Laborers Trust Fund v. Lightweight Concrete
Annotate this Case
484 U.S. 539 (1988)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Laborers Trust Fund v. Lightweight Concrete, 484 U.S. 539 (1988)
Laborers Health & Welfare Trust Fund for Northern California
v. Advanced Lightweight Concrete Co., Inc.
Argued November 10, 1987
Decided February 23, 1988
484 U.S. 539
An employer may have a contractual duty under a collective bargaining agreement to make contributions to a pension fund during the agreement's term, and may also have a duty under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to continue making such contributions after the agreement's expiration while negotiations for a new contract are in process. Section 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) obligates an employer to pay to a multiemployer plan contributions that are required "under the terms of the plan or under the terms of a collectively bargained agreement." Section 502(g)(2) of ERISA authorizes the multiemployer plan's trustees to enforce such liability by bringing an action in federal district court for the unpaid contributions, prejudgment interest thereon, liquidated damages, reasonable attorney's fees and costs, and other appropriate relief. Respondent company was a party to two multiemployer collective bargaining agreements that required monthly contributions to eight employee benefit plans. Respondent made the contributions until the agreements' expiration date, but made no contributions thereafter. The plans' trustees (hereinafter petitioners) brought suit against respondent to collect the post-contract contributions, alleging that respondent's actions constituted a breach of its duty to bargain in good faith under § 8(a)(5) of the NLRA, and that the Federal District Court had jurisdiction under §§ 502(g)(2) and 515 of ERISA. The court granted respondent summary judgment on the grounds that § 515 does not apply to an employer's obligation under § 8(a)(5) of the NLRA, and that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has exclusive jurisdiction over petitioners' claims. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Held: The remedy provided in §§ 515 and 502(g)(2) of ERISA is limited to contractual, "promised contributions," and does not confer jurisdiction on district courts to determine whether an employer's unilateral decision to refuse to make post-contract contributions violates the NLRA. Pp. 484 U. S. 545-553.
(a) The text and the legislative history of §§ 515 and 502(g)(2) clearly require this result. Both § 515 and the legislative history plainly describe the employer's contractual obligation to make contributions, but omit any reference to the noncontractual obligation imposed by the NLRA. Conversely, in defining the contribution obligation of an employer wishing to withdraw from a multiemployer plan, § 4212(a) of ERISA unambiguously includes both the employer's contractual obligations and its NLRA obligations, thereby demonstrating that Congress was aware of the two different sources of an employer's duty to contribute to covered plans. Pp. 484 U. S. 545-549.
(b) Petitioners' policy arguments for broadly construing § 515 to include post-contract delinquencies are rejected in light of Congress' plain intent, as discussed above, and because countervailing policy arguments make it highly unlikely that the limited reach of the statute is the consequence of inadvertence, rather than deliberate choice. Petitioners' first argument -- that denying district courts jurisdiction of post-contract delinquency collection actions leaves a "gap" in the enforcement scheme -- is unpersuasive, since there are indications that it may not be a problem of serious magnitude; since the issues that must be decided in a post-contract delinquency dispute are more complex than those that are presented in a simple collection action; and since the resolution of the type of question presented is usually left to the NLRB. Petitioners' second argument -- that the remedies available in an NLRB proceeding are less effective than those in an ERISA action -- may be correct, but is ultimately unavailing, since the asserted defects in NLRB remedies are characteristic of all unfair labor practice proceedings. The NLRA duty to make post-contract contributions is simply a consequence of a broader duty that was created to protect the collective bargaining process, and does not provide ERISA plan trustees with a unique and preferred procedure for obtaining redress. Pp. 484 U. S. 550-553.
779 F.2d 497, affirmed.
STEVENS, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which all other Members joined, except KENNEDY, J., who took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.