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WHITEMAN v. GRAPHIC COMMUNS. INTL. UNION SUPPLEMEN

September 26, 1994

PATRICIA A. WHITEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
GRAPHIC COMMUNICATIONS INTERNATIONAL UNION SUPPLEMENTAL RETIREMENT AND DISABILITY FUND, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY SPORKIN

 This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's and Defendant's cross-motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff Patricia A. Whiteman has brought this action against Defendant Graphic Communications International Union Supplemental Retirement and Disability Fund for disability payments. There exist no triable issues of material fact and the Court is presented with a legal issue of first impression for the D.C. Circuit.

 Pursuant to Section 402(a)(1) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Action of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1102(a)(1), all employee benefit plans "shall be established and maintained pursuant to a written instrument." In addition to a written plan document, ERISA requires that plan fiduciaries furnish to participants and beneficiaries a "summary plan description." (hereinafter "SPD") 29 U.S.C. § 1022(a)(1). This SPD "shall be written in a manner calculated to be understood by the average plan participant, and shall be sufficiently accurate and comprehensive to reasonably apprise such participants and beneficiaries of their rights and obligations under the plan." Id.

 SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS

 Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c), summary judgment "shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." In this case, both parties concede that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that the issue before the court is solely one of law.

 FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff was an employee of Graphic Communications International Union (hereinafter "GCIU") from October 2, 1972 through July 15, 1983. On October 21, 1984, after her employment had terminated, Plaintiff injured her back and neck while escaping from a burning building. On June 30, 1988, the Social Security Administration determined that Mrs. Whiteman had been permanently and totally disabled since November 2, 1986 and awarded Plaintiff Social Security disability benefits. On March 15, 1990, Plaintiff applied to Defendant for a disability pension. The Plan's administrator, in a letter dated March 26, 1990, denied Plaintiff's application. Subsequently, Plaintiff appealed the denial to the Board of Trustees of the Plan and lost. This action followed.

 ANALYSIS AND DECISION

 It is undisputed that Plaintiff was a 10 year employee of GCIU and was vested under the Union's non-contributory retirement Plan. At the appropriate age, she would be entitled to a full pension. What is at issue in this proceeding is whether Plaintiff is presently entitled to disability payments.

 The Plan provides for both regular retirement as well as disability payments. For purposes of receipt of retirement payments, a person who has at least 10 years of credited service becomes vested and entitled to a pension upon reaching retirement age. To obtain disability payments under the precise reading of the Plan, in addition to being disabled, an employee must be a participant and must have become disabled within 2 years of the employer's last contribution on behalf of the employee. It is because Plaintiff's disability occurred more than two years after her Union employment ended that the Defendant has denied Plaintiff disability benefits. It is conceded that if the wording of the Plan governed, Plaintiff would not be entitled to relief. What Plaintiff contends is that under the SPD she is entitled to benefits. The SPD makes no reference to the two year cut-off period that is set forth in the Plan. A reasonable reading of the SPD clearly supports Plaintiff's position. The pertinent provision of the SPD sets forth the following requirements for disability payment eligibility:

 
D. Long Term Disability Benefit
 
You are entitled to a Long Term Disability Benefit if you are a participant and become permanently and totally disabled prior to age 65 and
 
1) You are at least 35 years old with 5 years of Credited Service (any combination of past and future service) OR You are any age, but have at least 15 years of Credited Service (any combination of past and future service), and
 
2) Contributions have been or were required to be made on your behalf for at least 260 weeks, or for at least 52 ...

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