is immaterial. They are legal rights. The employee who meets the test of eligibility has earned his pension as part of the compensation for his work over the required period and is not receiving a donation at the whim or choice of the trustees. The employee may be regarded as a third party beneficiary to a contract. The rights of third party beneficiaries to recover on a contract made for their benefit has been recognized in the District of Columbia, Marranzano v. Riggs Nat. Bank of Washington, D.C., 87 U.S.App.D.C. 195, 197, 184 F.2d 349.
The Court concludes, therefore, that recourse to judicial action may be had to enforce rights under this fund and in such an action the Court will review the legal rights of the plaintiff and determine whether any erroneous decision has been reached by the trustees on questions of law. It will also review, to a limited extent, decisions of the trustees on questions of fact; certainly whether there is any substantial evidence sustaining the decision on questions of fact. The Court would not go as far as to review the question whether their decision is contrary to the weight of evidence, but it will determine whether there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole sustaining their finding. Finally, and it is not denied that this may be done, the Court will review the question whether the action of the trustees is in any way arbitrary or capricious.
The views here expressed are supported by a very able opinion of judge Pine in Hobbs v. Lewis, D.C., 159 F.Supp. 282, 286. Counsel for the defendant relies on a somewhat narrower expression found in an opinion of Judge Youngdahl in Ruth v. Lewis, D.C., 166 F.Supp. 346, 349. With due deference to the learned Judge who wrote the opinion in Ruth v. Lewis, the Court is unable to accept the narrow view of scope of judicial review but, as indicated, takes a broader view, as does also Judge Pine.
The trustees, as has been stated previously, some time after granting a pension, instituted an investigation to determine whether any error had been made by them. They reached the conclusion, as has been stated, that the alleged employment of the plaintiff from September 1948 to March 1949 was colorable and not bona fide. If that alleged employment is taken out of consideration, the plaintiff is not eligible to a pension since he then would not be a person who retired from the bituminous coal industry on or after May 29, 1946.
The facts are not in dispute. They were obtained as a result of the investigation and are not questioned at this time. In 1931, during the period of the depression, plaintiff found himself unable to continue in the coal industry and purchased a farm from which he made his living until 1948. In 1948, he together with two other persons acquired a small coal mine, which they operated for seven months, until March 1949, on a cooperative basis. There were no other employees but the three entrepreneurs. They worked their own coal mine and produced such coal as three persons might be able to do. They were paid no wages but at the end of each week, after paying expenses, they divided the balance of cash among the three of them. According to the testimony the weekly payment to each of the three amounted to between twenty and thirty dollars.
The Court is of the opinion that the finding of the trustees that this did not constitute bona fide employment within the terms of the trust agreement is supported by substantial evidence. It is not for the Court to determine the matter de novo, but even if the Court had the duty of deciding the matter de novo it would hardly be inclined to reach a decision different from that at which the trustees arrived.
The final question to be determined is whether the action of the trustees was arbitrary or capricious. One of the points that perturbs the Court in this matter is the fact that before the pension was terminated, upon the basis of the investigation, no opportunity was given to the plaintiff to answer the charges or to submit evidence, either orally or in writing. To be sure, the formality of a court trial is not required. A formal hearing is not requisite. Naturally, it need hardly be said that constitutional provisions governing due process of law have no application to a private trust, but it is one of the basic rudiments of Anglo-American jurisprudence that a person should receive notice and an opportunity to be heard or submit evidence when his rights are at stake. The Court would reach the conclusion that the procedure here followed was arbitrary and it does feel that in future cases it should be modified as suggested. In this instance, however, this very vital defect has been cured because the evidence conclusively shows that subsequently to the action taken by the trustees, on application of the plaintiff, the latter was given an opportunity to submit evidence. This evidence was submitted by him, the trustees reviewed and considered it, and after such consideration determined to adhere to their original decision. Consequently, it cannot be said that the plaintiff was prejudiced by the faulty procedure here followed.
There is one question that has also perturbed the Court in respect to judicial review and that is whether a case such as this must be determined on the administrative file of the trustees or whether evidence dehors the record is admissible. This question need not be decided, however, since both sides offered evidence, without objection, and since the Court would have reached the same conclusion whether it were limited to the administrative record or extended to a consideration of the additional evidence.
Accordingly, the Court will render judgment dismissing the complaint on the merits.
A transcript of the Court's oral decision will constitute the findings of fact and conclusions of law.
Counsel may submit a proposed judgment.
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