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EVERETT v. USAIR GROUP

May 31, 1996

M.A. EVERETT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
USAIR GROUP, INC., et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FRIEDMAN

 This action is brought by 481 retired and active USAir pilots against USAir, Inc., USAir Group, Inc., and the Retirement Income Plan for Pilots of USAir, Inc., the pension plan administered by USAir, Inc. Plaintiffs allege that defendants have (1) breached their fiduciary duties under Section 1104 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq., (2) failed to pay benefits due under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1054(g) and 1132(a)(1)(B), and (3) violated ERISA's disclosure provision, 29 U.S.C. § 1022, and the applicable regulations, 29 C.F.R. §§ 2520.102-2, 102-3, 104b-1. All defendants have moved to dismiss or for summary judgment, and defendant USAir Group also has sought dismissal on the ground that it is not a benefit plan, a plan administrator or a fiduciary under ERISA.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 Prior to 1972, the pilots of USAir (then known as Allegheny Airlines) had a mixed defined benefit/defined contribution plan ("the Prior Plan"). The plan had a variable component based on the performance value of a group of actual diversified stocks, including reinvested dividends (the "Variable Fund"). Pilots accumulated units in the plan, and the value of each unit was based on the value of this variable fund, i.e., its accumulated assets plus reinvested dividends. Pls.' Opp'n at 1-2; Defs.' Mot. at 6. In 1972, the pilots and USAir (then Allegheny Airlines) negotiated a new collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") and signed a Letter of Agreement changing the method of calculating certain pension benefits, effective December 1, 1972. Letter of Agreement between Allegheny Airlines, Inc. and the Air Line Pilots at 121-33, Def.'s Ex. 2 at FUW5329-35. In 1973, ALPA and Allegheny Airlines amended the pension plan in conformity with the 1972 Letter of Agreement. Amendment to the Retirement Income Plan for Pilots of Allegheny Airlines, Inc. P 4.3(C), Defs.' Ex. 3.

 Under the 1972 Letter of Agreement and the 1973 amended plan, participants covered by the Prior Plan were entitled to a "minimum benefit" to maintain the value of their pensions. Defs.' Mot. at 4; Pls.' Opp'n at 1-3. In calculating the minimum benefit, the value of each variable unit was no longer measured in terms of the actual value of the Variable Fund but instead by the performance of the Standard and Poor's 500 Index. A key provision of the amended plan stated that a participant's retirement income under the new plan

 
shall not be less than that to which [a participant] would have been entitled at his Retirement . . . assuming . . . that had the Variable Retirement Income Plan remained in effect, the investment performance thereunder would be equal to the investment performance of the Standard and Poor's 500 stock index (unadjusted for dividends).

 In 1991, USAir proposed an amendment to the new plan that would have made explicit that dividends would not be included in the calculation of benefits under the 1973 amended plan. The Air Line Pilots Association ("ALPA"), the pilots' union, initially agreed, but several pilots objected and ALPA never signed the agreement letter.

 This suit revolves around the interpretation of the 1973 amended plan's language, specifically whether and in what manner dividends are to be included for the purposes of calculating the qualifying pilots' benefits. Plaintiffs argue that in light of the intent of the 1972 CBA and the 1973 amended plan to provide retirement income no less than that to which they would have been entitled under the Prior Plan, dividends should be included in the calculation of investment performance, and that the phrase "unadjusted for dividends" included in the 1973 amendment means that the S&P investment performance shall not be reduced by the amount of dividends that hypothetically would have accumulated. Otherwise, plaintiffs argue, the 1973 amended plan would have resulted in a significant loss to the pilots who had been governed by the Prior Plan and there is no evidence that this was contemplated. *fn2"

 Defendants assert that the plain language of the 1973 amended plan, "unadjusted for dividends," means that the fund is to be evaluated on the basis of the market value of the S&P Price Index and dividends are not to be included. Defendants point to evidence that purportedly shows that they have consistently interpreted the plan this way since 1973, that two independent actuarial firms came to the same conclusion, and that ALPA agrees with this interpretation.

 Plaintiffs respond that ALPA's views should carry no weight because ALPA's interests are in conflict with plaintiffs' interests since the inclusion of dividends in the calculation of qualifying pilots' pensions would cost the pension fund millions of dollars and would benefit only retired pilots who are not an active part of ALPA's membership, or those few pilots who are soon to retire and who constitute a very small fraction of ALPA's membership, all at the expense of younger, active ALPA members. Plaintiffs emphasize that the retired pilots, who would be the largest beneficiaries of a favorable ruling for plaintiffs, are not actively represented by ALPA and that although at least one pilot requested that ALPA file a grievance on the pilots' behalf over this dividend issue, ALPA declined to do so. Declaration of Marvin A. Everett ("Everett Decl.") P 2 (March 18, 1996), Pls.' Ex. 34.

 Defendants raise a number of arguments in support of their motion to dismiss or for summary judgment based on, inter alia, the applicable statutes of limitations for various claims and as to various plaintiffs, the standing of those plaintiffs who received lump sum benefits, the reasonableness of USAir's interpretation of the plan, and the Court's jurisdiction to interpret a collective bargaining agreement in view of the dispute resolution mechanism established by Congress in the Railway Labor Act. Defendants also seek attorneys' fees and costs, and plaintiffs seek further discovery under Rule 56(f), Fed. R. Civ. P. Because the Court finds the jurisdictional issue under the Railway Labor Act to be dispositive, it does not reach the other arguments. *fn3"

 II. THE RAILWAY LABOR ACT

 Subchapter II of the Railway Labor Act, 45 U.S.C. §§ 181 et seq., governs disputes between airline carriers and their employees. Section 184 requires each carrier to establish a board of adjustment or system board to decide "disputes between an employee or group of employees and a carrier or carriers by air growing out of grievances, or out of the interpretation or application of agreements concerning rates of pay, rules, or working conditions." 45 U.S.C. § 184. *fn4" That statutory grievance procedure is "mandatory, exclusive and comprehensive." Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Delta Air Lines, 274 U.S. App. D.C. 181, 863 F.2d 87, 88 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (quoting Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers v. Louisville & N.R.R., 373 U.S. 33, 10 L. Ed. 2d 172, 83 S. Ct. 1059 (1963)), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 821 (1989); see Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Northwest Airlines, 200 U.S. App. D.C. 219, 627 F.2d 272, 275 (D.C. Cir. 1980). The RLA's mandatory arbitration procedures apply only to issues arising out of the interpretation of the collective bargaining agreement and not to independent statutory claims under ERISA. Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Delta Air Lines, 863 F.2d at 91 & n.2, 93-94; Air Line Pilots Ass'n, Int'l v. Northwest Airlines, 627 F.2d at 277. Contractual "doubts about the arbitrability of issues[, ...


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