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Holland v. Bibeau Constr. Co.

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

December 16, 2014

MICHAEL H. HOLLAND, ET AL., APPELLEES
v.
BIBEAU CONSTRUCTION COMPANY, A CORPORATION, APPELLANT, VALLEY SERVICES, INC., A CORPORATION, APPELLEE

Argued October 14, 2014.

Page 9

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:06-cv-00178).

John R. Woodrum argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants.

Kathleen B. Burns argued the cause for appellees. With her on the briefs were David W. Allen and Larry D. Newsome.

Before: ROGERS, GRIFFITH and WILKINS, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

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Rogers, Circuit Judge:

The Coal Industry Retiree Health Benefit Act of 1992 (" the Coal Act" ), 26 U.S.C. § § 9701-9722, created multiemployer benefit plans to provide health care to retired and disabled coal miners and to collect premiums from their former employers. Bibeau Construction Company, Inc. (" Bibeau" ) appeals the grant of summary judgment and order directing it, as a " related person" to a disabled miner's former employer, to pay health insurance premiums, interest, and liquidated damages to the United Mine Workers of America 1992 Benefit Plan (" the Plan" ). Bibeau contends that the district court erred in ruling that the equitable doctrine of laches did not apply even though it received no notice of its payment obligation until nine years after premiums started to accrue. Whatever merit Bibeau's laches claim might have had when it filed its notice of appeal, it is now precluded under Petrella v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 1962, 188 L.Ed.2d 979 (2014), because each premium installment gives rise to a separate cause of action for legal relief for which Congress has enacted a statute of limitations to govern timeliness. Bibeau also contends the district court should not have awarded interest and liquidated damages, but the statutory damages provision plainly requires otherwise. Accordingly, we affirm.

I.

The history of the Coal Act is well documented elsewhere. See, e.g., Eastern Enterprises v. Apfel, 524 U.S. 498, 118 S.Ct. 2131, 141 L.Ed.2d 451 (1998); Holland v. Williams Mountain Coal Co., 256 F.3d 819, 821, 347 U.S.App.D.C. 198 (D.C. Cir. 2001); Penn Allegh Coal Co., Inc. v. Holland, 183 F.3d 860, 861-62, 337 U.S.App.D.C. 241 (D.C. Cir. 1999). From the turn of the 20th century until the 1940s, health care for coal miners was largely provided by " company doctors" in rural settings where care was often deficient. The efforts of their union, the United Mine Workers of America (" UMWA" ), to obtain better health care proved unsatisfactory, and a nationwide strike was called in 1946. The strike ended when the UMWA president, John L. Lewis, and the Secretary of Interior, Julius Krug, agreed to fund miners' health care and pensions through national trust funds. Similar trust funds were part of collective bargaining agreements between miners and coal mine operators signed in 1947 and 1950.

In 1974, Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (" ERISA" ), Pub. L. No. 93-406, 88 Stat. 829,, codified at 29 U.S.C. § § 1001 et seq. Based on ERISA's funding and vesting requirements, the UMWA and the mining companies entered into a new collective bargaining agreement in 1974, which provided for retirees' health benefits. The 1974 benefit plan also provided benefits for spouses and widows, which significantly expanded the number of beneficiaries, and quickly imperiled the financial health of the plan. To remedy the funding shortfall, the 1978 collective bargaining agreement departed from the royalty funding model.

Page 11

Instead of requiring a defined contribution based on coal production, signatory coal operators were made responsible for providing defined benefits for all of their current and former employees. The 1978 agreement also included " guarantee" and " evergreen" clauses by which operators promised to fund health care benefits as long as they stayed in the coal industry.

Valley Services, Inc., operated a strip mine in Wyoming County, West Virginia, beginning in the late 1960s. Ovila Bibeau, the owner of Bibeau Construction, Inc., acquired Valley Services in 1975. Valley Services was a signatory to the 1974 and 1978 collective bargaining agreements. It ceased operations in 1979, and by 1982 had paid off its debts and dissolved. A number of other mining companies also ceased operations in the 1980s. See Penn Allegh Coal, 183 F.3d at 861. To address the resulting shortfall in funding for miners' health care and pensions, the Secretary of Labor appointed a commission to conduct a study of health care in the coal industry and develop a " solution for assuring that orphan retirees . . . will continue to receive promised medical care." Report of the Coal Advisory Comm'n on UMWA Retiree Health Benefits 2 (1990). Based on the Commission's recommendations, Congress enacted the Coal Act, which mandated the creation of the UMWA 1992 Benefit Plan to pay health care benefits and collect premiums from former employers and their successors. See Pub. L. No. 102-486, 106 Stat. 3036,, codified at 26 U.S.C. § § 9701-9722; Penn Allegh Coal, 183 F.3d at 861-62.

The Coal Act requires a " last signatory operator" -- defined as " a signatory to a coal wage agreement" who was a retiree's " most recent coal industry employer," 26 U.S.C. § 9701(c)(1), (4) -- to pay a monthly premium for former employees who are receiving benefits from the 1992 Plan. 26 U.S.C. § § 9711, 9712(d)(1), (3). If a last signatory operator has gone out of business, then a " related person" is jointly and severally liable for premiums. 26 U.S.C. § 9712(d)(4). A " related person" is defined to be, among other things, " a member of the controlled group of corporations . . . which includes such signatory operator." Id. § 9701(c)(2)(A)(i).

The Coal Act incorporates ERISA's enforcement scheme, providing that " [t]he provisions of [29 U.S.C. § 1451] shall apply, in the same manner as any claim arising out of an obligation to pay withdrawal liability under [ERISA], to any claim -- (1) arising out of an obligation to pay any amount required to be paid by [the Coal Act] . . . ." 26 U.S.C. § 9721. These ERISA provisions impose liability on employers for delinquent contributions to a multiemployer plan, 29 U.S.C. § 1145, and provide for a civil action to recover unpaid contributions, id. § 1451(a). A remedial section provides:

[When] judgment in favor of the plan is awarded, the court shall award the plan -- (A) the unpaid contributions, (B) interest on the unpaid contributions, (C) an amount equal to the greater of [interest or contractual liquidated damages, if less than 20% of unpaid contributions], (D) reasonable attorney's fees and costs of the action, to be paid by the defendant, and (E) such other legal or equitable relief as the court deems appropriate.

Id. ยง 1132(g)(2). The cause of action is subject to a statute of limitations: " the later of -- (1) 6 years after the date on which the cause of action arose, or (2) 3 years after the earliest date on which the plaintiff acquired or should have acquired actual knowledge of ...


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