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Sixth Circuit Reverses Employer Win on Benefit Funds’ Claim for Unpaid Benefit Contributions

In Trustees of Sheet Metal Workers Loc. 7 Zone 1 Pension Fund v. Pro Servs., Inc., No. 22-1566, 2023 WL 3029735 (6th Cir. Apr. 21, 2023), a suit brought by the trustees of three multi-employer benefit funds (“the Funds”) against Pro Services, Inc. to recover unpaid benefit contributions allegedly owed by Pro Services, the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to Pro Services. The court concluded that a category of Pro Services’ employees, known as Full-Service Maintenance Technicians (“FMTs”), performed work covered by the operative CBA and Pro Services owes payment to the Funds for the hours their FMTs worked. On remand, the district court is to consider whether the FMTs were performing work covered by the CBA’s Trade Jurisdiction provision, and if so, how much work.

The Sixth Circuit determined that the district court erred by concluding that the CBA covered workers in the construction industry based only on the title of the parties’ CBA which identifies the “Sheet Metal, Roofing, Ventilating and Air Conditioning Contracting Divisions of the Construction Industry.” Based on this title, the court held that the class of workers for whom fringe benefit contributions must be made is limited to employees performing covered work in the construction industry, and no other industries. The court explained that headings and titles do not replace or limit the plain meaning of the text. A court should consider the title or heading only to resolve an ambiguity of a substantive provision.

The CBA covers employees engaged in these work activities: “(a) manufacture, fabrication, assembling, handling, erection, installation, dismantling, conditioning, adjustment, alteration, repairing and servicing of all ferrous or nonferrous metal work … and (g) all other work in the jurisdictional claims of International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers.” The court found that the CBA’s Trade Jurisdiction provision is unambiguous—the CBA covers all employees of Pro Services engaged in certain sheet metal work, regardless of industry.


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*Please note that this blog is a summary of a reported legal decision and does not constitute legal advice. This blog has not been updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The case above was handled by other law firms, but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Roberts Disability Law, P.C. may be able to advise you so please contact us.

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