United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L. GRAHAM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' motion to
reopen the case for the purpose of enforcing a 2008 Consent
Decree. The Consent Decree governed how the defendant, the
Labor Commissioner for the State of California's
Department of Industrial Relations, would handle certain
benefits claims filed by employees of Nationwide Mutual
Insurance Company. Plaintiffs, which include Nationwide and
its Benefits Administrative Committee, allege that the Labor
Commissioner has recently taken or threatened to take action
in violation of the Consent Decree.
motion to reopen puts at issue the Court's authority to
hear the current dispute. In plaintiffs' view, the Court
has continued and inherent jurisdiction over the enforcement
of its own order, one which contained provisions having
prospective injunctive effect. The Labor Commissioner argues
that the Consent Decree itself contained a one-year
limitation on the Court's jurisdiction and that any
dispute arising afterward must be treated as a new, breach of
reasons that follow, plaintiffs' motion is granted.
The 2008 Lawsuit and Consent Decree
originally filed this suit in 2008, alleging that Nationwide
sponsored an employee welfare benefit plan known as the
“Your Time Plan.” The Benefits Administrative
Committee administered the Your Time Plan on behalf of
Nationwide employees. The complaint asserted that the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C.
§§ 1001, et seq., exclusively governed the Plan and
preempted the application of state law. The complaint further
asserted that the State of California's wage laws with
respect to vacation benefits were inconsistent with the
vacation wage benefits provided under the Your Time Plan. The
Labor Commissioner, who was Angela Bradstreet at the time the
complaint was filed, had allegedly adopted a position that
she would enforce California law in determining claims made
by Nationwide employees for accrued vacation pay. The
complaint sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief
prohibiting the Labor Commissioner from processing or hearing
claims filed against Nationwide under state wage laws.
parties reached a standstill agreement regarding
plaintiffs' request for preliminary relief. On September
26, 2008, the Court granted the parties' motion to
approve a Consent Decree. Under the Decree, the Labor
Commissioner (referred to as the “Agency” in the
Decree) stipulated as follows: “[T]he Agency agrees
that at the present time, and for all periods since October
24, 2005, the Your Time Plan is and was an ERISA welfare
benefit plan and California's vacation benefit laws are
preempted as they relate to the Your Time Plan.”
Consent Decree § I.
Decree established “an agreed protocol for the handling
of claims filed with the Agency regarding the Your Time
Plan.” Id. The protocol was set forth in
Section IX of the Decree, under the heading of
“Injunctive Relief.” The stated purpose of
Section IX was to “establish a protocol for the
processing of California Your Time Claims by the Agency and
to provide the Agency with a mechanism for assessing whether
the Your Time Plan continues to be maintained and funded in
the same manner as it is currently maintained and
funded.” Id. at § IX.A. The protocol
provided that the Agency would dismiss a claim for payment of
benefits that fell under the Your Time Plan. See id.
at § IX.A.1. It also directed the Agency to notify
Nationwide of claims that the Agency did not dismiss on its
own initiative and give Nationwide an opportunity to respond.
See id. at § IX.A.2.
protocol provided the Agency with an opportunity to notify
Nationwide when it believed it was “no longer
appropriate to follow the protocol.” Id. at
§ IX.A.4. The Agency could base such a determination
“on account of changes in applicable law or existence
of new facts.” Id. The Decree did not define
the terminology “changes in applicable law” or
“existence of new facts.” After making its
determination, the Agency was required to notify Nationwide
“at least 60 days before the proposed termination date
of this protocol.” Id. The parties were then
required to “meet and negotiate in an attempt to
establish a new protocol.” Id. The Decree
provided that “if no agreement is reached by the
proposed termination date, this Decree and protocol shall be
terminated (unless extended by agreement of the
Consent Decree contains two other sections which are relevant
to the Court's analysis of the motion to reopen. In
Section VIII, entitled “Compliance and Dispute
Resolution, ” the Decree provided: “If Nationwide
believes that the Agency has failed to comply with any
provision of this Consent Decree, it may petition this Court
to enforce the Decree.” Id. at § VIII.A.
Nationwide first had to provide written notice to the Agency
of the nature of the dispute and allow the Agency 60 days to
address the issue. Id. The Decree provided as
follows if the parties could not resolve their dispute:
After 60 days have passed with no resolution or agreement to
extend the time further, Nationwide may petition this Court
for compliance with this Decree, seeking all available
relief, including, but not limited to, an extension of the
term of the Decree for such period of time as the Court deems
necessary and appropriate to remedy the breach of the Decree.
Id. at § VIII.C.
IV of the Decree was entitled “Effective Date and
Duration of Decree.” It provided that the Decree was
effective immediately. Id. at § IV.A. It
The Court shall retain jurisdiction over this Decree for a
period of one (1) year after the Effective Date; however, the
protocol set forth in section IX.A shall continue unless and
until terminated in accordance with the provisions set forth
Id. at § IV.B.
Court entered the Consent Decree on its docket on September
26, 2008. On the same day, the Clerk of Court
administratively closed the case.
The Current Dispute and the ...