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Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 5 of New Jersey Pension & Annuity Funds v. Chanree Construction Co., Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 12, 2013

BRICKLAYERS AND ALLIED CRAFTWORKERS LOCAL 5 OF NEW JERSEY PENSION & ANNUITY FUNDS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CHANREE CONSTRUCTION CO., INC., Defendant.

OPINION

FREDA L. WOLFSON, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court by way of a Consolidated Motion by Defendant, Chanree Construction Company, Incorporated ("Defendant" or "Chanree"), for Reconsideration and to Dismiss the Amended Complaint of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Local 5 of New Jersey Pension & Annuity Funds, et al. ("Plaintiffs"). Defendant seeks reconsideration of the Court's November 29, 2012, Opinion and Order granting Plaintiffs leave to amend their complaint to allege that their Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with Defendant contained an implied secondary liability term, relying exclusively on evidence of Defendant's past practices in handling CBAs with Plaintiffs. In that Opinion and Order, the Court also granted Defendant's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' original Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendant's instant Motion for Reconsideration, vacates the Court's November 29, 2012, grant of leave to Plaintiffs to file an Amended Complaint, and, accordingly, denies as moot Defendant's Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Court will not now belabor the facts which are familiar to the parties. A more detailed recitation of the underlying dispute can be found in the Court's November 29, 2012, Opinion. For the purposes of the present Motion for Reconsideration, it suffices to recall that Plaintiffs initiated suit before Judge Thompson on March 4, 2010, in order to recover unpaid fringe benefit contributions they alleged were owed to their members by their employer Palmer. During the pendency of the suit, Plaintiffs and Palmer entered into two rounds of settlement negotiations, in which Defendant Chanree participated. The second and final settlement agreement that was reached as a result of those negotiations was executed on June 21, 2010, and obligated Chanree to pay Plaintiffs $300, 000, even though Chanree was not a signatory to the agreement. The only signatory to the agreement other than Plaintiffs was Palmer, who was thereby obligated to pay the balance of the amount due.

The case was dismissed as settled on June 23, 2010, with the court reserving jurisdiction over the suit for the purpose of enforcing the settlement agreement. Accordingly, on January 18, 2011, the court, on Plaintiffs' motion, ordered Palmer to pay the $924, 537.99 unpaid balance of the settlement. Palmer subsequently went out of business, and its principal, Carmine Mazza, declared bankruptcy without complying with the court's order to pay the balance of the settlement. Plaintiffs thereafter brought an action against Chanree, before me, to collect the unpaid balance.

Defendant Chanree moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). On November 29, 2012, this Court issued an Opinion and Order granting Defendant's Motion, but further granting Plaintiffs leave to amend their Complaint to allege that Chanree became liable for the unpaid balance of the settlement to which it was not a signatory by way of its past practices in handling CBAs to which Chanree, Palmer, and Plaintiffs were parties. Shortly thereafter, on December 5, 2012, Defendant Chanree filed a Motion for Leave to File a Consolidated Motion for Reconsideration and Motion to Dismiss. Before briefing or consideration of Defendant's Motion, Plaintiffs filed their Amended Complaint on December 14, 2012. Defendant responded within the week with a Motion for Leave to Petition the Third Circuit for Permission to File Interlocutory Appeal under 28 U.S.C. 1292(b). After Defendant's motions had been fully briefed, the Court, on April 30, 2013, issued an Order granting Defendant's request to file a Consolidated Motion and denying as moot Defendant's Motion for Leave to Petition the Third Circuit, pending the Court's resolution of the Defendant's Consolidated Motion. The Court now considers Defendant's Consolidated Motion.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

While the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not expressly recognize motions for "reconsideration, " United States v. Compaction Sys. Corp., 88 F.Supp.2d 339, 345 (D.N.J. 1999), the Local Civil Rules governing the District of New Jersey do provide for such review. See Light, N.J. Federal Practice Rules, cmt. 6 to L. Civ. R. 7.1 (Gann 2008). Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) states that a motion for reconsideration "setting forth concisely the matter or controlling decisions which the party believes the Judge or Magistrate Judge has overlooked" may be filed within ten (10) business days after entry of an order. L. Civ. R. 7.1(i).2 The motion may not be used to relitigate old matters or argue new matters that could have been raised before the original decision was reached. See P. Schoenfeld Asset. Mgmt., L.L.C. v. Cendant Corp., 161 F.Supp.2d 349, 352 (D.N.J. 2001).

