Connolly v. PBGC
Annotate this Case
475 U.S. 211 (1986)
U.S. Supreme Court
Connolly v. PBGC, 475 U.S. 211 (1986)
Connolly v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
Argued December 2, 1985
Decided February 26, 1986
475 U.S. 211
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), enacted in 1974, established a pension plan termination insurance program whereby the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a wholly owned Government corporation, collects insurance premiums from covered private retirement plans and provides benefits to participants if their plan terminates with insufficient assets to support the guaranteed benefits. The program covers both single-employer and multiemployer pension plans. With respect to the latter plans, ERISA delayed mandatory payment of guaranteed benefits until January 1, 1978, prior to which date the PBGC had discretionary authority to pay benefits upon the termination of a pension plan. As that date approached, Congress became concerned that a significant number of multiemployer plans were experiencing extreme financial hardship, and that implementation of mandatory guarantees might induce several large plans to terminate, thus subjecting the insurance system to liability beyond its means. After further delaying the effective date for the mandatory guarantees, Congress enacted the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (MPPAA) requiring an employer withdrawing from a multiemployer pension plan to pay a fixed and certain debt to the plan amounting to the employer's proportionate share of the plan's "unfunded vested benefits." Appellant trustees administer a multiemployer pension plan for employers under collective bargaining agreements covering employees in the construction industry in California and Nevada. Under the trust agreement and the plan, the employer's sole obligation is to pay the contributions required by the collective bargaining agreements, and the employer's obligation for pension benefits is ended when the employer pays the contribution to the pension trust. Prior to enactment of the MPPAA, the trustees filed suit against the PBGC in Federal District Court, claiming, inter alia, that ERISA was unconstitutional as depriving the trustees, the employers, and the plan participants of property
without proper compensation. During the course of the litigation, the MPPAA was enacted, and the District Court permitted the trustees to file an amended complaint to include a challenge to that Act. Ultimately, the District Court granted summary judgment in the PBGC's favor, rejecting appellants' argument that imposition of withdrawal liability under the MPPAA violates the Taking Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Held: The withdrawal liability provisions of the MPPAA do not violate the Taking Clause. Pp. 475 U. S. 221-228.
(a) In these cases, the United States under the MPPAA has taken nothing for its own use, and only has nullified a contractual provision limiting liability by imposing an additional obligation that is otherwise within Congress' power to impose. That the statutory withdrawal liability will operate in this manner and will redound to the benefit of the pension trust does not justify a holding that the withdrawal liability provisions violate the Taking Clause. Pp. 475 U. S. 221-224.
(b) In identifying a "taking" forbidden by the Taking Clause, three factors should be considered: (1) "the economic impact of the regulation on the claimant"; (2) "the extent to which the regulation has interfered with distinct investment-backed expectations"; and (3) "the character of the governmental action." Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City, 438 U. S. 104, 438 U. S. 124. Examining the MPPAA in light of these factors supports the conclusion that the imposition of withdrawal liability does not constitute a compensable taking under the Taking Clause. The interference with an employer's property rights resulting from requiring the employer to fund its share of the pension plan obligation arises from a public program that adjusts the benefits and burdens of economic life to promote the common good, and does not constitute a taking requiring Government compensation. As to the severity of the MPPAA's economic impact, there is nothing to show that the withdrawal liability imposed on an employer will always be out of proportion to its experience with the pension plan. And as to interference with reasonable investment-backed expectations, employers had more than sufficient notice not only that pension plans were being regulated at the time the MPPAA was enacted, but also that withdrawal itself might trigger additional financial obligations. Pp. 475 U. S. 224-228.
631 F.Supp. 640, affirmed.
WHITE, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which POWELL, J., joined, post, p. 475 U. S. 228.