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Brass v. SPX Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

December 30, 2019

DAVID BRASS, RON BEEGLE, DAVID BOBCOCK, CARL VAN LOON, INTERNATIONAL UNION, UNITED AUTOMOBILE, AEROSPACE AND AGRICULTURAL IMPLEMENT WORKERS OF AMERICA, UAW, RICHARD HAMILTON, and CHARLES KOZITZKY, Plaintiffs,
v.
SPX CORPORATION, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Robert J. Conrad, Jr. United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant SPX Corporation's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 90.)

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is an action to enforce the health benefits provisions of two court-approved settlement agreements. In 2001, Plaintiff International Union United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, UAW (the “Union”) and six individuals brought two separate class actions in the Western District of Michigan against Defendant SPX Corporation (“Defendant” or “SPX”) for breach of collective bargaining agreements between the Union and Defendant. The Michigan lawsuits involved benefits for retirees from two plants operated by Defendant. In each case, the parties reached a settlement agreement that was approved by the court (the “Settlement Agreements”). The Settlement Agreements require Defendant to provide lifetime healthcare coverage to identified retirees and their eligible family members through specified group health insurance plans or through coverage that is substantially equivalent in benefits.

         In this action, the individual plaintiffs David Brass, Ron Beegle, David Bobcock, Carl Van Loon, Richard Hamilton, and Charles Kozitzky (collectively, the “Individual Plaintiffs”) allege that they are members of the settlement classes who are entitled to retiree benefits under the Settlement Agreements. The Union and the Individual Plaintiffs (collectively, the “Plaintiffs”) allege that Defendant has changed the arrangement by which healthcare benefits are provided to Medicare-eligible retirees in violation of the Settlement Agreements. Plaintiffs assert two claims: (1) violation of the Settlement Agreements under Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act (“LMRA”), 29 U.S.C. § 185; and (2) violation of employee welfare benefit plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).[1] This action was originally filed as a class action in which the Individual Plaintiffs-not the Union-sought to represent themselves and others similarly situated; however, the Court denied class certification on October 2, 2017. (Doc. No. 81.)

         On July 12, 2019, Defendant filed its Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 90.) Defendant seeks summary judgment in its favor on the Union's claims, contending that the Union lacks statutory standing. On November 12, 2019, the Court held oral argument on the motion. Having been fully briefed and argued, the motion is now ripe for adjudication.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment shall be granted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is genuine “if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Id. The movant has the “initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quotation marks omitted). This “burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case.” Id. at 325 (quotation marks omitted).

         Once this initial burden is met, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party, which “must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250. The nonmoving party may not rely upon mere allegations or denials of allegations in the pleadings to defeat a motion for summary judgment; rather, it must present sufficient evidence from which “a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. at 248; accord Sylvia Dev. Corp. v. Calvert Cty., 48 F.3d 810, 818 (4th Cir. 1995).

         When ruling on a summary judgment motion, a court must view the evidence and any inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no genuine issue for trial.” Ricci v. DeStefano, 557 U.S. 557, 586 (2009) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986)). The mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-49. “If the evidence is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, ” summary judgment is appropriate. Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. LMRA Claims

         Defendant argues that the Union lacks statutory standing to bring the LMRA claims because the Union is suing on its own behalf, rather than on behalf of the retirees. Defendant contends that courts have allowed a union to enforce retiree benefit agreements under Section 301 of the LMRA only where the union seeks to represent the interests of the retirees and, even then, most courts require the union to obtain the consent of any retiree whose interests the union seeks to represent. In response, the Union argues that it has standing under the LMRA as a party to the Settlement Agreements. The Union alternatively argues that it has standing to represent the Individual Plaintiffs' interests and, in support thereof, filed signed statements by each of the Individual Plaintiffs in which they “consent to have the [Union] support [their] claim and represent [their] interests.” (Doc. Nos. 94 to 94-1.)

         Before reaching the merits of the Union's statutory standing, the Court must address whether the Union may, by and through its response to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, seek to represent the Individual Plaintiffs' interests. “Fourth Circuit courts have consistently concluded that a party may not use a brief opposing summary judgment to amend a complaint.” Robinson v. Bowser, No. 1:12-cv-301, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 148529, at *10 (M.D. N.C. Oct. 16, 2013); Dove Air, Inc. v. Fla. Aircraft Sales, LLC, No. 1:10-cv-47, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 88611, at *24 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 9, 2011); Hexion Specialty Chems., Inc. v. Oak-Bark Corp., No. 7:09-cv-105, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 111669, at *27 (E.D. N.C. Sept. 28, 2011). Courts routinely refuse to consider legal theories not alleged in the complaint and raised for the first time in a brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment. Cloaninger v. McDevitt, 555 F.3d 324, 336 (4th Cir. 2009) (refusing to consider plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim based on a proceeding different than that alleged in the complaint and raised for the first time in plaintiff's brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment); Grant-Davis v. Bd. of Trs., No. 2:15-cv-2676, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135667, at *5 (D.S.C. Aug. 24, 2017) (refusing to consider theories as to how plaintiff's constitutional rights were violated that were not included in the complaint and were raised for the first time in plaintiff's brief in opposition to a motion for summary judgment), aff'd, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 2489 (4th Cir. Feb. 1, 2018); Lee v. Certainteed Corp., 123 F.Supp.3d 780, 794 (E.D. N.C. 2015) (refusing to consider defendant's liability based on a joint enterprise theory ...


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