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Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Pension v. Alliance Elevator Corp.

March 18, 2009

TRUSTEES OF THE NATIONAL ELEVATOR INDUSTRY PENSION, HEALTH BENEFIT, EDUCATIONAL, ELEVATOR INDUSTRY WORK PRESERVATION FUNDS, ELEVATOR CONSTRUCTORS ANNUITY AND 401(K) RETIREMENT PLAN
v.
ALLIANCE ELEVATOR CORP.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norma L. Shapiro, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This is an action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001-1461 ("ERISA"). The matter comes before the court on plaintiffs' unopposed Motion for Entry of Judgment by Default and Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (paper no. 8). The motions will remain under advisement and the court will hold an evidentiary hearing to allow plaintiffs an opportunity to present evidence in support of their claim.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are trustees of the above-named "multi-employer employee benefit plans"*fn1 (hereinafter, the "Elevator Benefit Plans"), administered in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania. Compl. ¶ 2 (paper no. 1). Defendant, a Massachusetts corporation with offices located in New Hampshire, "transacts business in Massachusetts as a contractor or subcontractor in the elevator industry...." Compl. ¶ 3 (paper no. 1). Plaintiffs allege defendant breached its contractual obligation to contribute monthly payments to the Elevator Benefit Plans required by a collective bargaining agreement. Plaintiffs filed this action under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g) for allegedly unpaid contributions, liquidated damages, interest, attorney's fees and costs.

Plaintiffs aver that defendant was served with process and failed to appear in this action. On February 4, 2009, the Clerk of Court entered a default against defendant "for failure to appear, plead or otherwise defend." (Paper no. 7.) Plaintiffs now move for entry of judgment by default pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 55.

II. DISCUSSION

The court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1337 because plaintiffs' claim arises under ERISA, an Act of Congress regulating commerce.

A. Personal Jurisdiction and Service of Process

Defendant is a nonresident corporation with no apparent contacts with Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs served defendant with process in New Hampshire by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to defendant's president at his private residence. (Paper no. 5.) Because the sufficiency of service and existence of personal jurisdiction are essential to a valid judgment, the court considers these matters sua sponte. See Gold Kist, Inc. v. Laurinburg Oil Co., Inc., 756 F.2d 14, 19 (3d Cir. 1985) ("A default judgment entered when there has been no proper service of the complaint is, a fortiori, void, and should be set aside.").

To enter a valid judgment, constitutional due process requires that a federal court first obtain personal jurisdiction over a defendant. See Ayres v. Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A., 99 F.3d 565, 569 (3d Cir. 1996) ("It is fundamental that before a court may impose upon a defendant a personal liability or obligation in favor of the plaintiff or may extinguish a personal right of the defendant it must have first obtained jurisdiction over the person of the defendant.").*fn2 Absent defendant's consent, a court may obtain personal jurisdiction by effective service of a properly issued summons where: (1) a federal rule or statute renders the defendant amenable to service of process; and (2) the requirements of constitutional due process are satisfied by a sufficient relationship between the defendant and judicial forum. See Omni Capital Int'l, Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., 484 U.S. 97, 104 (1987); Mississippi Publishing Corp. v. Murphree, 326 U.S. 438, 444-445 (1946).

1. Statutory Authorization of Service

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(k)(1) provides that personal jurisdiction is established when service of summons is authorized by a federal statute.*fn3 ERISA authorizes nationwide service of process without regard to a defendant's contacts with the state in which the district court is located:

Where an action under this title is brought in a district court of the United States, it may be brought in the district where the plan is administered, where the breach took place, or where a defendant resides or may be found, and process may be served in any other district where a defendant resides or may be found.

29 U.S.C. ยง 1132(e)(2) (emphasis added). This provision renders a defendant amenable to service of process in any judicial district in the United States and provides a nationwide forum for actions brought under ERISA. Service of process under ERISA must comply with the manner of service prescribed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4, authorizing service on a corporation "by delivering a copy of the summons and of the ...


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