The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO
Plaintiffs, two members of a bricklayers union, instituted this suit for declaratory judgment. The gravamen of the complaint is that trustees of a jointly administered health and welfare fund (Fund) have acted improperly in refusing to accept payments into the Fund from certain employers and in setting certain requirements for eligibility for benefits. Plaintiffs claim that as a consequence of such improper actions of the trustees, they are ineligible for benefits to which they would otherwise be entitled.
Certain of the defendant trustees (present and former) have moved to dismiss
the action for lack of jurisdiction; for failure of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and because the matter is not a proper one for declaratory judgment.
Since August 1965, plaintiffs have been employed by non-EBA, non-subscribing bricklayer employers. The trustees have refused to accept payments from such employers.
Further, on June 23, 1966, the trustees amended the rules to increase substantially (from 90 to 140) the number of hours of employment per month required to maintain eligibility for benefits. By reason of the trustees' refusal to accept payments from such employers on behalf of plaintiffs, and by reason of the increase in the number of hours of employment necessary to maintain eligibility, plaintiffs' entitlement to benefits under the Fund has been seriously impaired or lost.
Plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment requiring the trustees to accept contributions from non-EBA, non-subscribing employers and to decrease the number of hours of employment required for eligibility.
Plaintiffs contend that the Welfare and Pension Plans Disclosure Act, as amended
(Disclosure Act), particularly § 9(c)
thereof, gives this court jurisdiction to entertain this suit.
The Disclosure Act sets forth requirements for publication of information and furnishing of reports concerning welfare plans to beneficiaries. For failure to furnish such information to a beneficiary, upon request, the administrator of a plan is subjected to liability to pay $50 a day to the beneficiary from whom the information has been withheld, suit for which may be maintained by the aggrieved beneficiary in any court of competent jurisdiction. Sections 9(b) and (c)
of the Disclosure Act. The right to maintain suit under § 9(c) of the Disclosure Act is a narrow and limited one, "to recover . . . liability" for failure of the administrator to comply with the reporting and disclosure requirements of that Act.
The instant complaint does not charge violation of any of the reporting and disclosure requirements nor does it seek to recover the amount provided in § 9(b) as damages or penalty for the withholding of the required information; it seeks, instead, court review of the business judgments of the administrators of the Fund and court regulation of the Fund's operations. Such broad regulatory power is not expressly conferred by the Disclosure Act nor may it be implied as reasonably necessary to accomplish the purpose of the Act. The legislative history discloses that the aim of the Act was narrow, that Congress intended to confine it to a disclosure and reporting function. The minority report on the Senate Bill (S 2888) and the report on the House Bill (HR 13507) (see 1958 U.S. Code Cong. and Adm. News 4137, 4168-4169, and 4189), indicate such a limitation, as does the statement of policy in the Act itself.
In light of the restricted aim of the Act, I do not believe that Congress intended, by its enactment, to confer upon the courts broad regulatory power over the operation of welfare funds.
Apparently recognizing that the Disclosure Act affords a doubtful basis for jurisdiction, plaintiffs in their brief ask leave to amend the complaint to assert, as an alternative basis for jurisdiction, § 302(e)
of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947 (LMRA), which gives the district courts of the United States jurisdiction to restrain violations of LMRA § 302.
The purpose of LMRA § 302 is to prohibit payments or loans by employers to employee representatives, labor organizations, employees or groups of employees, with certain enumerated exceptions. One of the exceptions permits payments to jointly administered trust funds for the benefit of employees (LMRA § 302(c)(5)).
From that reference to trust funds, plaintiffs conclude and argue, in effect, that § 302(e)'s jurisdiction is broad enough to encompass any suit relating to administration of such funds. Some cases have interpreted § 302(e) as giving the district courts power to prevent improper expenditures from such funds,
and to restrain arbitrary and capricious action concerning entitlement to benefits,
but generally that section has not been construed as conferring jurisdiction to supervise and regulate internal administration.
The evident purpose of LMRA § 302 is to prohibit payments by employers to employee representatives and thereby eliminate a source of improper influence in employer-employee relations. The district court's jurisdiction to restrain "violations" of LMRA § 302 was clearly designed to prevent the prohibited payments, not to oversee or to regulate permitted payments. Concededly whatever payments were made by employers here were made to a jointly administered trust fund. Since such payments are expressly permitted, and since the court's jurisdiction is limited to restraining "violations," the court has no jurisdiction to inquire further. But even if LMRA § 302(e) be construed to give the district court general jurisdiction over suits involving welfare funds, as plaintiffs contend, this complaint must nevertheless be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Failure to State a Claim.
Plaintiff's major complaints are that the trustees have refused to accept payments into the Fund from non-EBA, non-subscribing employers and have increased eligibility requirements. As a simple matter of ...