Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
Notice of exemption.
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation has granted a request from the Baseball Expos, L.P. for an exemption from the bond/escrow requirement of section 4204(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, with respect to the Major League Baseball Players Pension Plan. A notice of the request for exemption from the requirement was published on July 9, 2003 (68 FR 41024). The effect of this notice is to advise the public of the decision on the exemption request.
The non-confidential portions of the request for an exemption and the PBGC response to the request may be obtained by writing PBGC's Communications and Public Affairs Department (“CPAD”) at Suite 240, 1200 K Street, NW., Washington, DC 20005-4026, or by visiting or calling CPAD (202-326-4040) during normal business hours.Start Further Info
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Jason E. Wolf, Office of the General Counsel, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, 1200 K Street, NW., Washington, DC 20005-4026; telephone 202-326-4020. (For TTY/TDD users, call the Federal Relay Service toll-free at 1-800-877-8339 and ask to be connected to 202-326-4020).End Further Info End Preamble Start Supplemental Information
Section 4204 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended by the Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980 (“ERISA” or “the Act”), provides that a bona fide arm's-length sale of assets of a contributing employer to an unrelated party will not be considered a withdrawal if three conditions are met. These conditions, enumerated in section 4204(a)(1)(A)-(C), are that:
(A) The purchaser has an obligation to contribute to the plan with respect to the operations for substantially the same number of contribution base units for which the seller was obligated to contribute;
(B) The purchaser obtains a bond or places an amount in escrow, for a period of five plan years after the sale, in an Start Printed Page 61024amount equal to the greater of the seller's average required annual contribution to the plan for the three plan years preceding the year in which the sale occurred or the seller's required annual contribution for the plan year preceding the year in which the sale occurred (the amount of the bond or escrow is doubled if the plan is in reorganization in the year in which the sale occurred); and
(C) The contract of sale provides that if the purchaser withdraws from the plan within the first five plan years beginning after the sale and fails to pay any of its liability to the plan, the seller shall be secondarily liable for the liability it (the seller) would have had but for section 4204.
The bond or escrow described above would be paid to the plan if the purchaser withdraws from the plan or fails to make any required contributions to the plan within the first five plan years beginning after the sale. Additionally, section 4204(b)(1) provides that if a sale of assets is covered by section 4204, the purchaser assumes by operation of law the contribution record of the seller for the plan year in which the sale occurred and the preceding four plan years.
Section 4204(c) authorizes the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (“PBGC”) to grant individual or class variances or exemptions from the purchaser's bond/escrow requirement of section 4204(a)(1)(B) when warranted. The legislative history of section 4204 indicates a Congressional intent that the sales rules be administered in a manner that assures protection of the plan with the least practicable intrusion into normal business transactions. Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources, 96th Cong., 2nd Sess., S. 1076, The Multiemployer Pension Plan Amendments Act of 1980: Summary and Analysis of Considerations 16 (Comm. Print, April 1980); 128 Cong. Rec. S10117 (July 29, 1980). The granting of an exemption or variance from the bond/escrow requirement does not constitute a finding by the PBGC that a particular transaction satisfies the other requirements of section 4204(a)(1).
Under the PBGC's regulation on variances for sales of assets (29 CFR 4204), a request for a variance or waiver of the bond/escrow requirement under any of the tests established in the regulation (sections 4204.12 and 4204.13) is to be made to the plan in question. The PBGC will consider waiver requests only when the request is not based on satisfaction of one of the three regulatory tests or when the parties assert that the financial information necessary to show satisfaction of one of the regulatory tests is privileged or confidential financial information within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(4) of the Freedom of Information Act.
Under section 4204.22, the PBGC shall approve a request for a variance or exemption if it determines that approval of the request is warranted, in that it—
(1) Would more effectively or equitably carry out the purposes of Title IV of the Act; and
(2) Would not significantly increase the risk of financial loss to the plan.
Section 4204(c) of ERISA and section 4204.22(b) of the regulation require the PBGC to publish a notice of the pendency of a request for a variance or exemption in the Federal Register, and to provide interested parties with an opportunity to comment on the proposed variance or exemption. The PBGC received no comments on the request for exemption.
On July 9, 2003, the PBGC published a notice of the pendency of a request by the Baseball Expos, L.P. (the “Buyer”) for an exemption from the bond/escrow requirement of section 4204(a)(1)(B) with respect to its purchase of the Montreal Expos Baseball Team from the Florida Marlins, L.P. (formerly known as Montreal Expos, L.P.) (the “Seller”) (68 FR 41024). According to the request, the Major League Baseball Players Pension Plan (the “Plan”) was established and is maintained pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement between the professional major league baseball teams (the “Clubs”) and the Major League Baseball Players Association (the “Players Association”).
According to the Buyer's representations, the Seller was obligated to contribute to the Plan for certain employees of the sold operations. Effective February 15, 2002, the Buyer and seller entered into an agreement under which the Buyer agreed to purchase substantially all of the assets and assume substantially all of the liabilities of the Seller relating to the business of employing employees under the Plan. The Buyer agreed to contribute to the Plan for substantially the same number of contribution base units as the Seller. The Seller agreed to be secondarily liable for any withdrawal liability it would have had with respect to the sold operations (if not for section 4204) should the Buyer withdraw from the Plan within the five plan years following the sale and fail to pay its withdrawal liability. The amount of the bond/escrow required under section 4204(a)(1)(B) of ERISA is $1,254,904. The estimated amount of the unfunded vested benefits allocable to the Seller with respect to the operations subject to the sale could be as high as $11,200,000. The transaction had to be approved by Major League Baseball, which required that the debt-equity ratio of the Buyer be no more than 60 percent. While the separate major league clubs are the nominal contributing employers to the Plan, the Major League Central Fund, under the Officer of the Commissioner, receives the revenues and makes the payments for certain common expenses including each club's contribution to the Plan. In support of the waiver request, the requester asserts that: “The Plan is funded directly from Revenues which are paid from the Central Fund directly to the Plan without passing through the hands of any of the clubs. Therefore, the Plan enjoys a substantial degree of security with respect to contributions on behalf of the clubs. A change in ownership of a club does not affect the obligation of the Central Fund to fund the Plan out of the Revenue. As such, approval of this exemption request would not significantly increase the risk of financial loss to the Plan.”
Based on the facts of this case and the representations and statements made in connection with the request for an exemption, the PBGC has determined that an exemption from the bond/escrow requirement is warranted, in that it would more effectively carry out the purposes of Title IV of ERISA and would not significantly increase the risk of financial loss to the Plan. Therefore, the PBGC hereby grants the request for an exemption for the bond/escrow requirement. The granting of an exemption or variance from the bond/escrow requirement of section 4204(a)(1)(B) does not constitute a finding by the PBGC that the transaction satisfies the other requirements of section 4204(a)(1). The determination of whether the transaction satisfies such other requirements is a determination to be made by the Plan sponsor.Start Signature
Issued at Washington, DC, on this 20th day of October 2003.
Steven A. Kandarian,
Executive Director, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
[FR Doc. 03-26911 Filed 10-23-03; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 7708-01-P