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Puget Sound Electrical Workers Health and Welfare Trust v. Lighthouse Electrical Group

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 3, 2014



RICHARD A. JONES, District Judge.


This matter comes before the court on a motion to dismiss by defendant Travelers Casualty and Surety Company of America ("Travelers") and Jody Miller Construction, Inc. ("JMC") (collectively, "defendants"). Dkt. #47. Plaintiffs Puget Sound Electrical Workers Healthcare Trust, Puget Sound Electrical Workers Pension Trust, Puget Sound Electrical Joint Apprenticeship & Training Trust, and National Electrical Benefit Fund (the "Trust Funds" or "plaintiffs") oppose, largely arguing that the issues raised by defendants are not appropriate for a motion to dismiss, but rather, require an analysis on the merits for summary judgment. Dkt. #50. Plaintiffs are largely mistaken. It is well established that the court generally may not consider material beyond the pleadings in ruling on a motion to dismiss. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001). However, where documents are referenced extensively in the complaint, form the basis of plaintiffs' claim, or are subject to judicial notice, the court may consider those documents in the context of a motion to dismiss. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908-09 (9th Cir. 2003). The court may take judicial notice of facts that are not reasonably subject to dispute because it is generally known within the trial court's territorial jurisdiction or can be accurately and readily determined from sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned. Fed.R.Evid. 201(b). Documents that are filed with the courts and are a matter of public record are exactly such facts that are subject to judicial notice. The court notes that the truth of factual matters asserted therein, however, are not properly subject to judicial notice. The court has addressed individual documents and facts below, where appropriate.


The claims against JMC and Travelers arise out of a construction project at Seattle Central Community College ("SCCC Project"). Dkt. #19 (Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 3.52-3.58. JMC was the general contractor, and Lighthouse Electrical Group Limited Partnership ("Lighthouse") was the subcontractor from April 2010 through January 2012. Id. ¶ 3.52. Travelers, as surety, issued a Payment and Performance Bond to JMC to cover the SCCC Project. Id. ¶ 3.54. Lighthouse was a party to labor and trust agreements that required payment of contractual contributions to the Trust Funds. Id. ¶¶ 3.2-3.40. However, Lighthouse failed to pay the contributions as required by contract, entitling the Trust Fund to the unpaid fringe benefit contributions, liquidated damages, and accrued prejudgment interest. Id. ¶¶ 3.41-3.42

In January 2012, plaintiffs filed a Notice of Claim of Lien against the State of Washington as project owner, Travelers as surety, and JMC as general contractor. Id. ¶ 3.55. Plaintiffs filed this action in February 2012 against Lighthouse and Lighthouse Electrical, Inc. alleging claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and the Labor Management Relations Act ("LMRA"). Dkt. #1. On May 5, 2012, plaintiffs filed a separate action in this court against JMC and Travelers seeking to foreclose lien claims under RCW 39.08 and 60.28. Puget Sound Elec. Workers Health & Welfare Trust v. Travelers Cas. & Sur. Co. of Am., Case No. C12-789RAJ, Dkt. #1. Plaintiffs alleged that the court had supplemental jurisdiction over that action based on this separate case. Id. ¶ 2.1. On January 9, 2013, this court disagreed, held that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and dismissed that action. Case No. 12-789RAJ, Dkt. #25. On January 11, 2013, Travelers filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the Trust Funds in King County Superior Court ("KCSC Case").[1] Dkt. #28 at 56-62 (Ex. 16 to Maxwell Decl.). In that case, Travelers sought a declaration that any rights of the Trust Funds to pursue claims against Travelers' RCW 39.08 and RCW 60.28 payment and retainage bonds are preempted by ERISA. Id. at 62. On January 14, 2013, in this case, the Trust Funds moved the court to amend the complaint to add its state law claims against JMC and Travelers, and the court granted the motion on March 22, 2013. Dkt. ##15, 18. The Trust Funds filed the amended complaint on April 3, 2013 (Dkt. #19), served JMC with the summons and complaint on April 4 (Dkt. #24), and served Travelers with the summons and complaint on April 5 (Dkt. #23). In this action, plaintiffs seek to foreclose upon certain bond and retainage funds under RCW 39.08 and RCW 60.28.[2] Dkt. #19 (Am. Compl.) ¶¶ 4.8-4.14

On May 7, 2013, the Honorable Mary I. Yu granted Travelers' motion for judgment on the pleadings in the KCSC Case, concluding that the lien claims of the Trust Funds under RCW 39.04 and 60.28 against Travelers and its payment and performance bonds are barred by 29 U.S.C. § 1144 and the Washington Supreme Court. Dkt. #33-1 at 2-3 (Ex. A to Blischke Decl.). On June 10, 2013, Judge Yu denied the Trust Funds' motion for reconsideration. Dkt. #41, Ex. A.

This court previously denied plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, finding that plaintiffs failed to demonstrate the absence of any element in defendants' defenses of res judicata and compulsory counterclaim. Dkt. #45.


A. Legal Standard

When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), "the court is to take all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and to draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff." Wyler Summit P'ship v. Turner Broadcasting Sys., Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 663 (9th Cir. 1998). However, the complaint must indicate more than mere speculation of a right to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "[F]or a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory factual content, ' and reasonable inferences from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief." Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Dismissal can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

B. Res Judicata

"Whether a prior state court judgment precludes relitigation of an identical claim in federal court depends on the preclusion rules of the state." Gupta v. Thai Airways Intern., Ltd., 487 F.3d 759, 765 (9th Cir. 2007). "This principle results from the statutory command in 28 U.S.C. § 1738 that judicial proceedings... shall have the same full faith and credit in every court within the United States and its Territories and Possessions as they have by law or usage in the courts of such State from which they are taken.'" Id. "This statute has long been understood to encompass the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, and collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion.'" Id.

Under Washington law, a prior judgment will bar litigation of a subsequent claim if the prior judgment has a concurrence of identity with the subsequent action in (1) subject matter, (2) cause of action, (3) persons and parties, and (4) the quality of the persons for or against whom the claim is made. Gold Star Resorts, Inc. v. Futurewise, 167 Wash.2d 723, 737, 222 P.3d 791 (Wash. 2009). With respect to subject matter, courts generally focus on the asserted theory of recovery rather than ...

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