Laborers Health and Welfare Trust Fund of Northern Cal. v. Advanced Lightweight Concrete Co.

484 U. S. 539

February 23, 1988

A concrete company was in a collective bargaining agreement that required it to make regular contributions to employee benefit plans. When this collective bargaining agreement expired in 1983, the concrete company decided not to renew it, and ceased paying benefits. Arguably, under the NLRA, the company had a duty to continue making payments anyway, and the question before the Court was whether ERISA created a remedy for a company’s failure to make payments after contract expiration.

Unanimously, the Court ruled that ERISA provided no such remedy (Kennedy did not participate). As Stevens explained, the ERISA language was quite plain: only a contractual duty under a collective bargaining agreement entitled a complainant to remedies. Alleged breaches of the NLRA did not, and as Stevens showed, Congress was aware of the difference. Because the language was so clear, Stevens thought little of arguments that allowing such a gap in remedies was bad public policy. This was a good textualist ruling. I heartily endorse the venerable principle of Pacta Sunt Servanda, but when there is no longer any ‘Pacta’ to serve, you better have a really clear basis for legal redress.

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