"The purpose of a motion for reconsideration is to correct manifest errors of law or to present newly discovered evidence." Harsco Corp. v. Zlotnicki, 779 F.2d 906, 909 (3d Cir. 1985), cert. denied 476 U.S. 1171 , 106 S.Ct. 2895, 90 L.Ed.2d 982 (1986); Tecchio v. United States ex rel. Meola, No. 03-1529, 2004 WL 2827899, at *1 (D.N.J. Oct.24, 2003) (quoting same). The granting of a motion for reconsideration is an extraordinary remedy and should be sparingly given by the court. Connolly v. Mitsui O. S.K. Lines (America), Inc., No. 04-5127, 2010 WL 715775, at *1 (D.N.J. Mar.1 2010) (citations omitted). Reconsideration is not appropriate where the motion raises only a party's disagreement with the court's initial decision. Florham Park Chevron, Inc. v. Chevron U.S.A., Inc., 680 F.Supp. 159, 162 (D.N.J. 1988).

There are three grounds for granting a motion for reconsideration: (1) an intervening change in controlling law has occurred; (2) evidence not previously available has become available; (3) it is necessary to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. See Carmichael v. Everson, No. 03-4787, 2004 WL 1587894, at *1 (D.N.J. May 21, 2004); Brackett v. Ashcroft, No. 03-3988, 2003 WL 22303078, at *2 (D.N.J. Oct.7, 2003). In sum, it is improper on a motion for reconsideration to "ask the Court to rethink what it ha[s] already thought through-rightly or wrongly." Oritani Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Fidelity & Deposite Co., 744 F.Supp. 1311, 1314 (D.N.J. 1990) (citations omitted). "The only proper ground for granting a motion for reconsideration, therefore, is that the matters or decisions overlooked, if considered by the court, might reasonably have altered the result reached...." G-69 v. Degnan, 748 F.Supp. 274, 275 (D.N.J. 1990) (quoting New York Guardian Mortgage Corp. v. Cleland, 473 F.Supp. 409, 420 (S.D.N.Y. 1979)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

In briefing, Defendant accurately paraphrased this Court's holding in the November 29 Opinion, "[t]he Court found that a cause of action may be maintained based on an implied CBA term -and in the absence of an express CBA term -which could obligate a signatory contractor for a delinquency in pension fund contributions of its subcontractor." [Defendant's Brief in Support, 7]. Defendant now argues that this holding constitutes a clear error of law, directing the Court's attention to the absence of any precedent, controlling or otherwise, suggesting that such a cause of action exists, and further submitting that none of the authority identified in the Opinion supports the Court's conclusion. Id. at 8. Notably, neither Defendant in its briefing, nor Plaintiffs in their Opposition, cite to controlling precedents within this Circuit dictating the reconsideration of this Court's Opinion or otherwise indicating applicable law overlooked by the Court. I have, however, identified such precedents and revise my decision accordingly.[1]

While there has been no intervening change in the law governing the interpretation of CBAs in this jurisdiction, a Third Circuit decision issued after this Court's November 29, 2012, Order makes clear that the parties in their briefing, and this Court in its Opinion and Order, overlooked controlling precedent requiring the dismissal of Plaintiffs' Complaint and foreclosing the basis on which this Court allowed Plaintiffs to amend. In Akers Nat. Roll Co. v. United Steel, Paper & Forestry, Rubber, Mfg., Energy, Allied Indus. & Serv. Workers Int'l Union, 712 F.3d 155, 161 (3d Cir. 2013), the Third Circuit reaffirmed in no uncertain terms that evidence of past practice cannot be used by a plaintiff to introduce ambiguity into an unambiguous CBA. ("This Court has stated that extrinsic evidence of past practice could be admitted, if at all, only to resolve an ambiguity in the CBA.")(internal citations omitted). The Akers court went on to reiterate the standard for interpreting CBAs - to identify implied terms - which was adopted in this Circuit over a decade ago:

Although extrinsic evidence is admissible to show that a written contract which looks clear is actually ambiguous, perhaps because the parties were using words in a special sense, ... there must be either contractual language on which to hang the label of ambiguous or some yawning void... that cries out for an implied term. Extrinsic evidence ...

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