United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Gary Anthony brought this action against defendants District
Lodge 1, a union affiliated with the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the
International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
National Pension Fund (the “Fund”). Compl. [Dkt.
# 1] at 1-2. He alleges that defendants violated the terms of
the Plan and breached their fiduciary duties under the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et
seq., when they failed to include him as a participant
under the Plan and denied him benefits. Id.
Specifically, in Count I, plaintiff alleges that defendants
violated the terms of the Plan by denying him eligibility to
participate in the Fund as directed by the “documents
and instruments governing the Plan.” Compl.
¶¶ 13-16. In Count II, he alleges that defendants
owed him a fiduciary duty under ERISA to “observe and
follow the governing terms” of the Plan, and that they
breached that duty. Id. ¶¶ 17-21.
August 24, 2017, District Lodge 1 moved to dismiss both
counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).
It argued that plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts to
establish that District Lodge 1 is a fiduciary under ERISA.
See Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss & Supporting Mem.
of Law [Dkt. # 11] at 3-5. On November 6, 2017, the Court
granted District Lodge 1's motion to dismiss Count II,
because fiduciary status was a requirement for that count,
but denied the motion to dismiss Count 1, because fiduciary
status was not a requirement for that count. Anthony v.
Int'l Ass. Of Machinists & Aerospace Workers District
Lodge 1, 296 F.Supp.3d 92, 96-98 (D.D.C. 2017). Thus,
plaintiff's ERISA claim for violation of the Plan
proceeded against District Lodge 1.
August 15, 2018, District Lodge 1 moved for summary judgment
on Count I, arguing that the Trustees of the Fund had sole
discretion to make eligibility determinations, and therefore
District Lodge 1 could not have violated the Plan when
plaintiff was found to be ineligible to participate.
See District Lodge 1's Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #
28] (“District Lodge 1's Mot.”); District
Lodge 1's Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of its Mot. [Dkt.
# 28-1] (“District Lodge 1's Mem.”). That
same day, the Fund moved for summary judgment on Counts I and
II, arguing that the Trustees' decision to deny
eligibility to plaintiff was reasonable and therefore
entitled to deference, and that plaintiff could not pursue
Count II because the remedies requested were duplicative of
Count I. See Fund's Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt. #
27] (“Fund's Mot.”). Plaintiff filed a
cross-motion for summary judgment on September 28, 2018
arguing that the Fund's decision was not based on
substantial evidence and was therefore unreasonable.
Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. for Summ. J. [Dkt.
# 29] (“Pl.'s Mem.”) at 6-9.
upon the parties' briefs, the evidentiary record, and the
relevant law, the Court will grant the Fund's motion for
summary judgment, because the Fund's decision to deny
eligibility to plaintiff was reasonable, and plaintiff cannot
pursue duplicative remedies under § 1132(a)(3). The
Court will also grant District Lodge 1's motion for
summary judgment because the determination to deny
eligibility was solely within the Trust's discretion.
The Parties and Relevant Contracts
District Lodge 1 is a union affiliated with the International
Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
(“IAM”). Pl.'s Statement of Facts in Supp. of
Pl.'s Mot. [Dkt. # 29] (“Pl.'s SOF”)
¶ 2; Fund's Statement of Facts in Supp. of
Fund's Mot. [Dkt. # 27-1] (“Fund's SOF”)
¶ 11. Plaintiff was employed as an
“Organizer” by District Lodge 1 from May 2004
until January 2012, when he became a “Grand Lodge
Representative, ” a position he continues to hold.
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 1; Fund's SOF ¶ 21. Defendant
IAM National Pension Fund (the “Fund”) is a
multi-employer defined benefit pension plan, and District
Lodge 1 is a “Contributing Employer” to the Fund.
Pl.'s SOF ¶ 2; Fund's SOF ¶ 11.
Fund is established and maintained pursuant to its Amended
and Restated Trust Agreement (“Trust Agreement”).
AR550-88; see also Fund's SOF ¶
1. The Trust Agreement allows the Trustees to “allocate
fiduciary responsibilities among the Trustees, or to
committees of the Trustees.” AR560. Pursuant to this
provision, the Trustees established an Appeals Committee
which has been allocated the responsibility to
“[r]eview and make decisions on all participant appeals
submitted to the Fund, ” among other things. AR731-32.
Fund is governed by a document referred to as the Plan, which
details the terms and conditions of the Fund. See
AR409. An individual's right to a benefit payable by the
Fund depends on whether the individual is a Participant,
defined in the Plan as a “Covered Employee who meets
the requirements for participation in this Plan . . .
.” AR602. The Plan defines “Covered
Employee” as “a person employed in Covered
Employment.” AR597. “Covered Employment, ”
in relevant part, is defined as “employment in a job
classification for which employer contributions are required
to this Plan by a written agreement between the Trustees and
a Contributing Lodge.” Id.
Plan also establishes the scope of the Trustees'
Trustees have the sole and absolute authority, in [their]
discretion, to interpret this Plan and to determine
eligibility for benefits under this Plan. As part of their
discretionary powers, the Trustees shall be the sole judge
of: (a) the standard of proof required in any case; (b) the
application and interpretation of this Plan; (c) the amount
of or entitlement to a pension; and (d) the crediting of
Future or Past Service.
AR707. The decisions of the Trustees “with respect to
any exercise of this discretion made in good faith shall be
final and binding on the parties.” Id.
Lodge 1 and the Trustees of the IAM National Pension Fund
executed a series of written Participation Agreements, which
governed the union's participation in the Plan.
