United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Augusta Division
J. RANDAL HALL, District Judge.
This case arises out of a dispute between Plaintiff Muns Welding and Mechanical, Inc. ("Muns Welding"); Charles Hardigree ("Hardigree"); and Plumbers and Steamfitters Local No. 150 Pension Plan and Fund and the Board of Trustees of the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local No. 150 Pension Fund (collectively "the Pension Fund"). Muns Welding asserts six claims for declaratory and injunctive relief regarding the suspension of its contributions to the Pension Fund, its right to litigate in this Court, its right to abatement of withdrawal liability, and its effective exclusion from the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 150 ("the Union"). These six claims all stem from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., with Muns Welding specifically seeking to enforce provisions of the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendment Act of 1980 ("MPPAA"), 29 § 1381 et seq. Additionally, Muns Welding states three state law tort claims against Hardigree for malicious interference, tortious interference, and slander per se, and also seeks injunctive relief from Hardigree's conduct. Now before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by the Pension Fund (doc. 18) and Hardigree (doc. 17).
Muns Welding is a mechanical contracting company that employs members of the Union. (Compl., Doc. 1, ¶ 3.) At all pertinent times, Hardigree served as the Union's business manager, an elected position. (Id. ¶ 6.) Muns Welding has contributed to the Union's Pension Fund since 1989. (Id. ¶ 7.) Lee Muns ("Muns"), the President of Muns Welding, served as President of the Augusta Mechanical Contractors Association ("AMCA") and, in that capacity, was responsible for negotiating the renewals of any bargaining agreements with the Union. (Id.)
A. Nuns' Early Difficulties with Hardigree
According to Muns Welding, the Pension Fund was almost fully funded from 1998 to 2000, but to ensure re-election, Hardigree convinced the other trustees to amend the Pension Fund and increase the unfunded liability. (Id. ¶ 8.) Muns objected to these actions and alleges that Hardigree and other trustees verbally warned him to "stop interfering and questioning the management of the Pension Fund." (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.) In retaliation, Muns Welding alleges that Hardigree and some trustees "engaged in an open campaign to drive it out of business." (Id. ¶ 12.)
During negotiations in 2009 to renew the collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), Hardigree
usurped the role of the selected negotiators, invited other contractors to the negotiation meetings, ... and then terminated the negotiations and informed Lee Muns that the Union refused to bargain in good faith but rather insisted that the AMCA contractors accept the same contract that all the other contractors allegedly had accepted.
(Id. ¶ 14.) As a result, the Union and the AMCA filed charges for unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), which declined jurisdiction. (Id.) Both parties were thereafter able to negotiate a new CBA. (Id.)
B. The 2013 CBA Negotiations
The CBA negotiated in 2009 expired on September 30, 2013. (Doc. 3, Ex. 10.) As in 2009, Muns Welding alleges that Hardigree refused to bargain in good faith, instead insisting that the AMCA accept the same contract in place with all other contractors. (Compl. ¶ 15.) Purportedly because the NLRB previously declined jurisdiction over the same violation in 2009, the AMCA did not file another unfair labor charge. (Id. ¶ 16.) Instead, Muns sent a series of letters and e-mails trying to convince Hardigree to negotiate a new CBA, which are summarized as follows:
June 5, 2013: Muns sent a letter to Hardigree setting forth the terms he would like to negotiate. (Doc. 3, Ex. 9-2.)
October 7, 2013: Muns sent Hardigree a letter offering responses to items presented during a July 25, 2013 meeting and a September 16, 2013 meeting. (Id., Ex. 9-3.)
October 24, 2013: Muns sent Hardigree a letter after an October 15, 2013 meeting summarizing what issues were resolved and what issues remained outstanding. (Id., Ex. 9-4.)
November 5, 2013: Hardigree e-mailed Muns stating that the Union had negotiated in good faith and, based on the October 24, 2013 letter, the parties were at an impasse. This e-mail additionally cancelled a meeting set for November 7, 2013, purportedly because Hardigree learned that Muns Welding "fabricated and installed a project for Ameresco at SRS and this project was done non-union[.]" The e-mail went on to say that the Union believed that Muns Welding was not negotiating in good faith and that it would offer the AMCA the CBA in place with all other contractors. (Id., Ex. 9-5.)
November 7, 2013: Muns replied to Hardigree in an e-mail stating that the AMCA was attending the ...