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Teamsters-Employers Local 945 Pension Fund, and v. Waste Management of New Jersey

August 3, 2011

TEAMSTERS-EMPLOYERS LOCAL 945 PENSION FUND, AND
TRUSTEES OF TEAMSTERS-EMPLOYERS LOCAL 945 PENSION FUND, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WASTE MANAGEMENT OF NEW JERSEY, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Faith S. Hochberg

NOT FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED

OPINION & ORDER

HOCHBERG, District Judge:

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Attorney's Fees. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Teamsters-Employers Local 945 Pension Fund (the "Fund") is a Taft-Hartley trust fund established and maintained pursuant to the Labor Management Relations Act. The Fund provides retirement and related benefits to eligible participants and beneficiaries. Defendant Waste Management of New Jersey, Inc. entered into a collective bargaining agreement with the Union which was effective from July 1, 2004 through June 30, 2009 and which required Waste Management to contribute to the Fund on behalf of some of its employees. After Waste Management withdrew from the agreement, the Fund determined that Waste Management incurred partial withdrawal liability in the principal amount of $26,637,834.

On June 2, 2010, Waste Management received a notice of this liability and a demand for payment issued by the Fund. On July 30, 2010, Waste Management submitted a request for review of the partial withdrawal liability pursuant to Section 4219(b)(2)(A) of ERISA. The Fund responded on November 24, 2010.

Under Section 4221(a)(1) of ERISA, either the employer or the plan sponsor may initiate arbitration within a period of 60 days following the earlier of the date of notification to the employer of the plan sponsor's response to the review request or 120 days after the date of the employer's request for review. On November 29, 2010, Waste Management sent a letter to the Fund seeking to initiate arbitration pursuant to the regulations promulgated by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (the "PBGC").

The underlying action arises out of the parties' dispute as to whether arbitration was timely initiated. On June 2, 2011, this Court issued an Opinion & Order granting Waste Management's Motion to Dismiss on the grounds that Waste Management timely initiated arbitration on November 29, 2010, pursuant to the PBGC regulations. This Court found that though the parties later agreed to arbitrate under AAA rules, that agreement did not require Waste Management to "re-initiate" arbitration proceedings.

Defendant now seeks payment of $34,225 in attorney's fees incurred in defending this action.

DISCUSSION

ERISA provides for the recovery of reasonable attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g), which states that "in any action ... by a participant, beneficiary, or fiduciary, the court in its discretion may allow reasonable attorney's fees and costs of action to either party."

I. SUCCESS ON THE MERITS

In Hardt v. Reliance Standard Life Insurance Company, 130 S.Ct. 2149 (2010), the Supreme Court held that ERISA permits courts, in their discretion, to award fees to either party, "as long as the fee claimant has achieved 'some degree of success on the merits.'" ...


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