Bayland was not for a set term. As a result, his
employment was “at will”; Bayland was free to terminate Cashman’s employment at any time as long
as the termination was not contrary to a fundamental and well-defined public policy. Brockmeyer v.
Dun & Bradstreet, 113 Wis.2d 561, 573, 335 N.W.2d 834 (1983). Bayland terminated Cashman’s
employment on March 26, 2015.
Cashman claims that he was terminated in bad faith after he raised concerns about certain
company expenditures for the private benefit of one of its officers. He also claims that he was not
paid commissions and other compensation he had earned before his termination. Though somewhat
lacking in detail, his complaint asserts eleven “claims for relief.” The first three seek relief under
ERISA, and the remaining eight assert various claims under Wisconsin statutory and common law.
See Compl. Counts 1–3 (ERISA), Count 4 (non-payment of wages under Wis. Stat. §§ 109.03 and
109.11), Counts 5–10 (breach of contract and alternative quasi-contractual claims), and Count 11
(breach of duty of good faith).
The ERISA claims are based on an alleged attempt by Farley to bill the cost of a garage he
had built for his own home to a company account. In November or December 2014, Cashman
discovered that Farley billed materials for a garage built at his home to a Bayland project referred
to as the “Koehne Chevrolet project.” (Pl.’s Proposed Findings of Fact (PPFOF) PPFOF ¶¶ 15, 17.)
The Koehne Chevrolet project involved a contract Bayland had with Chade Koehne, the president
of Koehne Buick-Pontiac-GMC, Inc., to construct a new automobile dealership in Marinette,
Wisconsin. Cashman discussed Farley’s conduct with Jeff Juse, the project’s head estimator, in
December 2014. (PPFOF ¶ 18.) Cashman contends that by billing expenses for his personal project
to a company account, Farley decreased Bayland’s profits and thereby negatively affected the Plan
and its participants, including Cashman. Cashman claims Ambrosius, Farley, and Dan Verhagan,
Bayland’s chief financial officer, falsified Bayland records in billing the garage materials to the
Koehne Chevrolet project and engaged in tax fraud. (PPFOF ¶¶ 30–34, 44.)
Farley admits that he did track expenses for his garage to the Koehne Chevrolet project, but
claims that by combining the purchase of the materials for his garage with those needed for the
Koehn project, he saved money for both by getting a better price on a larger volume of materials.
(Farley Dep. Tr. 35, ECF No. 53; Decl. of Abraham Farley ¶ 26, ECF No. 39.) The costs of material
for his garage were not charged to or paid by Koehne, however, nor were they paid by Bayland,
because Farley reimbursed Bayland for the materials by deducting $11,522.74 from his end-of-theyear bonus. (DPFOF ¶ 54.)
Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party shows that there is no genuine
issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). All reasonable inferences are construed in favor of the nonmoving party.
Foley v. City of Lafayette, 359 F.3d 925, 928 (7th Cir. 2004). The party opposing the motion for
summary judgment must “submit evidentiary materials that set forth specific facts showing that there
is a genuine issue for trial.” Siegel v. Shell Oil Co., 612 F.3d 932, 937 (7th Cir. 2010) (citations
omitted). “The nonmoving party must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical
doubt as to the material facts.” Id. Summary judgment is properly entered against a party “who fails
to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to the party’s case, and
on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Parent v. Home Depot U.S.A., Inc., 694
F.3d 919, 922 (7th Cir. 2012) (internal quotations omitted).
ERISA is aimed at providing “‘a panoply of remedial devices’ for participants and
beneficiaries of [employer-provided] benefit plans.” Larson v. United Healthcare Ins. Co., 723 F.3d
905, 910 (7th Cir. 2013) (quoting Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 108
(1989)). Cashman asserts two kinds of ERISA claims: a claim for benefits due pursuant to 29
U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and claims of breach of fiduciary duty under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1109(a) and
1. Claim for Benefits Due
Section 1132(a)(1)(B), which Cashman claims Defendants violated, states that “[a] civil
action may be brought . . . by a participant or beneficiary . . . to recover benefits due to him under
the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future
benefits under the terms of the plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) (also known as ERISA §
502(a)(1)(B)). Defendants argue that Cashman’s benefits claim fails for three reasons: (1) Cashman
failed to name the Plan as the proper defendant, (2) Cashman does not identify a benefit to which
he is or was entitled under the Plan that Defendants failed to provide him, and (3) Cashman failed
to comply with the Plan’s claim procedure. For the reasons below, I agree with Defendants that
Cashman failed to name the plan as the proper defendant. I therefore decline to address Defendants’
Defendants assert that they are improper defendants to Cashman’s claim for benefits due
because, under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), Cashman was required to pursue his claim against the Plan
itself. (Mem. Supp. Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. at 15, ECF No. 35.) Indeed, this is the general rule
established by the Seventh Circuit. See Neuma, Inc. v. AMP, Inc., 259 F.3d 864, 872 n.4 (7th Cir.
