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Trustees of Plumbers and Pipefitters National Penion Fund v. Thermal Mechanical, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

March 8, 2017



          Ivan D. Davis United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the Trustees of the Plumbers and Pipefitters National Pension Fund ("NPF") and the Trustees of the International Training Fund's ("ITF") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") Motion for Default Judgment against Thermal Mechanical, Inc., ("Defendant”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55(b)(2). (Dkt. No. 11.) After a licensed attorney for Defendant failed to appear at the hearing on February 17, 2017, the undersigned Magistrate Judge took this matter under advisement. Upon consideration of the Complaint, Plaintiffs' Motion for Default Judgment and the supporting memoranda and affidavits thereto, the undersigned Magistrate Judge makes the following findings and recommends that default judgment be entered against Defendant.


         On September 19, 2016, Plaintiffs filed this action under Sections 502 and 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), as amended, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132 and 1145, and under Section 301(a) and (c) of the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"), 29 U.S.C. § 185(a) and (c). (See Compl. ¶ 4.) These Acts allow parties to enforce provisions of collective bargaining agreements. In their Complaint, Plaintiffs seek unpaid contributions, interest on unpaid contributions, late fees, liquidated damages, injunctive relief, [1] and attorney's fees and costs, pursuant to ERISA and the LMRA. (Compl. ¶¶ 14(AHD), 21(A)-(D)> 25(A)-(B).)

         A. Jurisdiction and Venue

         For a court to render default judgment against a party, it must have subject matter and personal jurisdiction over the party and be the appropriate venue for the action. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 because this case arises under ERISA and the LMRA, which are federal laws. Furthermore, "[a suit] for violation of contracts between an employer and a labor organization representing employees in an industry affecting commerce . . . may be brought in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties, without respect to the amount in controversy or without regard to the citizenship of the parties." 29 U.S.C. § 185(a).

         For a court to exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant in an ERISA action, the defendant must be served with process and have "sufficient aggregate contacts with the United States as a whole, " pursuant to the Fifth Amendment. Bd. of Trs., Sheet Metal Workers' Nat'l Pension Fund v. McD Metals, Inc., 964 F.Supp. 1040, 1044 (E.D. Va. 1997) (holding that because ERISA provides for nationwide service of process, the Fifth Amendment "national contacts" theory, rather than Virginia's long-arm statute, applies). As discussed below, Defendant was properly served with process. Because Defendant is incorporated under Montana law and transacts business in Montana, (Compl. ¶ 3), Defendant has sufficient contacts with the United States for this Court to exercise personal jurisdiction over it. See McD Metals, 964 F.Supp. at 1045. Therefore, this Court has personal jurisdiction over Defendant.

         Finally, as to venue, an ERISA action may be brought in the "district where the plan is administered." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2). In this case, the Funds are administered in Alexandria, Virginia, which is within the Eastern District of Virginia. (See Compl. ¶ 1.) An LMRA action may be brought "in any district court of the United States having jurisdiction of the parties." Id. § 185(a). As discussed above, this Court has jurisdiction over the parties. Therefore, venue is appropriate in this Court.

         B. Service of Process

         Under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(e)(2) and 185(d), service of process is proper in any district where a defendant resides or may be found. When a plaintiff fails to serve a defendant properly under federal or state law, a court lacks personal jurisdiction and may not enter default judgment against the defendant. Omni Capital Int'l, Ltd. v. Wolff & Co., 484 U.S. 97, 104 (1987), (stating "[s]ervice of summons is the procedure by which a court having venue and jurisdiction of the subject matter of the suit asserts jurisdiction over the person of the party served." (quoting Miss. Publ'g Corp. v. Murphree, 326 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1946))), superseded by statute on other grounds, FED. R. Civ. P. 4(k); Cent. Operating Co. v. Util. Workers of Am., 491 F.2d 245, 249, 251 (4th Cir. 1974) (reversing the district court's decision to enter default judgment against a non-resident defendant because the court lacked personal jurisdiction where the plaintiff failed to effectively serve the defendant with summons and complaint).

         Although §§ 1132(e) and 185(d) state where a defendant may be served, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide the manner in which service must occur. Under Rule 4(h), service upon a corporation, partnership, or other unincorporated association shall be effectuated "in the manner prescribed by Rule 4(e)(1) for serving an individual; or by delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to an officer, a managing or general agent, or any other agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process." Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(h).

         On October 29, 2016, a private process server served Ronald Schaeffer, Defendant's registered agent, with a true and correct copy of the Summons and Complaint. (Dkt. No. 5.) Therefore, Plaintiffs properly served Defendant pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(e)(2) and 185(d) and Rule 4(h).

         C. Grounds for Default

         Plaintiffs filed their Complaint on September 19, 2016. (Dkt. No. 1.) Defendant has failed to appear, answer, or file any other responsive pleadings in this matter. On December 23, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a Request for Entry of Default with the Clerk. (Dkt. No. 8.) On December 28, 2016, the Clerk entered default against the Defendant. (Dkt. No. 9.) On January 27, 2017, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Default Judgment, and the Court conducted a hearing on the matter on February 17, 2017. (Dkt. Nos. 11, 14.) After Defendant failed to appear ...

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