AUTO. MECHANICS LOCAL 701 v. VANGUARD CAR RENTAL
502 F.3d 740 (2007)
AUTOMOBILE MECHANICS LOCAL 701 WELFARE AND PENSION FUNDS, Plaintiff-Appellant,
VANGUARD CAR RENTAL USA, INC. d/b/a National Car Rental & Alamo, Defendant-Appellee.
United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.
Argued May 21, 2007.
Decided September 18, 2007.
Steven F. McDowell (argued), Donald D. Schwartz, Arnold & Kadjan, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.
Eric J. Pelton (argued), Kienbaum, Opperwall, Hardy & Pelton, Birmingham, MI, for Defendant-Appellee.
Before RIPPLE, WOOD, and EVANS, Circuit Judges.
WOOD, Circuit Judge.
The Automobile Mechanics Local 701 Welfare and Pension Funds ("the Funds") administer welfare and pension benefits for the members of Local 701. As part of its collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") with the union, Vanguard Car Rental USA d/b/a National Car Rental and Alamo ("Vanguard"), through its predecessor in interest, agreed to make weekly payments to the Funds for the benefit of each regular employee covered by the CBA. Vanguard does not deny this obligation, and it has not refused to make payments during the period in which this dispute has occurred. It is the contribution rate instead that is the bone of contention here. The Funds take the position that Vanguard was required to pay the increased contribution rate authorized by the Funds' Board of Trustees and made effective on August 1, 2005; Vanguard says that it owes only the last rate authorized
in the CBA. To recoup the monies allegedly due, the Funds filed suit in federal court under § 502 of the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132, on March 29, 2006, arguing that certain agreements signed between Vanguard and the Funds gave the Board of Trustees the authority to raise the contribution rates. The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Rather than addressing those motions, however, the district court dismissed the suit sua sponte, because it concluded that the dispute had to be arbitrated.
We agree with both parties that this dismissal by the district court was improper. Enforcement of a forum selection clause (including an arbitration clause) is not jurisdictional; it is a waivable defense that Vanguard, in fact, waived. Although the district court did not address the summary judgment motions, they are properly before this court. Because the dispositive issue is one of contract interpretation, our review is de novo, and nothing prevents us from addressing this lone question, we hold that Vanguard is entitled to summary judgment. The agreements do not give the Funds the authority to raise the contribution rates until a "renewed term" has been ushered in by the signing of a new CBA.I
The facts underlying this case are not in dispute. On June 23, 2003, Vanguard's predecessor in interest entered into a CBA with Local 701. That CBA expired on April 25, 2004. It obligated Vanguard to pay money into the Local's pension and welfare funds on behalf of its employees. Article 7 of the CBA, which deals with welfare benefits, provided:
The Employer shall pay the sum of $124 per week for each regular employee covered by this Agreement who performs any work in such week into the Automobile Mechanics Union Local 701 Union & Industry Welfare Fund for the payment of health and welfare benefits as determined by the Board of Trustees. . . . The Fund shall in all respects be administered in accordance with the Trust Agreement drawn.
Referring to welfare benefits, Article 7(D) adds that "[t]he obligation to make the above contribution shall continue during periods when the collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated . . . ." Article 8, the provision for the Pension Fund, is similar: "The Employer shall be obligated to contribute the sum of $48.00 per week for each employee covered by this [A]greement to the Pension Fund of the Automobile Mechanics Union Local 701. . . . The Fund shall in all respects be administered in accordance with the Trust Agreement drawn." Both Article 7(D) and Article 8(D) obligate Vanguard to make the contribution "during periods when the collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated . . . ."