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National Electrical Benefit Fund v. Mirarchi Brothers, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

June 11, 2013



DeBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this action arising under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") is a motion for reconsideration filed by Defendant Mirarchi Brothers, Inc. (ECF No. 26), and a motion for attorneys' fees and costs filed by Plaintiff National Electrical Benefit Fund (ECF No. 27). The relevant issues have been briefed and the court now rules pursuant to Local Rule 105.6, no hearing being deemed necessary. For the reasons that follow, the motion for reconsideration will be denied and the motion for attorneys' fees will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

In 2010, pursuant to collective bargaining agreements, Plaintiff retained an auditing firm to conduct a payroll compliance review of Defendant's payroll registers, tax documents, and cash disbursement records for the period from July 1, 2008, through December 31, 2009. The audit found that Defendant underreported contributions owed to Plaintiff in the amount of $25, 038.69. On September 14, 2011, Plaintiff commenced this action, seeking unpaid contributions, liquidated damages, interest, attorneys' fees, and costs. Defendant answered on February 6, 2012, denying all material allegations and raising a number of affirmative defenses, including that "Plaintiff['s] Complaint, in whole or in part, is barred by release, settlement agreement, or other agreement, pertaining to the claims asserted in this matter." (ECF No. 7, at 7).

On May 1, 2012, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment, submitting detailed affidavits and documentary evidence in support. In opposing that motion, Defendant submitted the affidavit of its principal, Ralph Mirarchi, which recited that a settlement agreement resolving prior litigation between the parties in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania "encompasse[d] and include[d] the funds which [Plaintiff] is currently seeking from [Defendant] in the instant case." (ECF No. 16-1, Mirarchi Aff., at ¶ 8). Mr. Mirarchi further averred, in conclusory fashion, that Defendant "has resolved and settled all outstanding payment issues with [Plaintiff], " that it "does not owe any money to [Plaintiff], " and that Plaintiff's claims to the contrary "are incorrect and genuine issues of material fact exist in this matter." ( Id. at ¶¶ 10, 11). In reply, Plaintiff submitted the supplemental affidavit of its executive secretary-treasurer, Lawrence J. Bradley, indicating that the prior litigation cited by Mr. Mirarchi did not resolve issues "with respect to the amount determined by [Plaintiff's] auditor to [be] due for the periods July 7, 2008, through December 31, 2009, " i.e., the subject of the instant case. (ECF No. 23, Bradley Supp. Aff., at ¶ 2). Attached to Mr. Bradley's supplemental affidavit was a printout setting forth all payments received by Plaintiff from October 1, 2010, to the date of filing, demonstrating that no payments aside from monthly contributions had been made since the time the prior litigation commenced.

By a memorandum opinion and order issued November 28, 2012, the court granted Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. The court construed Defendant's argument as "presenting a defense based on res judicata and/or collateral estoppel, as well as an assertion that the contributions have been paid in part." (ECF No. 24, at 7). It found that a res judicata defense could not succeed because the prior litigation ended in settlement; thus, "there was no final judgment on the merits[.]" ( Id. at 8). "Moreover, " the court explained, "Mr. Mirarchi's mere assertion in an affidavit that the settlement agreement in the prior action encompasses the amounts sought in this case is insufficient to show the requisite identity [between the two suits], particularly when compared with Mr. Bradley's supplemental affidavit, which demonstrates that no payments have been made by Defendant to [Plaintiff] other than regular monthly contributions." ( Id. ). While Plaintiff's evidence showed entitlement to $25, 038.69 in unpaid contributions, plus liquidated damages of twenty percent of the delinquent amount, interest at the rate of ten percent per annum, attorneys' fees, and audit and litigation expenses, "Defendant [did] not provide[] any evidence that amounts were paid to satisfy these obligations." ( Id. at 10). Thus, judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiff in the total amount of $40, 512.15, and Plaintiff was directed to file "a properly supported fee petition... within fourteen days." ( Id. at 11).

On December 3, 2012, Defendant filed the pending motion for reconsideration (ECF No. 26), which Plaintiff opposed (ECF No. 28). Plaintiff filed its motion for attorneys' fees and costs on December 10 (ECF No. 27), and Defendant filed papers in opposition (ECF No. 29).

II. Motion for Reconsideration

A motion for reconsideration filed within twenty-eight days of the underlying order is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e). Courts have recognized three limited grounds for granting such a motion: (1) to accommodate an intervening change in controlling law, (2) to account for new evidence not previously available, or (3) to correct clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. See United States ex rel. Becker v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 305 F.3d 284, 290 (4th Cir. 2002) (citing Pacific Ins. Co. v. Am. Nat'l Fire Ins. Co., 148 F.3d 396, 403 (4th Cir. 1998)). A Rule 59(e) motion "may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been raised prior to the entry of judgment." Pacific Ins. Co., 148 F.3d at 403 (quoting 11 Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2810.1, at 127-28 (2d ed. 1995)).

Defendant contends that "reconsideration... is necessary to correct a clear error [of] law and fact, and to prevent manifest injustice." (ECF No. 26, at 5). It argues that the court erroneously credited Plaintiff's evidence while failing to "accept as true the evidence presented by Defendant, namely the affidavit of Ralph Mirarchi." (ECF No. 6). According to Defendant, it "[did] not oppose Plaintiff['s] Motion for Summary Judgment on the legal basis of collateral estoppel or res judicata, but on the simple basis that Defendant[] [does] not owe Plaintiff[] any money as alleged, therefore a very genuine issue of material fact exists." ( Id. at 5-6).

By Defendant's way of thinking, when confronted with a motion supported by detailed affidavits and documentary evidence, the non-moving party need only submit an affidavit generally denying liability in order to avoid summary judgment. This ignores the oft-repeated language of the court's standard of review on summary judgment. As explained in the prior opinion in this case:

"A party opposing a properly supported motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of [the] pleadings, ' but rather must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Bouchat v. Balt. Ravens Football Club, Inc., 346 F.3d 514, 522 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting former Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "A mere scintilla of proof... will not suffice to prevent summary judgment." Peters v. Jenney, 327 F.3d 307, 314 (4th Cir. 2003). "If the evidence is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted." [ Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986)] (citations omitted).

(ECF No. 24, at 5). Indeed, Defendant itself recognized, in opposing Plaintiff's motion, that "[t]he non-moving party... must go beyond the mere allegations of the pleadings, and, from the evidence of record, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine disputed issue for trial." (ECF No. 17, at 4). Thus, it should have come as no surprise that the general assertions in Mr. Mirarchi's affidavit - i.e., that "[t]he plaintiffs in the prior action sought the same funds which [Plaintiff] is currently seeking from [Defendant] in the instant action"; that "[t]he settlement agreement reached in the prior action encompasses and includes the funds which [Plaintiff] is currently seeking"; and that "[Defendant] has resolved and settled all outstanding payment issues with [Plaintiff] and [Defendant] does not owe any money to [Plaintiff]" (ECF ...

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