2001) (An ERISA plaintiff may only recover benefits against the plan as an entity, not the
employer.); see also Blickenstaff v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. Short Term Disability Plan, 378
F.3d 669, 674 (7th Cir. 2004) (A claim for benefits under § 502(a)(1)(B) “generally is limited to a
suit against the Plan, not an employer.”); Jass v. Prudential Health Care Plan, 88 F.3d 1482, 1490
(7th Cir. 1996). However, the Seventh Circuit has recognized limited exceptions to this rule that
allow a plaintiff to sue a non-plan party in a claim for ERISA benefits. See Mein v. Carus Corp., 241
F.3d 581, 584–85 (7th Cir. 2001) (holding that the employer/plan administrator was the proper
defendant in an ERISA benefits claim where employer and plan closely intertwined); Riordan v.
Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 551 (7th Cir. 1997) (refusing to find that the employer
is the wrong party to an ERISA benefits action where plan documents refer to employer and plan
interchangeably and employer designated itself as plan’s agent for service of process). When the
relationship between the plan, the plan administrator, and the plan sponsor is “indistinct or contested,
the plaintiff’s designation of the ‘wrong’ defendant can be forgiven provided the ‘right’ defendant
is not misled.” Feinberg v. RM Acquisition, LLC, 629 F.3d 671, 673 (7th Cir. 2011).
Here, Defendants contend they are neither the plan nor the plan’s administrators. As an
initial matter, Cashman cannot assert a claim for benefits due against Ambrosius or Farley in their
individual capacity. It is improper for “a plaintiff seeking benefits to substitute individual corporate
members as defendants rather than the plan.” Garratt v. Knowles, 245 F.3d 941, 949 n.7 (7th Cir.
2001); see also Jass, 88 F.3d at 1490. In short, Ambrosius and Farley are improper defendants for
Bayland is also an improper defendant. Although Bayland is the plan’s sponsor, it is neither
the plan nor the plan administrator. The terms of the Plan define the “administrator” as “[Bayland],
which shall control and manage the operation and administration of the Plan as the named fiduciary.”
(ECF No. 38-1 at 2.) Bayland may nonetheless authorize an individual to act as the administrator
on its behalf. (ECF Nos. 38-1 & 49-2.) Defendants contend that they do not manage, control or
administer the Plan, (DPFOF ¶ 8), and Ambrosius’ Declaration asserts that the “Plan is controlled,
managed and administered by representatives from a third-party entity, Principal Financial Group.”
(ECF No. 38 ¶ 8.) Cashman does not allege that the lines between the Plan, its administrator, and
its sponsor are intertwined. Because Bayland is neither the plan nor its administrator, I find that
Cashman failed to name the proper defendant. Accordingly, Defendants are entitled to summary
judgment on Cashman’s claim for benefits due.
2. Claim for Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Cashman also asserts that Defendants breached their fiduciary duty under the Plan. ERISA
§ 502(a)(2) permits a plan participant to bring a civil action for “appropriate relief” under 29 U.S.C.
§ 1109 (also known as ERISA § 409). ERISA § 409 requires in part that “[a]ny person who is a
fiduciary with respect to a plan who breaches any of the responsibilities, obligations, or duties
imposed upon fiduciaries by this subchapter shall be personally liable to make good to such plan any
losses to the plan resulting from each such breach.” ERISA § 502(a)(3) allows a plan participant
“to enjoin any act or practice which violate this subchapter or the terms of the plan” or to obtain
other equitable relief to either redress such violations or enforce any provisions of the subchapter or
the terms of the plan. Cashman argues that Farley’s actions in billing personal materials to a client
affected the Plan’s share value and Bayland’s profitability. Cashman claims Bayland’s profitability
ultimately impacted Bayland’s contribution to the plan. (Pl.’s Br. Opp’n Defs.’ Mot. Summ. J. at
19–21, ECF No. 45.)
