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National Electrical Benefit Fund v. Para

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

July 11, 2018

NATIONAL ELECTRICAL BENEFIT FUND, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRISTOPHER L. PARA, et al, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiffs National Electrical Benefit Fund (“NEBF”) and National Electrical Annuity Plan (“NEAP”) (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed this action against Defendants Christopher L. Para[1] and Interlink Energy Services, Inc. (collectively, the “Defendants”) under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. Now pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b), ECF No. 14. No. hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment is granted, and judgment is entered against Interlink in the amount of $6, 056.41 in favor of NEBF and $19, 087.56 in favor of NEAP, for a total of $25, 143.97.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are taken from the Amended Complaint, ECF No. 7, and evidentiary exhibits in support of the Motion for Default Judgment, ECF Nos. 14-1, 14-2. The NEBF and NEAP are multiemployer employee pension benefit plans within the meaning of Section 3(2) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2), which have been established pursuant to agreements entered into between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (“IBEW”) and the National Electrical Contractors Association (“NECA”). ECF No. 7 ¶¶ 4-5. Employers agree to participate in the NEBF and NEAP pursuant to collective bargaining agreements with the IBEW or one of its affiliated local unions. Id. ¶ 6. The NEBF and NEAP are administered at 2400 Research Boulevard, Suite 500, Rockville, Maryland 20850-3238. Id. ¶¶ 4-5.

         Plaintiffs state upon information and belief that Defendant Interlink Energy Services, Inc. (“Interlink”) is an Illinois corporation whose main place of business is 452 Scotland Road, Lakemoor, IL 60051. ECF No. 7 ¶ 7. Interlink is an employer within the meaning of Section 3(5) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(5), and is engaged in an industry affecting commerce. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiffs state upon information and belief that Christopher Para is the president and sole owner of Interlink, and that his address for service of process is 6215 Johnson Road, Hebron, IL 60034. Id. ¶ 8.

         At all times relevant to the action, Interlink was a signatory to collective bargaining agreements with IBEW Local Union 196 as the collective bargaining representatives for Interlink's employees. Id. ¶ 9. According to the Amended Complaint, the collective bargaining agreements obligated Interlink to submit contributions to the NEBF and NEAP on behalf of employees covered by the Agreements. Id.

         Plaintiffs allege that Interlink was bound to the terms and conditions of the Restated Employees Benefit Agreement and Trust for the National Electrical Benefit Fund (“NEBF Trust Agreement”), and the Agreement and Trust for the National Electrical Annuity Plan (“NEAP Trust Agreement”), which governed administration of the NEBF and NEAP, respectively. Id. ¶¶ 13, 24. The NEBF and NEAP Trust Agreements obligated Interlink to make certain monthly contributions, and provided for the collection of interest, liquidated damages, and audit fees regarding delinquent contributions. Id. ¶¶ 14, 25.

         Interlink allegedly failed to contribute to NEBF and NEAP for work performed by Interlink's covered employees in 2014. Id. ¶¶ 15-16, 26-27. According to an audit conducted by an independent auditor in February 2017, Interlink failed to pay the NEBF $2, 532.65 and the NEAP $10, 974.78 in contributions due for the work performed by employees covered by the Collective Bargaining Agreement in 2014. Id. ¶¶ 16, 27. NEBF and NEAP made demands that Interlink pay the contributions, but Interlink has refused to do so. Id. ¶¶ 17, 28. NEBF alleges that their audit cost $450.00, that the interest on the delinquent NEBF contributions is $881.38, and that liquidated damages owed are $506.53. Id. ¶¶ 18-20; ECF No. 14-2 at 51.[2] NEAP alleges that its audit cost $412.50, that the interest on the delinquent NEAP contributions is $3, 819.47, and that liquidated damages owed are $2, 194.96. ECF No. 7 ¶¶ 29-31; ECF No. 14-2 at 53.

         Plaintiffs filed the initial Complaint on August 9, 2017, ECF No. 1, and filed an Amended Complaint on October 12, 2017, ECF No. 7. Defendants were served on October 27, 2017. ECF Nos. 9-10. An Answer from Defendants was due on or before November 17, 2017. Id. On November 20, 2017, with no answer having been filed, Plaintiffs moved for default. ECF No. 11. The Clerk entered default against Defendants on December 6, 2017. ECF No. 12. On January 3, 2018, Plaintiffs dismissed their claims against Defendant Para, ECF No. 13, and now seek default judgment against Interlink. ECF No. 14. Plaintiffs seek a total of $6, 056.41 on behalf of NEAP, and $19, 087.56 on behalf of NEAP; these amounts consist of the delinquent contributions, interest, liquidated damages, audit costs, and attorney's fees and costs. Id. ¶ 8.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         “When a party against whom a judgment for affirmative relief is sought has failed to plead or otherwise defend, and that failure is shown by affidavit or otherwise, the clerk must enter the party's default.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). “A defendant's default does not automatically entitle the plaintiff to entry of a default judgment; rather, that decision is left to the discretion of the court.” Educ. Credit Mgmt. Corp. v. Optimum Welding, 285 F.R.D. 371, 373 (D. Md. 2012). Although “[t]he Fourth Circuit has a ‘strong policy' that ‘cases be decided on their merits, '” Choice Hotels Intern., Inc. v. Savannah Shakti Carp., No. DKC-11-0438, 2011 WL 5118328 at *2 (D. Md. Oct. 25, 2011) (citing United States v. Shaffer Equip. Co., 11 F.3d 450, 453 (4th Cir. 1993)), “default judgment may be appropriate when the adversary process has been halted because of an essentially unresponsive party[.]” Id. (citing S.E.C. v. Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d 418, 421 (D. Md. 2005)).

         “Upon default, the well-pled allegations in a complaint as to liability are taken as true, although the allegations as to damages are not.” Lawbaugh, 359 F.Supp.2d at 422; see also Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780 (4th Cir. 2001) (noting that “[t]he defendant, by [its] default, admits the plaintiff's well-pleaded allegations of fact, ” which provide the basis for judgment). Upon a finding of liability, “[t]he court must make an independent determination regarding damages . . .” Int'l Painters & Allied Trades Indus. Pension Fund v. Capital Restoration & Painting Co., 919 F.Supp.2d 680, 684 (D. Md. 2013). “A default judgment must not differ in kind from, or exceed in amount, what is demanded in the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(c). While the Court may hold a hearing to prove damages, it is not required to do so; it may rely instead on “detailed affidavits or documentary evidence to determine the appropriate sum.” Adkins, 180 F.Supp.2d at 17 (citing United Artists Corp. v. Freeman, 605 F.2d 854, 857 (5th Cir. 1979)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action pursuant to Section 502 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132 and 1451(c). Venue is proper under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(e)(2), 1451(d), as the NEBF and NEAP is administered in Rockville, Maryland. See Bd. of Trs., Sheet Metal Workers' Nat'l Pension Fund v. McD Metals, Inc., 964 F.Supp. 1040 (E.D. Va. 1997); Trustees of Nat. ...


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