resolving the question of which new fund would cover the retirees. The present litigation was then precipitated by the decision of the UMWA plan administrator that the "orphaned" Fawn retirees could not be enrolled in the Combined Fund because they were not "receiving benefits" in the 1974 Fund on July 20, 1992. The retirees were enrolled instead in the 1992 Plan and, on April 30, 1993, the 1992 Plan sent a bill to Fawn for premiums due.
Fawn's complaint filed on October 29, 1993, seeks a declaration that Fawn is not liable to the 1992 Plan for premiums because its retirees are entitled to coverage by the Combined Fund. BethEnergy, Inc., which sold the Saxonburg mining operation to Fawn, has intervened to assert the opposite view; BethEnergy would be liable to pay most of the premiums if Fawn were to prevail here.
In a case that turns upon the meaning of statutory language, the court's task is "to give effect to the will of Congress, and where its will has been expressed in reasonably plain terms, that language must ordinarily be regarded as conclusive." Griffin v. Oceanic Contractors, Inc., 458 U.S. 564, 102 S. Ct. 3245, 3250, 73 L. Ed. 2d 973 (1982) (interior quotations omitted).
The parties agree that the Fawn retirees were "eligible" to receive benefits from the 1974 Fund on July 20, 1992. Their eligibility was asserted when the Pennsylvania litigation was initiated in June 1992. The issue was sub judice on July 20, 1992 and was resolved by the consent order on October 1, 1992.
The Pennsylvania litigation might have resolved the "receiving benefits" issue presented in this case as well, but it did not. The October 1 consent order contained no language of retroactivity.
And the language of the subsequent agreed order dismissing the cross-claims of the Fawn retirees seems deliberately to have left to another day -- and to this court -- the question of which plan would cover the Fawn retirees after CIRHBA's effective date.
In this court, defendants urge that the Fawn retirees were not "receiving benefits" on July 20, 1992 because of the undisputed fact that they were not enrolled in the 1974 Plan until after the October 1, 1992 consent order took effect. Plaintiffs respond that the issuance of a health benefits card cannot be equated with "benefits" and point to the undisputed fact that the Fawn retirees were later reimbursed for health care they had received before, on and after July 20, 1992.
Apparently recognizing that their arguments beg the question of what "benefits" are under CIRHBA, the parties seek to support their respective positions with legislative history.
Plaintiffs rely heavily on a statement of Senator Rockefeller made during floor debate:
"At various places in the bill, such as in Section 9711(b)(1) and Section 9712(b)(2), individuals must be receiving benefits by certain dates or must have retired by certain dates in order to be entitled to benefits under the bill. For purposes of these provisions, an individual is considered to be receiving benefits or to be retired if he is fully eligible for and has applied for benefits. An individual will not be considered ineligible for benefits merely because he has [not] yet been determined to be eligible."