Defendants’ response is, essentially, “no harm, no foul.” Defendants assert that Cashman has
not identified any harm or loss to the Plan caused by Defendants’ conduct. Again, fiduciaries are
only liable for losses to a plan that resulted from a breach. 29 U.S.C. § 1109. Absent a showing of
either economic harm or a breach of the duty of loyalty, “it would be improper to impose liability
under ERISA.” Mira v. Nuclear Measurements Corp., 107 F.3d 466, 473 (7th Cir. 1997). In Mira,
a participant in an employee health insurance benefit plan sued its administrators for breach of
fiduciary duty. Id. at 468. Due to the company’s financial struggles, the defendants used employee
payroll deductions intended to pay insurance premiums to finance the company’s day-to-day
operations. Id. at 469. As a result, the employees’ insurance coverage lapsed. Id. at 471. Although
the court found that the defendants violated their duty of care in not timely informing employees of
the lapse, the court held that the employee was not entitled to recover damages. Id. The court
focused on the fact that the defendant’s did not engage in self-dealing. Id. at 472. Because the
defendants did not use the plan’s assets for their own personal gain or benefit, the court precluded
This case is further removed from the facts in Mira because Defendants did not deal with
plan assets for their own benefit. In fact, Defendants did not use the Plan’s assets at all. Indeed,
invoicing personal projects to a client account may be bad business practice, but this conduct did not
involve the Plan’s assets. Moreover, Cashman does not indicate what type of harm he suffered or
a benefit to which he is or was entitled that he was denied because of Defendants’ actions. Though
he contends Defendants’ conduct affected the stocks’ valuation and Bayland’s profitability, these
assertions are pure speculation. While Bayland’s contribution to the Plan correlated to Bayland’s
profits, Bayland had sole discretion to determine the amount of contribution it would make to the
plan. (ECF No. 38-1 at 4.) The Plan did not require Bayland to contribute every year. (ECF No.
38-1 at 3.) In the end, the Plan’s participants, including Cashman, got exactly what they were
promised under the terms of the Plan.
Instead, Cashman claims that because he did not receive commission on projects completed
after his termination in 2015, he did not receive the benefits he was entitled to under the Plan. The
Plan allocates Bayland’s contributions to qualifying participants through a point system. (ECF No.
38-1 at 3–4.) A qualifying participant receives ten points for each year of service at Bayland as well
as one point for each $1,000 of compensation, including commission, earned during the plan year.
(ECF No. 38-1 at 4.) However, Cashman was not a qualified participant eligible to receive benefits
under the Plan in 2015. The Plan requires all qualified participants to be employed on the last day
of the plan year, December 31, and to work 1,000 hours in a plan year. (ECF Nos. 38-1, 57-2.)
Cashman satisfies neither requirement—he was terminated March 26, 2015 and did not work 1,000
hours in that year. In sum, Cashman has not identified a benefit he was entitled to that Defendants
I find that Defendants did not breach their fiduciary duty under the Plan and that their
conduct did not result in losses to the Plan. Because the Defendants did not violate the terms of the
plan or any provision in ERISA, relief under ERISA § 502(a)(3) is not warranted. Therefore,
Defendants are entitled to summary judgment as to Cashman’s ERISA claims.
B. State Law Claims
Cashman has also alleged eight state law claims: (1) breach of contract; (2) implied contract;
(3) promissory estoppel; (4) unjust enrichment; (5) quantum meruit; (6) a claim under the procuring
cause doctrine; (7) breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing; and (8) non-payment of
wages. Essentially, Cashman challenges the amount of commissions he is owed pursuant to his
employment agreement. The general rule is that when federal claims drop out of a case, a federal
court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(3);
see Groce v. Eli Lilly & Co., 193 F.3d 496, 502 (7th Cir. 1999) (noting that the rule is dismissal
unless state claims are frivolous or a “no brainer”). I cannot say that all of the state law claims
Cashman has asserted are frivolous or “no brainers.” Accordingly, I will follow the general rule and
dismiss these claims without prejudice so that they may be pursued in a state forum.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, Defendants’ motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED with respect to the federal claims, and such claims are DISMISSED. The remaining
state law claims are dismissed without prejudice. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment in favor
of the Defendants and against Cashman forthwith.
SO ORDERED 11th
day of October, 2016.
s/ William C. Griesbach
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge
United States District Court
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