Connors v. Beth Energy Mines, Inc.

Decision Date06 December 1990
Docket Number89-1961,Nos. 89-1960,No. 89-1960,No. 89-1961,89-1960,s. 89-1960
Citation920 F.2d 205
Parties135 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3216, 117 Lab.Cas. P 10,443 CONNORS, Joseph P., Sr., Pierce, Donald E., Jr., Miller, William, Jordan, William B., Dean, Paul R., as Trustees of the United Mine Workers of America 1950 Pension Trust, 1950 Benefit Plan and Trust, 1974 Pension Trust and the 1974 Benefit Plan and Trust, Appellants in, v. BETH ENERGY MINES, INC. f/t/a Bethlehem Mines Corporation and f/t/a Beth-Elkhorn Corporation. CONNORS, Joseph P., Sr., Pierce, Donald E., Jr., Miller, William, Jordan, William B., Dean, Paul R., as Trustees of the United Mine Workers of America 1950 Pension Trust, 1950 Benefit Plan and Trust, 1974 Pension Trust and the 1974 Benefit Plan and Trust, v. BETH ENERGY MINES, INC. f/t/a Bethlehem Mines Corporation and f/t/a Beth-Elkhorn Corporation, Appellants in
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit

Abraham C. Reich (argued), Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Philadelphia, Pa., David W. Allen, Margaret M. Topps, Kenneth M. Johnson, United Mine Workers of America, Health and Retirement Funds, Office of General Counsel, Washington, D.C., for appellants/cross-appellees.

J. Anthony Messina, Raymond A. Kresge (argued), Laura M. Stein, Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, Philadelphia, Pa., for appellees/cross-appellants.

Before MANSMANN, GREENBERG and SEITZ, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge.

In this contract matter we are asked to resolve a dispute which requires interpretation of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreements of 1981 and 1984. Specifically, we must determine whether the employer, Beth Energy Mines, Inc. ("Beth Energy") and its predecessors are obligated, under the terms of the Agreements, to credit the Trustees of the United Mine Workers Pension Trust of 1950 and 1974 and Benefit Plan and Trust of 1950 and 1974 ("the Trustees" and "the Funds") with contributions for lunch periods worked by Beth Energy employees. Because we find that the district court correctly concluded that resolution of this dispute is controlled by our decision in Connors v. Consolidation Coal Co., 866 F.2d 599 (3d Cir.1989), we will affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment mandating contributions to the Funds. We also find that the district court correctly determined that certain of the Trustees' claims are time-barred, and will, therefore, affirm the district court's entry of partial summary judgment in favor of Beth Energy, limiting the Trustees' recovery to those contributions due after March 11, 1984. Finally, we find no error in and will affirm the district court's calculation of interest and damages.

I.

The historical facts are straightforward. On March 11, 1987, the Trustees of four collectively bargained employee benefit trust funds filed suit against Beth Energy under the Labor-Management Relations Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. 1 The Trustees alleged that Beth Energy and its predecessors had failed to make required contributions to the Funds for a period beginning in November, 1983. Specifically, the Trustees alleged that Beth Energy had violated the terms of the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreements of 1981 and 1984 ("the Wage Agreements") in failing to make contributions to the Funds for "worked lunch hours." The Trustees contended that in addition to making contributions based upon a normal eight-hour workday, Beth Energy was required to make contributions to the Funds, on a cents per hour basis, for each 30 minute period worked by a miner in lieu of his regular, contractually mandated lunch break. 2 The miner receives premium pay (1 1/2 times the normal hourly rate) for working through the lunch period.

In November, 1983, Beth Energy modified its method of accounting for worked lunch hours by moving them from an accounting category, "Hours 1," to which the contribution obligation applied, to another category, "Hours 4," for which it was not required to make contributions. 3 The Trustees contended that this change in the method of accounting for worked lunch hours was first discovered by them in February or March, 1985, after the Funds audited the books of a Beth Energy predecessor, Beth Elkhorn Corporation. 4 The Trustees objected to this change, arguing that Beth Energy's revised accounting for worked lunch hours and the concommitant cessation of contributions to the Funds based upon these hours, violated the terms of the Wage Agreements. Relying primarily upon the same agreements, Beth Energy denied that it had any obligation to contribute to the Funds as a result of worked lunch hours.

