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PBGC V. R. A. GRAY & CO., 467 U. S. 717 (1984)

U.S. Supreme Court

PBGC v. R. A. Gray & Co., 467 U.S. 717 (1984)

PBGC v. R. A. Gray & Co.

No. 83-245

Argued April 16, 1984

Decided June 18, 1984*

467 U.S. 717


The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), enacted in 1974, created a pension plan termination insurance program whereby the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), a wholly owned Government corporation, collects insurance premiums from covered private retirement pension plans and provides benefits to participants if their plan terminates with insufficient assets to support its guaranteed benefits. For multiemployer pension plans, the PBGC's payment of guaranteed benefits was not to become mandatory until January 1, 1978. During the intervening period, the PBGC had discretionary authority to pay benefits upon the termination of such plans. If the PBGC exercised its discretion to pay such benefits, employers who had contributed to the plan during the five years preceding its termination were liable to PBGC in amounts proportional to their share of the plan's contributions during that period. As the mandatory coverage date approached, Congress became concerned that a significant number of multiemployer pension plans were experiencing extreme financial hardship that would result in termination of numerous plans, forcing the PBGC to assume obligations in excess of its capacity. Ultimately, after deferring the mandatory coverage until August 1, 1980, and extensively debating the issue of withdrawal liability in 1979 and 1980, Congress enacted the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (MPPAA), requiring an employer withdrawing from a multiemployer pension plan to pay a fixed and certain debt to the plan amounting to the employer's proportionate share of the plan's "unfunded vested benefits." These withdrawal liability provisions were made to take effect approximately five months before the statute was enacted into law. When appellee building and construction firm, within this 5-month period, withdrew from a multiemployer pension plan that it had been contributing to under collective bargaining agreements with a labor union, the pension plan notified appellee that it had incurred a withdrawal liability and demanded

Page 467 U. S. 718

payment. Appellee then filed suit in Federal District Court, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the pension plan and the PBGC and claiming, inter alia, that the retroactive application of the MPPAA violated the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The District Court rejected this claim and granted summary judgment in favor of the pension plan and the PBGC. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that retroactive application of withdrawal liability violated the Due Process Clause because employers had reasonably relied on the contingent withdrawal liability provisions included in ERISA prior to passage of the MPPAA, and because the equities generally favored appellee over the pension plan.

Held: Application of the withdrawal liability provisions of the MPPAA during the 5-month period prior to the statute's enactment does not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 467 U. S. 728-734.

(a) The burden of showing that retroactive legislation complies with due process is met by showing that retroactive application of the legislation is justified by a rational legislative purpose. Here, it was rational for Congress to conclude that the MPPAA's purposes could be more fully effectuated if its withdrawal liability provisions were applied retroactively. One of the primary problems that Congress identified under ERISA was that the statute encouraged employer withdrawals from multiemployer pension plans, and Congress was properly concerned that employers would have an even greater incentive to withdraw if they knew that legislation to impose more burdensome liability on withdrawing employers was being considered. Congress therefore utilized retroactive application of the statute to prevent employers from taking advantage of the lengthy legislative process and withdrawing while Congress debated necessary revisions in the statute. Pp. 467 U. S. 728-731.

(b) It is doubtful that retroactive application of the MPPAA would be invalid under the Due Process Clause even if it was suddenly enacted without any period of deliberate consideration. But even assuming that advance notice of retroactive legislation is constitutionally compelled, employers had ample notice of the withdrawal liability imposed by the MPPAA. Not only did ERISA impose contingent liability, but the various legislative proposals debated by Congress before the MPPAA was enacted uniformly included retroactive effective dates. Pp. 467 U. S. 731-732.

(c) The principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment's Due Process Clause have never been held coextensive with prohibitions existing against state impairments of preexisting contracts. Rather, the limitations imposed on States by the Contract Clause have been contrasted with the less searching standards imposed on economic legislation by the Due Process Clauses. Pp. 467 U. S. 732-733.

Page 467 U. S. 719

(d) Unlike the statute invalidated in Railroad Retirement Board v. Alton R. Co., 295 U. S. 330, which required employers to finance pensions for former employees who had already been fully compensated while employed, the MPPAA merely requires a withdrawing employer to compensate a pension plan for benefits that have already vested with the employees at the time of the employer's withdrawal. Pp. 467 U. S. 733-734.

705 F.2d 1502, reversed and remanded.

BRENNAN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court.

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