467 U.S. 717 (1984), 83-245, PBGC v. R. A. Gray & Co.

Docket Nº:No. 83-245
Citation:467 U.S. 717, 104 S.Ct. 2709, 81 L.Ed.2d 601
Party Name:PBGC v. R. A. Gray & Co.
Case Date:June 18, 1984
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 717

467 U.S. 717 (1984)

104 S.Ct. 2709, 81 L.Ed.2d 601

PBGC

v.

R. A. Gray & Co.

No. 83-245

United States Supreme Court

June 18, 1984

Argued April 16, 1984

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS

FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

Syllabus

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), enacted in 1974, created a pension plan termination insurance program whereby the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a wholly owned Government corporation, collects insurance premiums from covered private retirement pension plans and provides benefits to participants if their plan terminates with insufficient assets to support its guaranteed benefits. For multiemployer pension plans, the PBGC's payment of guaranteed benefits was not to become mandatory until January 1, 1978. During the intervening period, the PBGC had discretionary authority to pay benefits upon the termination of such plans. If the PBGC exercised its discretion to pay such benefits, employers who had contributed to the plan during the five years preceding its termination were liable to PBGC in amounts proportional to their share of the plan's contributions during that period. As the mandatory coverage date approached, Congress became concerned that a significant number of multiemployer pension plans were experiencing extreme financial hardship that would result in termination of numerous plans, forcing the PBGC to assume obligations in excess of its capacity. Ultimately, after deferring the mandatory coverage until August 1, 1980, and extensively debating the issue of withdrawal liability in 1979 and 1980, Congress enacted the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (MPPAA), requiring an employer withdrawing from a multiemployer [104 S.Ct. 2712] pension plan to pay a fixed and certain debt to the plan amounting to the employer's proportionate share of the plan's "unfunded vested benefits." These withdrawal liability provisions were made to take effect approximately five months before the statute was enacted into law. When appellee building and construction firm, within this 5-month period, withdrew from a multiemployer pension plan that it had been contributing to under collective bargaining agreements with a labor union, the pension plan notified appellee that it had incurred a withdrawal liability and demanded

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payment. Appellee then filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the pension plan and the PBGC and claiming, inter alia, that the retroactive application of the MPPAA violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The District Court rejected this claim and granted summary judgment in favor of the pension plan and the PBGC. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that retroactive application of withdrawal liability violated the Due Process Clause because employers had reasonably relied on the contingent withdrawal liability provisions included in ERISA prior to passage of the MPPAA, and because the equities generally favored appellee over the pension plan.

Held: Application of the withdrawal liability provisions of the MPPAA during the 5-month period prior to the statute's enactment does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 728-734.

(a) The burden of showing that retroactive legislation complies with due process is met by showing that retroactive application of the legislation is justified by a rational legislative purpose. Here, it was rational for Congress to conclude that the MPPAA's purposes could be more fully effectuated if its withdrawal liability provisions were applied retroactively. One of the primary problems that Congress identified under ERISA was that the statute encouraged employer withdrawals from multiemployer pension plans, and Congress was properly concerned that employers would have an even greater incentive to withdraw if they knew that legislation to impose more burdensome liability on withdrawing employers was being considered. Congress therefore utilized retroactive application of the statute to prevent employers from taking advantage of the lengthy legislative process and withdrawing while Congress debated necessary revisions in the statute. Pp. 728-731.

(b) It is doubtful that retroactive application of the MPPAA would be invalid under the Due Process Clause even if it was suddenly enacted without any period of deliberate consideration. But even assuming that advance notice of retroactive legislation is constitutionally compelled, employers had ample notice of the withdrawal liability imposed by the MPPAA. Not only did ERISA impose contingent liability, but the various legislative proposals debated by Congress before the MPPAA was enacted uniformly included retroactive effective dates. Pp. 731-732.

(c) The principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause have never been held coextensive with prohibitions existing against state impairments of preexisting contracts. Rather, the limitations imposed on States by the Contract Clause have been contrasted with the less searching standards imposed on economic legislation by the Due Process Clauses. Pp. 732-733.

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(d) Unlike the statute invalidated in Railroad Retirement Board v. Alton R. Co., 295 U.S. 330, which required employers to finance pensions for former employees who had already been fully compensated while employed, the MPPAA merely requires a withdrawing employer to compensate a pension plan for benefits that have already vested with the employees at the time of the employer's withdrawal. Pp. 733-734.

705 F.2d 1502, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

BRENNAN, J., lead opinion

[104 S.Ct. 2713] JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.

The question presented by these cases is whether application of the withdrawal liability provisions of the Multi-employer

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Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 to employers withdrawing from pension plans during a 5-month period prior to the statute's enactment violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. We hold that it does not.

I

A

In 1974, after careful study of private retirement pension plans, Congress enacted the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 88 Stat. 829, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Among the principal purposes of this "comprehensive and reticulated statute" was to ensure that employees and their beneficiaries would not be deprived of anticipated retirement benefits by the termination of pension plans before sufficient funds have been accumulated in the plans. Nachman Corp. v. Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., 446 U.S. 359, 361-362, 374-375 (1980). See Alessi v. Raybestos-Manhattan, Inc., 451 U.S. 504, 510-511 (1981). Congress wanted to guarantee that,

if a worker has been promised a defined pension benefit upon retirement -- and if he has fulfilled whatever conditions are required to obtain a vested benefit -- he actually will receive it.

Nachman, supra, at 375; Alessi, supra, at 510.

Toward this end, Title IV of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1301 et seq., created a plan termination insurance program, administered by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a wholly owned Government corporation within the Department of Labor, § 1302. The PBGC collects insurance premiums from covered pension plans and provides benefits to participants in those plans if their plan terminates with insufficient assets to support its guaranteed benefits. See §§ 1322, 1361. For pension plans maintained by single employers, the PBGC's obligation to pay benefits took effect immediately upon enactment of ERISA in 1974. §§ 1381(a), (b). For multiemployer pension plans, however, the payment of guaranteed benefits by the PBGC was not to become mandatory until January 1, 1978. § 1381(c)(1).

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During the intervening period, the PBGC had discretionary authority to pay benefits upon the termination of multiemployer pension plans. §§ 1381(c)(2)-(4). If the PBGC exercised its discretion to pay such benefits, employers who had contributed to the plan during the five years preceding its termination were liable to the PBGC in amounts proportional to their share of the plan's contributions during that period. § 1364. In other words, any employer withdrawing from a multiemployer plan was subject to a contingent liability that was dependent upon the plan's termination in the next five years and the PBGC's decision to exercise its discretion and pay guaranteed benefits. In addition, any individual employer's liability was not to exceed 30% of the employer's net worth. § 1362(b)(2).

As the date for mandatory coverage of multiemployer pension plans approached, Congress became concerned that a significant number of plans were experiencing extreme financial hardship. This, in turn, could have resulted in the termination of numerous plans, forcing the PBGC to assume obligations in excess of its capacity. To avoid this potential collapse of the plan termination insurance program, Congress deferred mandatory insurance coverage for multiemployer plans for 18 months -- until July 1, 1979 -- extending the PBGC's discretionary authority to insure plans terminating during the interim. Pub.L. 95-214, 91 [104 S.Ct. 2714] Stat. 1501.1 The PBGC was also directed to prepare a comprehensive report analyzing the problems faced by multiemployer plans and recommending appropriate legislative action. See S.Rep. No. 95-570, pp. 1-4 (1977); H.R.Rep. No. 95-706, p. 1

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(1977). In this way, Congress created "time to legislate, if necessary, before...

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