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W.G. Clark Constr. Co. v. Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters

Supreme Court of Washington, En Banc

March 20, 2014

W.G. Clark Construction Company, Respondent ,
v.
Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters et al., Appellants

Argued January 14, 2014.

Appeal from Pierce County Superior Court. 11-2-12496-2. Honorable John R. Hickman.

Daniel M. Shanley (of DeCarlo Connor & Shanley APC ); and Jeffrey G. Maxwell (of Ekman Bohrer & Thulin PS ), for appellants.

John P. Ahlers, Masaki J. Yamada, and Brett M. Hill (of Ahlers & Cressman PLLC ), for respondent.

Michael A. Urban on behalf of Employee Painters' Trust, amicus curiae.

John S. Riper and Tymon Berger on behalf of AGC of Washington, amicus curiae.

Russell J. Reid and Thomas A. Leahy on behalf of Operating Engineers Trust Funds, amicus curiae.

Frank J. Morales and Noelle E. Dwarzski on behalf of Benefit Trusts, amicus curiae.

Tymon Berger on behalf of National Utility Contractors Association of Washington and Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington, amici curiae.

AUTHOR: Justice Susan Owens. WE CONCUR: Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Justice Charles W. Johnson, Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Justice James M. Johnson, Justice Debra L. Stephens, Justice Charles K. Wiggins, Justice Steven C. Gonzá lez, Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud.

OPINION

Page 1208

[180 Wn.2d 57] ¶ 1 Owens, J.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) is a set of federal laws that regulates pension and welfare plans. To provide national uniformity in plan administration, ERISA preempts most state laws that " relate to" employee benefit plans. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). At issue in this case is whether ERISA preempts claims made under two Washington state laws designed to ensure that workers on public projects are paid for their work: chapters 39.08 and 60.28 RCW. When we previously addressed this issue in 1994 and 2000, we held that ERISA preempted such claims. Puget Sound Elec. Workers Health & Welfare Trust Fund v. Merit Co., 123 Wn.2d 565, 870 P.2d 960 (1994); Int'l Bhd. of Elec. Workers, Local Union No. 46 v. Trig Elec. Constr. Co., 142 Wn.2d 431, 13 P.3d 622 (2000).

¶ 2 Since then, however, courts across the country (including federal courts here in the Ninth Circuit) have analyzed the United States Supreme Court's developing ERISA

Page 1209

preemption jurisprudence and come to a consensus that these types of state law claims are not preempted by ERISA because they have only a tenuous connection to ERISA plans. See, e.g., S. Cal. IBEW-NECA Trust Funds v. Standard Indus. Elec. Co., 247 F.3d 920, 925-27 (9th Cir. 2001). As a result of this conflict between our rule and the [180 Wn.2d 58] rule followed by federal courts, the outcome of this type of case in Washington is entirely dependent on whether the lawsuit is filed in federal or state court. This has led to blatant forum shopping and created inconsistent and unjust results for parties in Washington, as lamented by both the superior court judge in this case and the federal district court judge in the parallel federal case. In light of the national ...


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