In January, 1988, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. On October 14, 1988, the district court determined that it would delay ruling on these motions pending our potentially dispositive decision in Consolidation Coal. Consolidation Coal, which involved the identical Funds and Wage Agreements, required that we determine whether another signatory to the Wage Agreements, Consolidation Coal was required to make contributions to the Funds for worked lunch hours.

In our January 24, 1989 decision in Consolidation Coal, we held that the employer was obligated to make contributions to the Funds based on worked lunch hours. On March 13, 1989, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Trustees in the case now before us; finding Consolidation Coal to be controlling, the district court ruled that Beth Energy was required to base its contributions to the Funds, in part, on worked lunch hours.

Having concluded that contributions were required, the district court gave separate consideration to a motion for partial summary judgment filed by Beth Energy on the issue of limitations. In that motion, Beth Energy contended that all claims for worked lunch hour contributions arising prior to March 11, 1984 were barred by the applicable three-year statute of limitations. The court rejected the Trustees' claim that the limitations period was subject to equitable tolling and granted Beth Energy's motion.

In setting the total amount of contributions owed to the Funds, the district court denied Beth Energy's motion to reduce the award by an amount equal to the interest and liquidated damages which had continued to mount in the days pending our decision in Consolidation Coal and during an extension of time for discovery.

The final order was entered on October 10, 1989, and these cross appeals followed. Beth Energy appeals the determination that it is liable to the Funds for worked lunch hours and challenges the district court's calculation of interest and liquidated damages. The Trustees appeal the district court's refusal to apply the doctrine of equitable tolling in order to stay the applicable statute of limitations.

II.

Our resolution of the issues raised on appeal requires that we look first to the district court's determination that Beth Energy was, in fact, required to make contributions to the Funds on the basis of lunch hours worked. Our review of the grant of summary judgment on this issue is plenary. Goodman v. Mead Johnson and Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir.1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1038, 97 S.Ct. 732, 50 L.Ed.2d 748 (1977).

In concluding that the terms of the Wage Agreements required that Beth Energy contribute to the Funds for worked lunch hours, the district court relied primarily on our decision in Consolidation Coal. There we were called upon by the same Funds, referencing the same Wage Agreements, to decide the same issue as that presented here. We concluded there that Consolidated Coal, another signatory to the Agreement, was required to "make contributions to the employee benefit trust fund for 'worked lunch hours'." 866 F.2d at 600. Despite the fact that this matter involves a different signatory, we find that the district court's reliance upon Consolidation Coal was well-placed and that much of the reasoning of Consolidation Coal is applicable in this litigation.

Here, as it was in Consolidation Coal, our first point of reference in determining how the parties intended to treat worked lunch hours for purposes of contributions to the Funds must be the Agreements themselves. Mellon Bank, N.A. v. Aetna Business Credit, Inc., 619 F.2d 1001 (3d Cir.1980). Both parties rely on Articles IV and XX of the 1984 Agreement in support of their worked lunch hours position.

Article IV(b)(1) defines the concept of "work day" within the meaning of the Wage Agreement:

For all inside Employees, a work day of eight (8) hours from portal-to-portal which means collar to collar or bank-to-bank is established including a staggered thirty (30) minutes for lunch, and without any intermission or suspension of operation throughout the day. For inside day workers these eight (8) hours per day and forty (40) hours per week shall be paid for at time and one-half.

App. at 67a.

Article XX of the 1984 Agreement is also relevant as it creates and defines the employer's obligation to make contributions to the Funds on the basis of hours worked. Section (d)(1)(vii) of this Article provides, in pertinent part:

[H]ours of work for purposes of Employer contributions to the plans and trusts described in this Article shall include all hours worked, or fractions thereof, by Employees in a classified job covered by this Agreement. Hours actually worked for which a premium pay of any type is provided shall be treated for purposes of Employer contributions to the Trusts as though worked on a straight time basis.

App. at 77a.

Construing these provisions in Consolidation Coal, we concluded that in failing to make Fund contributions for worked lunch hours, the employer had failed "to account for the miner's contractual entitlement to a half-hour lunch period during which he is not required to work," and that,

"[W]hen an employer requests a miner to...

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