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Virtue v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters Retirement and Family Protection Plan

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

November 4, 2013

DANIEL A. VIRTUE, Plaintiff,
v.
INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS RETIREMENT AND FAMILY PROTECTION PLAN, et al., Defendants

Page 11

For DANIEL A. VIRTUE, for himself and a class of similarly situated persons, Plaintiff: Joseph Semo, LEAD ATTORNEY, SEMO LAW GROUP, Washington, DC; Kevin D. Stein, LEAD ATTORNEY, PRO HAC VICE, SEMO LAW GROUP, Washington, DC.

For INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS RETIREMENT AND FAMILY PROTECTION PLAN, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS, Defendants: James Charles Bailey, LEAD ATTORNEY, BAILEY & EHRENBERG PLLC, Washington, DC; Jason H. Ehrenberg, Jeffrey B. Cohen, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BAILEY & EHRENBERG PLLC, Washington, DC.

For JOHN F. MURPHY, ROME A. ALOISE, KEN HALL, W. C. SMITH, Defendants: Jason H. Ehrenberg, LEAD ATTORNEYS, BAILEY & EHRENBERG PLLC, Washington, DC.

OPINION

Page 12

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES E. BOASBERG, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Daniel Virtue is something of a collector. Over the course of his employment with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with his local union, and as a rank-and-file Teamster, he has collected memberships in at least four Teamsters-affiliated pension plans. In this lawsuit, he seeks to acquire membership in (and benefits from) a fifth IBT pension fund. Unfortunately for Virtue, his quest to assemble a complete portfolio of IBT pension plans ends here.

Virtue contends that IBT and its Retirement and Family Protection Plan violated his rights under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, a statute that protects pension benefits, when they amended the Plan in 2001 to retroactively curtail participation by part-time " stipend employees" like himself. See 29 U.S.C. § § 1054(g)-(h), 1132(a)(1)(B), 1132(a)(3). He argues that this amendment improperly eliminated -- or " cut back" -- his rights and benefits without adequate notice.

The problem for Virtue, highlighted in Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, is that the relevant statute of limitations extends for only three years after an employee discovers that he is not entitled to benefits under the Plan. Because IBT and the Plan unequivocally informed Virtue that he was not eligible to participate in the Plan well over three years before he filed this suit, his claims are time-barred. The Court therefore grants the Defendants summary judgment and dismisses Virtue's case.

Page 13

I. Background

The facts in this case are largely undisputed; where there is a lack of agreement, the Court considers the evidence in the light most favorable to Virtue. The International Brotherhood of Teamsters is one of the largest labor unions in the world, with around 1.4 million members. See Teamsters Structure, IBT, http://www.teamster.org/content/ teamsters-structure (last visited Oct. 31, 2013). IBT's mission is to promote strong local Teamsters unions, and its national headquarters in Washington, D.C., employs a variety of support staff who assist the locals. Id. The IBT also coordinates benefits for rank-and-file Teamsters, as well as for local union staff and employees who work at the Washington headquarters. Id.

The Defendant Plan here, formally called the IBT Retirement and Family Protection Plan, is a defined-benefit pension plan that the IBT sponsors to provide pensions to its officers and employees who work at the IBT's Washington, D.C., headquarters. See Mot., Exh. 1 (IBT Retirement and Family Protection Plan) at 34. The Plan, which is covered under ERISA, is not designed to offer benefits to members or officers of local unions. Id. In 2001, the IBT amended the Plan's regulations to exclude " stipend employees" who were hired after April 1, 1999, from participation. See Mot., Exh. 1 (Virtue Appeal Determination) at 22. According to the IBT, stipend employees are patronage positions. IBT describes them as part-time employees hired to work for a salary on an " as needed basis" after the Office of the General President determines that an individual's services are needed in a particular area -- e.g., serving on a grievance committee or serving as part of a negotiating committee. See Mot., Exh. 2 (Deposition of John D. Ward) at 64:15-23, 95:6-96:17; Exh. 3 (Declaration of Tyson Johnson), ¶ 7. Prior to this amendment, IBT employees were eligible for benefits if they worked 1,000 hours or more over a twelve-month period. See IBT Retirement and Family Protection Plan at 39.

Virtue spent the majority of his career as a local Teamster member and, later, as a local union president. See Opp., Exh. B (Deposition of Daniel A. Virtue) at 6:10-8:10, 9:9-20, 13:2-12. From October 2000 to January 2007, in addition to his local union duties, he served in a variety of positions as a stipend employee for the IBT. See Opp., Exh. A (Declaration of Daniel Virtue), ¶ ¶ 5, 7. Although Virtue's IBT appointment letters said nothing about pension coverage, Virtue testified that he believed he could be eligible to participate in the Plan. See Virtue Dep. at 115:12-19, 117:2-12. Virtue maintains that he worked over 1,000 hours in his first twelve months of employment, which would have made him a covered employee prior to Amendment 2001-C. See id. at 56:7-18, 59:16-20, 62:9-18, 64:3-9. In May 2002, the IBT attempted to disabuse Virtue and others of the notion that they were eligible for coverage under the Plan. It mailed a notice to Virtue and all other similarly situated employees informing them of their status as ...


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