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Trustees of The Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Trust Fund v. Cathie's Cartage, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

March 20, 2014

TRUSTEES OF THE TEAMSTERS UNION NO. 142 PENSION TRUST FUND, Plaintiffs,
v.
CATHIE'S CARTAGE, INC. et al., Defendants. CATHERINE G. MORRIS, et al., Counterplaintiffs,
v.
TRUSTEES OF THE TEAMSTERS UNION NO. 142 PENSION TRUST FUND, MITCHELL SAWOKCHKA, RICHARD KNIPP, RICHARD KENNEY, ROBERT McGREAL, PERRY VANROSENDALE, THOMAS SKILSON, and GARY KEBERT, Counterdefendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

PAUL R. CHERRY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss Defendants'/Counterplaintiffs' Counterclaims Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) [DE 77] and a Plaintiffs'/Counterdefendants' Motion to Strike Affirmative Defenses [DE 79], both filed by the Trustees on August 8, 2013. Both matters became fully briefed on August 29, 2013.

Before turning to these motions, however, the Court considers two threshold issues sua sponte. First, the pleadings and briefing in this case conflate the Trustees in their official capacities, who are the Plaintiffs (or perhaps, alternatively, the Plaintiff) in this case, and the Trustees in their individual capacities, who are named as Counterdefendants in this case. What it takes to sue a trustee in his or her individual capacity is not at issue in either the Motion to Dismiss or the Motion to Strike. Thus, for purposes of deciding these two motions, the Court simply refers to the Trustees in both their individual and official capacities as: "the Trustees."

Second, this case is currently stayed as to Defendant Cathie's Cartage, Inc. because it is in bankruptcy. Despite this, Defendants' Amended Answer and Counterclaims include answers, affirmative defenses, and counterclaims brought by Cathie's Cartage, Inc. This will not do, of course. The Court thus strikes sua sponte all claims and defenses brought by Cathie's Cartage, Inc. What is unclear is exactly what parts of the Amended Answer are being brought solely by Cathie's Cartage, Inc. In the interests of thoroughness, the Court accordingly considers the merits of the Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Strike as to all Defendants.

I. Background

Defendant Cathie's Cartage, Inc. entered into a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with Local No. 142 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, AFL-CIO (Union). The CBA provided that a Trust had been previously created by an Agreement and Declaration of Trust (Trust Agreement) pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between certain employers and the Union. The CBA required Cathie's Cartage to make periodic contributions into a Pension Fund on behalf of its employees who were represented for collective bargaining purposes by the Union. The Trustees brought this cause of action as trustees of the Pension Fund seeking to collect withdrawal liability from Cathie's Cartage and other Defendants under the Employee Retirement Security Income Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1371, as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (MPPAA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1381-1461. The Trustees allege that the Pension Fund is a multiemployer plan under ERISA and that Cathie's Cartage withdrew from the Pension Fund, incurring withdrawal liability of $339, 119.00.

Central to all of Defendants' Counterclaims, as well as some of its Affirmative Defenses, is a discrepancy between the name of the fund created by the Trust Agreement-"Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Fund"- and the fund referred to in the CBA and in Plaintiffs' complaint-"Teamsters Union No. 142 Pension Trust Fund."

This issue was first litigated in a Motion to Dismiss, filed by Defendants on February 5, 2013, which this Court denied in a May 31, 2013 Opinion and Order. The Court was not persuaded that the discrepancy between the fund names warranted dismissal.

On June 3, 2013, the Trustees filed an Amended Complaint. Defendants filed an Amended Answer on July 7, 2013. The Amended Answer also brought a handful of Counterclaims against the Trustees, namely: Breach of Contract (Count I); Conversion (Count II); Negligence (Count III); Slander of Title (Count IV); and Fraud (Count V). On August 8, 2013, the Trustees filed the instant Motion to Dismiss these Counterclaims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). They simultaneously filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) Motion to Strike Defendants' affirmative defenses that relied on the same bases as their Counterclaims.

II. Motion to Dismiss

A. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the sufficiency of the complaint and not the merits of the suit. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In ruling on such a motion, the Court accepts as true all of the wellpleaded facts alleged by the plaintiff and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007); see also Tamayo v. Blagojevich, 526 F.3d 1074, 1082 (7th Cir. 2008).

To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the complaint must first comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). Second, the "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Tamayo, 526 F.3d at 1082. The Supreme Court explained that the "plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quotation marks and brackets omitted); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 581 (7th Cir. 2009). Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief requires the Court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

The Court must also determine whether the exhibit attached to the Trustee's Motion to Dismiss should be considered in ruling on their motion. Under Rule 12(b)(6), the general rule is that, when a document is attached to a motion to dismiss, "the court must either convert the 12(b)(6) motion into a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 and proceed in accordance with the latter rule, or exclude the documents attached to the motion to dismiss and continue under Rule 12." Levenstein v. Salafsky, 164 F.3d 345, 347 (7th Cir. 1998). A "narrow exception" is made for documents that "are referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central to his claim." Id.

The Trust Agreement is attached to the Trustees' memorandum in support of their Motion to Dismiss. Because both the Trustees and Defendants referenced and relied upon this document in their pleadings and since it is central to the claims, the Court considers it.

B. Analysis

The Trustees make eight arguments supporting dismissal, each of which the Court considers in turn.

1. Law of the Case

The Trustees' first argument is that the principle of law of the case requires dismissal of all the Counterclaims. The Trustees argue that this Court's May 31, 2013 Opinion and Order denying Defendants' Motion to Dismiss established that the omission of the word "Trust" from the Pension Fund name, created by the Trust Agreement, has no legal significance. Accordingly, the Trustees ...


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