United States District Court, D. Maryland
TRUSTEES OF THE HEATING, PIPING & REFRIGERATION PENSION FUND, et al., Plaintiffs,
CLEAN AIR MECHANICAL, INC., et al., Defendants.
K. Bredar Chief Judge.
suit, the Plaintiffs, Steamfitters Local Union 602 and the
trustees of eight multiemployer benefit and trust funds, seek
unpaid contributions, liquidated damages, and equitable
relief against Defendants Clean Air Mechanical, Inc.
("CAM"), Clean Air Building Services, LLC
("CABS"), James Hardesty Jr., and Diane Hardesty,
for alleged violations of contribution and reporting
obligations under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et
seq., and for breach of fiduciary duty. This Court
previously ordered entry of default against all Defendants
for failure to plead or otherwise defend under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 55(a). (ECF No. 76.)
pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' unopposed motion
to voluntarily dismiss Count VI of the Complaint and for
default judgment on all other counts. (ECF No. 78.) The Court
finds no need for an evidentiary hearing. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2) (granting discretion to the court to hold
hearings if needed to enter or effectuate judgment); Local R.
105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set forth below,
Plaintiffs' motion will be GRANTED.
are nine plaintiffs in this suit. Plaintiff Steamfitters
Local Union No. 602 is an . unincorporated labor organization
operating under a collective bargaining agreement (CBA). (Am.
Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 72.) Plaintiffs divide the eight
multiemployer funds into two groups: six "Benefit Fund
Plaintiffs," and two "Trust Fund
Plaintiffs." (Id. ¶¶ 1-8; M.D.J.
Mem. at 2, ECF No. 78-1.) The Benefit and Trust Funds are
financed by employer contributions required by the CBA and
their respective Declarations of Trust. (Am. Compl. ¶
CAM, a corporation performing contracting and subcontracting
work in pipefitting, steamfitting, and HVAC services in
Maryland, is owned by Defendant Hardesty Jr. (Id.
¶¶ 10-11, 17, 28.) Defendant CABS, a limited
liability company also performing contracting and
subcontracting work in the same industries in Maryland, is
owned by Defendant Diane Hardesty, who is Hardesty Jr.'s
mother. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13, 15, 63.) Defendant
Diane Hardesty never appeared or filed an answer in this
case. Defendants CAM, Hardesty Jr., and CABS all initially
appeared and participated in early stages of litigation. CAM
and Hardesty Jr. ceased participating in August 2018 and
failed to respond to any discovery requests, even after this
Court granted a motion to compel. (ECF No. 71.) CABS provided
minimal discovery early in the discovery period but ceased
participating in defense of the suit in November 2018. CAM
and CABS have been without counsel, in violation of Local
Rule 101.2(b) (D. Md. 2018), for nine and five months,
respectively. (ECF No. 51; ECF No. 68.) CAM, CABS, and
Hardesty Jr. violated orders to show cause why sanctions,
including default judgment, should not be imposed. (ECF No.
71; ECF No. 74.) Having concluded on this record of
non-responsiveness and non-compliance that the Defendants
abandoned defense of the suit, the Court entered default
under Rule 55(a) against all Defendants on January 23, 2019.
(ECF No. 76.)
thereafter moved for default judgment under Rule 55(b)(2) on
Counts I, II, III, IV, V, VII, and VII of the Amended
Complaint. Plaintiffs provided the required written notice of
the motion on or about February 21, 2019. (ECF No. 78-5.)
No. Defendant opposed the motion.
Legal Standard for Entry of Default Judgment
entry of default under Rule 55(a), the opposing party may
move for default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2); Home
Port Rentals, Inc. v. Ruben, 957 F.2d 126, 133 (4fh Cir.
1992). Entry of default against a defendant does not alone
entitle a plaintiff to judgment as of right:
'The defendant, by [its] default, admits the plaintiffs
well-pleaded allegations of fact. . . [but] is not held ...
to admit conclusions of law. In short, ... a default is not
treated as an absolute confession by the defendant of [its]
liability and of the plaintiffs right to recover.' The
court must... determine whether the [conceded facts] support
the relief sought in [the] action.
Ryan v. Homecomings Fin. Network, 253 F.3d 778, 780
(4th Cir. 2001) (quoting Nishimatsu Constr. Co., Ltd. v.
Houston Nat'l Bank, 515 F.2d 1200, 1206 (5th Cir.
1975)); see also 10A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R.
Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Federal Practice & Procedure
§ 2685 (2016). Courts have discretion to decline to
enter default judgment based on the circumstances and the
interest of justice. See, e.g., Trs. of Plumbers &
Pipefitters Nat'l Pension Fund v. R.E. Petersen
Inc., Civ. No. HAR 93-2494, 1994 WL 149633, at *1 (D.
Md. Feb. 16, 1994) (quoting Tolson v. Hodge, 411
F.2d 123, 130 (4th Cir. 1969)) (discussing the
"extensive line of cases" preferring merits-based
resolutions); 10A Wright, Miller & Kane § 2685
circumstantial considerations weigh against the propriety of
default judgment in this case. Given Defendants' failure
to participate in development of the factual record or legal
theories to oppose Plaintiffs' claims and their repeated
violation of this Court's orders and rules, the Court
concludes both that a full, merits-based disposition is
impracticable and that default judgment in this case would
not be improper. ERISA creates an independent right of action
for multiemployer plans to enforce contribution requirements
provided in collective bargaining agreements. Bakery
& Confectionery Union & Indus. Int'l Pension Fund
v. Ralph's Grocery Co., 118 F.3d 1018, 1021 (4th
Cir. 1997). It would be contrary to this central purpose if
employers could evade those very obligations simply by
refusing to participate in litigation seeking to enforce
seek voluntary dismissal of Count VI of the Amended
Complaint, which alleged breach of fiduciary duty against
Hardesty Jr. (M.D.J. Mem. at 25.) That request will be
granted. The Court will now consider whether Plaintiffs made
an adequate ...