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Dana v. Western States Insulators & Allied Workers Pension Plan

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 9, 2015

JAMES ANDREW DANA, Plaintiff,
v.
WESTERN STATES INSULATORS & ALLIED WORKERS PENSION PLAN, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court on the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment. Dkts. #17 and #20. The parties agree that there are no disputed material facts. Plaintiff argues that Defendant must pay retroactive disability pension benefits back to April 1, 2004, which is what he contends is the earliest date upon which Social Security Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits became payable to him. Dkt. #17. Defendant contends that it is only required to pay benefits back to January 2009, which it has already done, because that is the date Plaintiff began receiving SSDI benefits. Dkt. #20. For the reasons discussed herein, the Court agrees with Defendant and GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment and DENIES Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of a denial of retroactive disability benefits under Defendant Pension Plan. Dkt. #1. Plaintiff had been a pipe insulator since 1980, and was a member of Heat and Frost Insulators and Asbestos Workers Local #7. As such, he was a beneficiary of Defendant Pension Plan. Dkt. #1 at ¶ ¶ 7-8. Plaintiff worked as a pipe insulator until October 30, 2003, when he stopped working due to disability. Id. at ¶ ¶ 9-10. He apparently received time loss benefits through the Washington Department of Labor & Industries ("L&I") until January 15, 2010, at which time the Department determined he was completely disabled and placed him on pension effective January 16, 2010. Id. at ¶ 10.

Plaintiff then applied for disability benefits from Defendant Pension Plan. Id. at ¶ ¶ 11. The Plan denied Plaintiff's application for disability benefits on December 8, 2010, as he had not yet applied for Social Security benefits, but granted him an Early Retirement. See id. at ¶ 13. Plaintiff then applied for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. Id. at ¶ 12. On November 18, 2011, a Social Security Administrative Law Judge found that Plaintiff had been continuously totally and permanently disabled since October 30, 2003. Id. at ¶ 14. On December 13, 2011, Social Security issued an Award Letter finding plaintiff entitled to retroactive disability benefits beginning in January of 2009. Id. at ¶ 15. Plaintiff provided a copy of the award letter to Defendant Pension Plan, and received an adjustment of benefits back to January 2009. Id. at ¶ 16. Plaintiff disputed the Plan's recalculation, which Defendant construed as an appeal. The appeal was denied on March 8, 2012. Id . at ¶ ¶ 17-18.

The parties now dispute the meaning of Section 4.1(d) of the Plan Document, which provides:

Benefit Period for Both Plan A and Plan B Disability Benefits. Benefits shall commence on the date that Social Security disability benefits first become payable to the employee as a result of the same disabling condition....

Dkt. #20-1, Ex. A at Section 4.1(d). The parties specifically dispute when SSDI benefits became "payable."[1]

III. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard on Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where "the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). In ruling on summary judgment, a court does not weigh evidence to determine the truth of the matter, but "only determine[s] whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Crane v. Conoco, Inc., 41 F.3d 547, 549 (9th Cir. 1994) ( citing Federal Deposit Ins. Corp. v. O'Melveny & Meyers, 969 F.2d 744, 747 (9th Cir. 1992)). Material facts are those which might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The parties agree that there are no disputed material facts and that this matter is appropriate for disposition on the instant cross-motions.

B. Standard of Review Applicable to this ERISA Dispute

The parties agree that the appropriate standard of review for the instant matter is abuse of discretion. Under this standard, the Court essentially determines whether the decision of the pension Trustees was arbitrary and capricious. Canseco v. Construction Laborers Pension Trust for So. Cal., 93 F.3d 600, 605 (9th Cir. 1996). The question "is not whose interpretation of the Plan documents is most persuasive, but whether the Trustees' interpretation is unreasonable.'" Id. at 606 (quoting Winters v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 49 F.3d 550, 553 (9th Cir. 1995). The Trustees' interpretation of the plan terms will only be found to have been an abuse of discretion when the interpretation is illogical, implausible ...


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