The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCGARRAGHY
McGARRAGHY, Senior District Judge.
The litigation was initiated by suits filed in this court in which it was contended that the plaintiffs are entitled to enrollment as beneficiaries of the United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950 for pensions which the Trustees of the Fund had denied.
The basis of the Trustees' denial of the plaintiffs' applications was that they were not eligible for the benefits because of a specific eligibility requirement promulgated by the Trustees that the applicant must have permanently retired from the industry following regular employment as an employee of an operator signatory to the Agreement.
The Trustees interpreted this Resolution as requiring an applicant's last employment in the industry to have been with a signatory employer and that the word "following" meant that retirement must come "immediately after" such employment.
Upon cross-motions for summary judgment upon the record then made, the only issue raised was with respect to the correctness of the Trustees' interpretation of the eligibility requirement. This court granted the Trustees' motion for summary judgment, holding that their interpretation was correct and was not arbitrary or capricious.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals held that the Trustees' interpretation "is a patently reasonable one and that it falls short of arbitrary or capricious conduct."
However, the Court of Appeals next dealt with the appellants' arguments first raised in that Court that, if the Trustees' interpretation is lawful, the requirement itself is not. With respect to this contention, the Court of Appeals held that on the record, the appellants had made out a prima facie case as to the requirement's unreasonableness and the burden must be cast upon the Trustees to come forward with evidence establishing the reasonableness of their requirement based on the purposes of the Fund. Accordingly, the case was remanded to this court for a hearing at which the Trustees might show what, if any, reasonable relationship exists between the purposes of the Fund and the requirement that an employee's last regular employment be with a signatory operator.
Upon remand to this court, counsel for the parties entered into a supplemental stipulation and also took depositions of two witnesses which were filed in the case. Counsel have stipulated that these documents cover all of the available evidence on the issue of reasonableness, and that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact. The issues have been fully argued by counsel and submitted for determination by the court as on cross-motions for summary judgment.
It is not necessary to review the details of the establishment of the Fund which are related in the opinion of the Court of Appeals.
The hearing on remand was directed to the suggestion by the Court of Appeals that the record be enlarged with sufficient detail to permit the court to measure the Trustees' action against existing standards of arbitrary and capricious conduct. Counsel have advised this court that the record now made is deemed to constitute all the available material within the scope of the court's suggestion.
With respect to the suggestion that the circumstances of the plaintiffs be reviewed as to why they left their employment with contributing employers, as well as pertinent evidence as to economic factors, such as wage differentials, etc., it has been stipulated that the plaintiffs' failure to qualify by being employees of a signatory employer for one year immediately preceding their retirement was due to the fact that they were unable to find employment in the coal industry or find employment for an operator signatory to the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1950, as amended, in the area of their homes or contiguous thereto in eastern Kentucky. The last regular employment of each plaintiff for a signatory operator was terminated either because the mine was closed or the work force in the mine was reduced. In no case was the separation voluntary.
In the light of this stipulation, it is clear that the failure of these plaintiffs to qualify for pension benefits is due to no fault of theirs and, if that should be the determining factor with respect to the validity of the requirement, having in mind that the plaintiffs had served for many years in the industry as employees of ...