Cent. States Se & Sw Areas Pension Fund v. Messina, No. 11-3513 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
When an employer participating in a multi-employer pension plan withdraws from the plan with unpaid liabilities, federal law can pierce corporate veils and impose liability on owners and related businesses. The Fund is a multi-employer pension plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act/Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act, 29 U.S.C. 1381-1461. Messina Trucking was subject to a collective bargaining agreement that required it to contribute to the Fund for retirement benefits. Messina Trucking permanently ceased to have an obligation to contribute to the Fund, triggering a “complete withdrawal” and incurring nearly $3.1 million in potential withdrawal liability. The Fund sought a declaratory judgment that defendants were jointly and severally liable for the withdrawal liability as “trades or businesses” under “common control” with Messina Trucking. The district court held that Mr. and Mrs. Messina, who owned and leased several residential properties as well as the property from which Messina Trucking operated, were not engaged in a “trade or business” and could not be held liable for the withdrawal liability, but that Messina Products, as a formal business organization could be held liable for Messina. The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of the Fund, holding that both can be held liable.