the defense of the statute of limitations is not applicable since the right to be enforced is within equity's exclusive jurisdiction and that laches is not applicable because the right is of a continuing contract nature.
Mere passage of time does not constitute laches. Dollar v. Land, 87 U.S.App.D.C. 214, 184 F.2d 245. The doctrine of laches is the principle that equity will not aid a plaintiff whose inexcusable delay if the suit were allowed would be prejudicial to the defendant. Russell v. Todd, 309 U.S. 280, 60 S. Ct. 527, 84 L. Ed. 754; Major et al. v. Shaver, 88 U.S.App.D.C. 148, 187 F.2d 211. Defendants in this case have not shown how the delay of plaintiff will be prejudicial to them. Defendants do not and never have contested the essential facts of plaintiff's case. They cannot claim, therefore, that the delay has deprived them of vital witnesses or evidence. Although the amount of recovery the plaintiff now seeks would constitute a large lump sum payment from the trust, there is no evidence that it would be necessary to invade the corpus of the trust to pay it. In fact, it should be assumed that in the year plaintiff made application for his pension, the trustees had adequate funds to pay plaintiff's pension plus whatever other undetermined number of pensions they might have anticipated for that year. The same is true of subsequent years. The fact that the trustees did not pay this one pension should have resulted only in a healthier trust. Defendants have not established the defense of laches.
Plaintiff, in seeking his pension, must necessarily allege that his retirement occurred in February, 1949, when he was removed from workmen's compensation and did not, or could not, resume work in the coal mining industry. This is so because of the requirements of clause 1(B), Resolution No. 10: 'Retire by permanently ceasing work in the Bituminous Coal Industry after May 28, 1946.' In outlining requirements for pension eligibility, Section 1(C) of Resolution No. 10 states: 'Been employed for a period of at least one year in the Bituminous Coal Industry immediately preceding his retirement.' The question facing the trustees was: 'Did Andrew Szuch's status for the year preceding February, 1949 meet the requirement of Section 1(C)? They ruled it did not.
'Trustees having the power to exercise discretion will not be interfered with so long as they are acting bona fides. To do so would be to substitute the discretion of the court for that of the trustees.' Shelton v. King, 229 U.S. 90, 33 S. Ct. 686, 687, 57 L. Ed. 1086.
The purpose of the Court's review, then, is to establish that the trust is administered within the terms of the trust agreement and in such a way as to protect the beneficiaries from arbitrary and capricious actions. Ruth v. Lewis, supra.
The trustees in this case have complete discretion to establish the eligibility requirements for a pension. They could and in fact have changed these requirements. Upon plaintiff's application for a pension they exercised their discretion to interpret the scope of one of these requirements. Their interpretation of the clause, 'employed in the Bituminous Coal Industry,' was such that plaintiff's status did not fall within the requirement. There is no evidence they acted in bad faith, arbitrarily or capriciously. The fact that the Court might interpret this term in a broader sense has no bearing, since it is the discretion of the trustees that controls.
The plaintiff cannot recover.
Counsel will submit appropriate judgment, findings of fact and conclusions of law.
© 1992-2004 VersusLaw Inc.