United States District Court, N.D. California
UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMAN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY, UNDERGROUND UTILITY/LANDSCAPE LOCAL UNION NO. 355, et al., Plaintiffs,
MANIGLIA LANDSCAPE, INC., et al., Defendants.
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY
RICHARD SEEBORG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case involves several moving parts. First, there is a dispute
between plaintiff United Association of Journeyman and
Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry,
Underground Utility/Landscape Local Union No. 355 (“UA
Local 355”), and its rival, defendant Northern
California District Council of Laborers (“Laborers
Union”). UA Local 355 alleges the Laborers Union
pressured employers who were signatories to collective
bargaining agreements with both unions to hire only Laborers
Union members and force UA Local 355 members to join the
Laborers Union. Plaintiff Alejandro Trejo, a former member of
Laborers Union affiliate Local 270, also alleges in the Sixth
Claim for Relief that trustees of the Laborers Union's
fringe-benefit trust funds (the “Laborers Trust
Funds”) breached their fiduciary duties to him. These
trustees (the “Laborers Trustees”) now seek
summary judgment with respect to the Sixth Claim, the only
remaining claim levied against them. For the reasons set
forth below, this motion is granted.
Sixth Claim alleges the Laborers Trustees breached their
fiduciary duties by improperly expending funds on a prior
lawsuit against employer Cohen Landscape Service, Inc. and
Maniglia Landscape, Inc. (“Cohen/Maniglia”). In
2014, the Laborers Trustees brought a collection action
against Cohen/Maniglia to recover benefit contributions
allegedly owed to the Laborers Trust Fund under a collective
bargaining agreement. That action, which will be referred to
as the “2014 Collection Action, ” settled without
any monetary payment by Cohen/Maniglia. Lozano-Batista Decl.,
Ex. A, ¶ 3. According to Trejo, the 2014 Collection
Action was brought to help the Laborers Union expand its
jurisdiction rather than for the benefit of Laborers Trust
Fund beneficiaries, such as himself.
was previously a member of Laborers Union affiliate Local
Union 270 (“Local 270), which was a party to the
Laborers Landscape Agreement. Arguello Decl. ¶ 9 (Mot.
Summ. J.). Trejo worked as a Local 270 member during two time
periods: from June 2014 to August 2015 and from April 2016 to
July 2017. Prior to joining Local 270, Trejo was a member of
UA Local 355. Id. Ex. G. In January 2017, Trejo
worked for Maniglia Landscaping, Inc, which in turn made
benefits contributions on Trejo's behalf. Loney Decl. Ex.
A. After January, however, Trejo began working exclusively
for Martina Landscape, Inc., another employer associated with
Local 270. Id. Exs. A-B. Martina submitted a final
contribution report regarding Trejo in August 2017 for hours
worked in July. Id. ¶ 18, Ex. B. This was the
last contribution report submitted on Trejo's behalf to
the Laborers Trust Fund. Trejo's membership in Local 270
was suspended in October 2017 and terminated in August 2018.
Arguello ¶¶ 10-12. In July 2017, Trejo returned to
UA Local 355. Id.
the terms of the Laborers Landscape Agreement, there are six
benefits trust funds. Loney Decl. ¶ 11, Ex. C. Because
of his classification as a “Landscape Tech 2, ”
Trejo only participated in four of these funds during his
tenure with Local 270, namely the (1) Health and Welfare
Fund, (2) Vacation-Holiday Fund, (3) Training and Retraining
Fund, and (4) Contract Administration Fund. Id.
¶¶ 5-9, 12-13, Ex. D-E. The Health and Welfare
Trust Agreement defines a “participant” as
“an employee of an individual employer who has
established eligibility under the Plan.” Id.
Ex. G at 1-2. The term “employee” is defined as a
person on whose behalf contributions are made. Id.
The last contribution submitted on Trejo's behalf to the
Health and Welfare Fund was provided by Martina and was
submitted on July 2017. Id. ¶ 18, Ex. B. On
February 1, 2018, Trejo exhausted his Hour Bank balance under
the Health and Welfare Fund and was therefore no longer
eligible for benefits under the plan. Id. ¶ 20.
Vacation-Holiday Plan defines a plan participant as an
employee of a contributing employer “who performs one
or more hours of covered work” under one of the
Laborers Union's collective bargaining agreements.
Id. ¶ 21, Ex. H at Art. I § 3. A
participant's eligibility depends upon receipt of
contributions from the participant's employer.
Id. Ex. H at Art. II §§ 11-12. Trejo was
paid his last two payments as an active plan participant on
October 31, 2017 and July 20, 2018. Id. ¶¶
122-23; id Exs. I at 8-9, Ex. E. Similarly, the
Training and Retraining Trust Agreement provides that only
“employees” may participate in the fund and
defines the term to mean “any Individual Employer who
performs one or more hours of work covered by the Collective
Bargaining Agreement.” Id. Ex. J at Art. I
§ 4. Funds for this program are used to maintain and
operate training and educational programs for employees.
Id. Ex. J at Art. II § 3.
purpose of summary judgment “is to isolate and dispose
of factually unsupported claims or defenses.”
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24
(1986). Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine
dispute of material fact and the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. The Court must
ultimately decide “whether the ‘specific
facts' set forth by the nonmoving party, coupled with
undisputed background or contextual facts, are such that a
rational or reasonable jury might return a verdict in its
favor based on that evidence.” T.W. Elec. Serv.
Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626,
631 (9th Cir. 1987). When making this evaluation, courts draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving
party. Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 501 U.S.
496, 520-21 (1991).
Whether Trejo Qualifies as a Plan Participant Under
order to sue a defendant for breach of fiduciary duty under
ERISA, a plaintiff must be a “participant” in the
plan that gave rise to the fiduciary duty. A
“participant” is “any employee or former
employee of an employer . . . who is or may become eligible
to receive a benefit of any type from an employee benefit
plan which covers employees of such employer.” 29
U.S.C. § 1002(7). A plaintiff may become eligible if
there is “a colorable claim that (1) he or she will
prevail in a suit for benefits, or that (2) eligibility
requirements will be fulfilled in the future.”
Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S.
101, 117-18 (9th Cir. 1989). In the Ninth Circuit,
qualification as a “participant” is a substantive
element of an ERISA claim rather than a prerequisite for
subject matter jurisdiction. Vaughn v. Bay Environmental
Mgmt., Inc. 567 F.3d 1021, 1024 (9th Cir. 2009).
“Whether a plaintiff is a plan participant is
determined as of the time he [or she] files the
lawsuit.” Spies v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am.,
312 F.Supp.3d 805, 812 (N.D. Cal. 2018) (quoting Curtis
v. Nevada Bonding Corp., 53 F.3d 1023, 1027 (9th Cir.
Laborers Trustees argue that summary judgment is proper
because Trejo is no longer a participant in any of the trust
funds at issue in this action. As explained above, a
plaintiff's status as a participant is determined at
the time of filing. The Laborers Trustees' own evidence
reveals that, as of May 25, 2017 when this action was filed,
Trejo was an active participant in three funds: the Training
and Retraining Fund, the Health and Welfare Fund, and the
Vacation-Holiday Fund. Accordingly, ...