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Appelbaum v. Diamond Rubber Products Co.

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

August 15, 2017

STUART APPELBAUM, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
DIAMOND RUBBER PRODUCTS CO., Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The Plaintiffs, trustees and fiduciaries of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store International Union and Industry Pension Fund, sued Defendant Diamond Rubber Products Company, alleging that it failed to make contributions to the fund required by the collective bargaining agreement. Both parties have moved for summary judgment. (Docs. 35, 37). For the reasons discussed in this opinion, the court will deny both motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Diamond Rubber manufactures and sells rubber products, such as chocks, gaskets, seals, and bumpers. Since 2004, Diamond has signed a series of collective bargaining agreements with the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store International Union. The CBAs recognized the Union “as the sole and exclusive bargaining agency for all production, plant maintenance, building maintenance and shipping personnel, including truck drivers of the company at its present plant and at any and all future or new plants and operations of the company located in the State of Alabama.” The agreements excluded “watchmen, clerical or office employees, superintendents, foremen, temporary employees or supervisors as defined in the [National Labor Relations] Act.”

         Until 2015, Article XXII of the CBAs required Diamond to contribute a set amount “per member” to the Union's pension fund “on behalf of said employee who has completed one (1) year of service with the company.” Diamond withdrew from the pension plan effective September 18, 2015.

         The Fund is governed by an Agreement and Declaration of Trust and its amendments. From January 2005 to September 2015, Diamond would provide a monthly report of bargaining unit employees for whom it was making a pension contribution and would also report the names of employees who were not covered by the CBA but for whom the company made a pension contribution.

         In September 2014, six employees were participating in the Pension Fund. Three were not Union members. Diamond's position is that “per member” means per union member and that the CBA required the company to make contributions for union members and permitted it to make contributions for other employees who asked to participate in the Fund. In contrast, the Trustees argue that the CBA required the company to make contributions for all employees covered by the CBA, regardless of their union status, and permitted the company to make contributions for other employees who could not join the union.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         When a district court reviews a motion for summary judgment, it must determine two things: whether any genuine issues of material fact exist, and whether the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

         The court must “view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden” to determine whether the non-moving party presented sufficient evidence on which a jury could reasonably find for the nonmoving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The court must not weigh the evidence and make credibility determinations because these decisions belong to a jury. See Id. at 254.

         Further, all evidence and inferences drawn from the underlying facts must be viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Graham v. State Farm Mut. Ins. Co., 193 F.3d 1274, 1282 (11th Cir. 1999). After both parties have addressed the motion for summary judgment, the court must grant the motion only if no genuine issues of material fact exist and if the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56.

         The applicable Rule 56 standard is not affected by the filing of cross motions for summary judgment. See, e.g., United States v. Oakley, 744 F.2d 1553, at 1555-56 (11th Cir. 1984). When parties file cross motions for summary judgment, “each side must still establish the lack of genuine issues of material fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Busby v. JRHBW Realty, Inc., 642 F.Supp.2d 1283, 1288 (N.D. Ala. 2009). “The fact that both parties simultaneously are arguing that there is no genuine issue of fact . . . does not establish that a trial is unnecessary thereby empowering the court to enter judgment as it sees fit.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The Eleventh Circuit has noted that “[c]ross motions for summary judgment will not, in themselves, warrant the court in granting summary judgment unless one of the parties is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on facts that are not genuinely disputed.” Oakley, 744 F.2d at 1555.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The question presented is who is a “member” under the pension plan provision of the CBA that requires Diamond to make contributions “per member” to the plan. Diamond argues that “member” means union member, while the Plan Trustees contend that “member” means member of the pension plan. Whether Diamond is ...


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