United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
TRUSTEES OF THE MICHIANA AREA ELECTRICAL WORKERS PENSION FUND, Plaintiffs,
LA PLACE'S ELECTRIC COMPANY, INC., LAPLACE ELECTRIC, INC., and HAROLD OSCAR LAPLACE, Individually and d/b/a LAPLACE ELECTRIC, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE THERESA L. SPRINGMANN.
matter comes before the Court on a Motion for Entry of
Judgment under Rule 54(b) [ECF No. 44] filed by Plaintiffs,
Trustees of the Michiana Area Electrical Workers Pension
Fund. The Defendants have not responded or otherwise opposed
this Motion as of the date of this Opinion and Order.
Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment [ECF No. 32] against
Defendants La Place's Electric Company, Inc. (LPEC);
LaPlace Electric, Inc. (LEI); and Harold Oscar LaPlace, and
asked the Court to hold that each Defendant owed withdrawal
liability jointly and severally to the Plaintiffs under 29
U.S.C. § 1381 of the Multiemployer Pension Plan
Amendments Act of 1980 (the MPPAA). On February 15, 2017, the
Court issued an Opinion and Order [ECF No. 38] granting
summary judgment against Defendants LPEC and LEI, but
withheld summary judgment against LaPlace. The Court reasoned
that the factual record was not developed sufficiently to
determine whether LaPlace was personally liable. (Opinion and
Order 10.) The Plaintiffs now move the Court to enter
judgment against LPEC and LEI under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure Rule 54(b).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b)
general rule in federal litigation is “one appeal per
case.” United States v. Ettrick Wood Prods.,
Inc., 916 F.2d 1211, 1218 (7th Cir. 1990); Horm v.
Transcon Lines, Inc., 898 F.2d 589, 592 (7th Cir. 1990)
(noting that the norm “prevents duplicative and
time-consuming appeals”). Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 54(b) provides an exception to this general rule.
Under Rule 54(b), “when multiple parties are involved,
the court may direct entry of a final judgment as to one or
more, but fewer than all, claims or parties only if the court
expressly determines that there is no just reason for
54(b) permits entry of a partial final judgment only when all
of one party's claims or rights have been fully
adjudicated, or when a distinct claim has been fully resolved
with respect to all parties.” Lottie v. W. Am. Ins.
Co., 408 F.3d 935, 938 (7th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Factory Mut. Ins. Co. v. Bobst Group USA, Inc., 392
F.3d 922, 924 (7th Cir. 2004)). Rule 54(b) authorizes a
district court to enter final judgment on a single claim only
if that claim is separate from the claim or claims remaining
for decision in the district court-separate not in the sense
of arising under a different statute or legal doctrine-but in
the sense of involving different facts. Ty, Inc. v.
Publ'ns Int'l Ltd., 292 F.3d 512, 515 (7th Cir.
2002) (explaining that, unless the facts are different, the
appellate court would have to go over the same ground when
the judgment terminating the entire case is appealed);
see also Lottie, 408 F.3d 938-39 (“We have
insisted that Rule 54(b) be employed only when the subjects
of the partial judgment do not overlap with those remaining
in the district court.”).
there is a great deal of factual or legal overlap between the
counts, then they are considered the same claim for Rule
54(b) purposes.” Horwitz v. Alloy Auto. Co.,
957 F.2d 1431, 1434 (7th Cir. 1992). “Rule 54(b) allows
appeal without delay of claims that are truly separate and
distinct from those that remain in the district court, where
‘separate' means having minimal factual
overlap.” Lottie, 408 F.3d at 939.
“These requirements are designed to ensure that the
claim is distinct-the sort of dispute that, but for the
joinder options in the Rules of Civil Procedure, would be a
stand-alone lawsuit.” Factory Mut. Ins. Co.,
392 F.3d at 924. This rule is properly “employed only
when the subjects of the partial judgment do not overlap with
those ongoing in the district court.” Id.
instant case, the Court finds that the Plaintiffs'
request complies with Rule 54(b). The Court has already found
that there are no genuine issues of material fact concerning
both LPEC and LEI's joint and several liability under the
MPPAA, and that the Plaintiffs are entitled to judgment as a
matter of law against both LPEC and LEI. The only remaining
issue for the Court to determine is whether La Place is
jointly and severally liable as well. This factual inquiry
has no bearing on LPEC and LEI's already-determined joint
and several liability. While there is a common actor across
these three entities (La Place himself), the facts that may
establish La Place's personal liability are separate from
those which established liability for LPEC and LEI.
Court notes that while parties often request certification
under Rule 54(b) to appeal a district court's decision,
the Plaintiffs here appear to seek certification for a
different reason. The Plaintiffs have successfully obtained
summary judgment against two jointly and severally liable
defendants (LPEC and LEI), but cannot presently collect until
the Court or a jury determines whether a third defendant (La
Place) is also jointly and severally liable. La Place has
experienced health issues, and the Court has already vacated
one trial date because of these health issues. (See
ECF No. 42.) There does not appear to be any reason to delay
an appeal by the Defendants or collection by the Plaintiffs.
Opinion and Order, the Court held that Defendants LPEC and
LEI are jointly and severally liable to Plaintiffs' fund
for the full amount of the assessed withdrawal liability,
which is $246, 910.00. Delinquent withdrawal liability is
treated as a delinquent contribution within the meaning of 29
U.S.C. § 1145. See 29 U.S.C. § 1401(d).
Delinquent withdrawal liability is therefore enforceable
under 29 U.S.C. § 1132. When the Court enters judgment
on behalf of a plan in an action brought by a fiduciary, such
as the Trustee-Plaintiffs, for or on behalf of a plan to
enforce contribution obligations, “the court
shall award the plan” unpaid contributions,
interest on the unpaid contributions, double interest or
liquidated damages, reasonable attorney's fees and costs,
and any other relief the Court deems appropriate. 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(g)(2) (emphasis added). The “double
interest” provision provides that the prevailing plan
is entitled to either a second award of interest on the
unpaid contributions or 20% of the unpaid contributions,
whichever is greater. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)(C)(i)-(ii).
Further, the interest penalty provision applies to
contributions that are unpaid at the date of suit. See
Operating Eng'rs Local 139 Health Benefit Fund v.
Gustafson Constr. Corp., 258 F.3d 645, 654 (7th Cir.
2001). These statutory remedies are mandatory. See
Moriarty ex rel. Local Union No. 727 v. Svec, 429 F.3d
710, 720-21 (7th Cir. 2005). In the instant case, the
liquidated damages for the withdrawal liability total $49,
Plaintiffs have submitted evidence that attorneys' fees
total $20, 198.75, with an additional $1, 477.86 in costs.
The Court has wide discretion to determine whether
attorneys' fees are reasonable. Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). In the Seventh
Circuit, district courts must examine whether attorneys'
fees represent a large multiple of the damages claimed or
recovered, and also explain the claimed hourly rate.
Moriarty v. Svec, 233 F.3d 955, 965, 968 (7th Cir.
2001). Here, attorneys' fees represent less than 10% of
the withdrawal liability, a fraction of the total award
rather than a multiple. Further, the Plaintiffs have
submitted a detailed time schedule and affidavit to support
the attorneys' fees and cost calculation. Attorney Teresa
A. Massa billed at rates of $200.00 and $225.00 per hour,
which is in line with rates for similar cases. See,
e.g., Local 1546 Welfare Fund v. BBHM Mgmt.
Co., No. 08-C-6133, 2011 WL 1740034, at *2 ...