years since plaintiffs filed their complaint in this action.
Trustees contend that the doctrine of laches bars any relief, retroactive or prospective, for the class of plaintiffs in this action. Once again, the Trustees have waited until only recently to assert the defense of laches. Their Motion for Leave to Amend their Answer to the Complaint was filed on March 3, 1972. Unabashed by the many stays and extensions of time sought in this case by counsel for Trustees since plaintiffs filed their complaint in July, 1969, the Trustees now assert the defense of laches, and they state that the failure to include that defense earlier was simply the result of an oversight by counsel.
In order to establish the defense of laches, the evidence must show both that the delay was unreasonable and that it prejudiced the defendant. Van Bourg v. Nitze, 128 U.S. App. D.C. 301, 388 F.2d 557 (1967); Kosty v. Lewis, 115 U.S. App. D.C. 343, 319 F.2d 744, cert. den. 375 U.S. 964, 11 L. Ed. 2d 414, 84 S. Ct. 482 (1963). The prejudice normally contemplated in applying laches stems from such factors as loss of evidence and unavailability of witnesses which diminish a defendant's chances of success. Powell v. Zuckert, 125 U.S. App. D.C. 55, 366 F.2d 634, 638 (1966). Defendant Trustees have made no allegations of prejudice to them on that basis.
Of course, as the Court in Powell v. Zuckert, supra, indicated, "laches serves other purposes collaterally, if not directly, including minimization of the disruption and expense caused by affording certain relief." 366 F.2d at 638. Trustees contend that had plaintiffs instituted this action earlier, the Trustees could have planned for the possible serious financial impact upon the Fund, assuming the success of plaintiffs' suit. Thus, for example, "Trustees may have elected not to increase benefits and pensions to those miners presently enrolled, thereby conserving the assets of the Fund so more miners could be paid pensions."
Trustees have clearly been on notice that the signatory last employment requirement as applied by them might be arbitrary and capricious since the date of the first Roark decision, Roark v. Lewis, supra, note 2, August 21, 1968. Plaintiffs in this action filed their suit in District Court July 15, 1969. The Court in Roark v. Boyle, supra, invalidated the signatory last employment requirement under resolutions then in effect on August 14, 1970. The Court again, in DePaoli, supra, on June 25, 1971, and in Belcher, supra, on January 28, 1972, invalidated the signatory last employment requirement as applied to the miners in those cases, whose position, as stated above, is indistinguishable from that of plaintiffs in this class action.
Trustees, nevertheless, waited until March 20, 1972, to assert that they have been prejudiced in not having earlier notice to prepare for the impact upon the Fund of a judgment for plaintiffs in this action and that their failure to assert the defense of laches earlier is owing to a mere oversight of counsel.
The Court finds that the defense of laches cannot now bar plaintiffs' claims for benefits from the Fund.
The Court will enter at this time an order enjoining Trustees from denying pension benefits in the future to the members of the class of plaintiffs herein who have been denied such benefits heretofore solely on the ground that they failed to establish proof of signatory last employment.
With respect to past pension benefits which have been denied plaintiffs, this Court is aware of the concern expressed by the Trustees as to the condition of the financial resources of the Fund and their responsibility to all eligible persons to pensions and other benefits. There has been brought to the attention of this Court the January 2, 1973 Settlement Agreement between the Trustees and counsel for the class plaintiffs in Blankenship, Lamb, et al. v. United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950, et al., consolidated Civil Actions Nos. 2186-69 and 2350-69, United States District Court for the District of Columbia. That agreement has been preliminarily approved by Judge Gesell and provides for payment of benefits to between 9,000 and 20,000 retired miners and widows. It is estimated that the annual prospective cost of the settlement may equal or exceed $40,000,000 and that the cost of the retroactive benefits might exceed $12,000,000. The retroactive pension payment to each retired miner eligible under the agreement is limited to one year or $1800.00. The class plaintiffs in this Pete case, along with certain others, are excluded from the settlement agreement.
While this Court is aware of the defendants' concern for the overall administration of the Fund, it is also mindful that a judgment would have long ago been entered for the class plaintiffs here had it not been for the actions of defendants' counsel. As the record in this case shows, one delay followed another from the time of Roark v. Boyle, supra, on the assurance of counsel for defendants that first DePaoli and then Belcher would control this case and dispose of it. Had it not been for those delays these plaintiffs would long since have been receiving their pension benefits as have Roark, DePaoli and Belcher. To limit these class plaintiffs to future benefits would be unjust in light of the circumstances. Therefore, the order to be entered here will allow the class plaintiffs future pension benefits and past benefits from the date this action was filed on July 15, 1969.
As to pension benefits that would otherwise be payable to the class plaintiffs for the period prior to July 15, 1969, this Court will retain jurisdiction to conduct an evidentiary hearing in order to determine the amount of those pre-July 15, 1969 pension benefits and the effect their payment would have on the Fund and all the beneficiaries thereunder.
Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment coming on to be heard, and the Court having considered memoranda filed in support of and in opposition to the motion and having heard argument of counsel and having filed an opinion herein, it is this 8th day of January, 1973,
Ordered, that plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment be and the same is hereby granted;
Further Ordered, that the defendants be and they hereby are enjoined from denying to the members of the class of plaintiffs herein present and future pension benefits;
Further Ordered, that the defendants be and they hereby are enjoined from denying to the members of the class of plaintiffs herein past pension benefits from July 15, 1969, which defendants have heretofore been denying;
And Further Ordered, that this Court will retain jurisdiction of this action in order to conduct an evidentiary hearing in order to determine the cost to the Fund and the effect therein if the class plaintiffs herein were to be paid pension benefits for the period prior to July 15, 1969.