Fund's SOF ¶ 11; Pl.'s SOF ¶ 3. During the
time plaintiff was employed as an Organizer, from 2004 to
2012, there were a number of Participation Agreements
executed. See AR41-43; AR47-49; AR56-58;
AR80-82; AR215-20. All of these agreements required District
Lodge 1 to “provide coverage under the National Pension
Plan for all of its employees, except those employees in a
bargaining unit which has negotiated a Collective Bargaining
Agreement.” See AR41; AR47; AR56; AR80; AR215.
about April 5, 2016, plaintiff contacted the Fund because no
contributions were being submitted on his behalf by District
Lodge 1 to the Fund, and he believed that contributions
should have been made. AR10. After looking into the matter,
the Fund notified plaintiff on September 13, 2016 that he was
not a participant in the IAM National Pension Fund or
National Pension Plan. AR174. On October 21, 2016, plaintiff
requested an appeal of that determination. AR175. He was told
by the Fund's Executive Director, Rick Tierney, that his
appeal would be heard at the Appeals Committee meeting on
December 15, 2016. AR180; AR202-06.
December, the Appeals Committee decided that it needed
additional information before it could render a decision.
See AR239 (adopting a motion to defer
plaintiff's appeal pending additional research). On
December 20, 2016, the Fund notified plaintiff of its
decision to defer determination pending additional research,
and informed plaintiff that it has “referred this
matter to District Lodge 1.” AR240. The purpose of the
referral was to ascertain District Lodge 1's
understanding of what job classifications it intended to
cover as a Contributing Employer to the Fund under the
Participation Agreement. Id.
end, the Committee reached out to Anthony Armideo, the
Directing Business Representative of District Lodge 1.
AR242-43. It posed four questions:
1. What job classifications did District Lodge 1 intend to
contribute on behalf of as a Contributing Employer during its
time as a Contributing Employer to the Fund, in accordance
with the attached Participation Agreement?
2. What job classifications of employees at District Lodge 1
were non-collectively bargained employees of District Lodge 1
during its time as a Contributing Employer to the Fund?
3. Were any job classifications at District Lodge 1 not
employees of District Lodge 1 during its time as a
Contributing Employer to the Fund? For example, were any
persons or job classifications brought out to District Lodge
1 on lost time? Or were certain job classifications employees
of another organization, but District 1 served a pass through
for the purpose of pay?
4. Please provide any documents that assist in answering
these questions, including but not limited to meeting
minutes, notes, letters or email correspondence, Lodge 1
records including payroll records, and the like.
responded on January 6, 2017, stating that District Lodge 1
never did, and did not then, intend to contribute to the Fund
on behalf of the District Lodge 1 Organizer position.
AR258-64. In coming to this conclusion, he examined the
history of the Organizer position, prior and current
Participation Agreements, past meeting minute records, and
payroll audit records of District Lodge 1. Id. All
of these records were attached to his response and submitted
to the Appeals Committee for consideration. Id. at
January 26, 2017, the Committee met again to consider
plaintiff's appeal, and based upon the information
presented and the supporting documentation attached to
Armideo's letter, the Committee voted to deny
plaintiff's appeal. AR316. Plaintiff was notified of the
decision on January 31, 2017. Specifically, Tierney wrote:
In support of its position, District Lodge 1 provided
District Lodge meeting minutes and various motions dating
back to 1978. Those documents evidence that the positions for
which District Lodge 1 intended to contribute extended only
to Business Representatives (alternatively described as
Business Agents) and the Secretary. Those documents also
reflect that the Organizer position was never included among
the class of employees for which contributions were intended
to be made - whether during, or after your tenure as the
District Organizer. District Lodge 1 also provided associated
participation agreements. To the extent that the
participation agreements include language suggesting that
contributions were to be made for all employees other than
those in a bargaining unit which has negotiated other pension
benefits, there are factors that militate against a strict
reading of that provision.
First, the [P]articipation Agreement is a boilerplate
agreement that was not drafted by District Lodge l. It is a
form agreement that is provided to contributing employers
such as District Lodge 1. Since District Lodge 1 did not
draft any of the participation agreements, it follows that
the agreements should not be construed against it. Moreover,
the documents illustrate that District Lodge 1 signed
separate Participation Agreements for the Business
Representative position and the Secretary position. Had
District Lodge 1 intended for the “all
employees” language to apply to it, it would not
have utilized separate participation agreements for the
business representative and the office secretary positions.
One agreement for all covered positions would have sufficed.
Additionally, the documents do reflect your attendance in at
least some of the Lodge meetings where the IAM National
pension plan was discussed, including the pension rate for
the Business Representative position. Finally, District Lodge
1 presented two payroll audit reports dated July 10, 2007
(auditing the period of January 2004 through December
2006) and May 23, 2014 (auditing the period of
January 2011 through December 2013). Both reports found
no discrepancies for the audit periods, including audit
periods [when] you were employed as the District Lodge 1
organizer. You have not presented any documentary evidence
such as an employment offer letter or employment agreement
that commits District Lodge 1 to provide a pension through
the Fund. In conclusion, none of the documentary evidence
presented specifically and explicitly indicates that the
Organizer position was intended by District Lodge 1 to be
included in positions for which contributions to the Fund
were to be made.
AR317-18 (emphasis in original).
26, 2017, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court against
the Fund and District Lodge 1 asserting ERISA violations and
requesting recovery of his benefits. Compl. ¶¶