William M. Barnes, Schnader, Harrison, Segal & Lewis, Paul C. Madden, James D. Crawford, James J. Leyden, Philadelphia, for appellants; Edward Davis, Philadelphia, of counsel.
William J. Toy, Philadelphia, for appellee.
Jones, C. J., and Eagen, O'Brien, Roberts, Pomeroy, Nix and Manderino, JJ. Nix and Manderino, JJ., dissent.
This is an appeal from a final decree in equity granting the appellee, Michael Blofsen, pension benefits from the Teamsters Pension Trust Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity [Pension Fund].*fn1
On September 17, 1965, Blofsen, age 63 and a member of the Teamsters Union since 1938, submitted an application for normal retirement pension benefits. In this application, Blofsen indicated he worked for the American Ice Company [American] from 1923 to 1955, and for the Terminal Ice Company [Terminal] from 1955 to the date of the application. The Pension Fund Trustees [Trustees]*fn2 rejected the application stating Blofsen was
ineligible for benefits because his employment with Terminal was not as an employee, but as an employer. Blofsen then instituted this action in equity seeking all benefits due him from the Pension Fund, and an evidentiary hearing followed. The chancellor, while holding that Blofsen failed to meet the eligibility requirements established by the Trustees, nevertheless entered a decree nisi granting the requested relief. The chancellor ruled the Trustees, having accepted contributions to the Pension Fund made on behalf of Blofsen, were estopped from invoking the eligibility requirements. Exceptions thereto were later dismissed by a court en banc, and the decree nisi was made a final decree. This appeal was then filed.
The trial testimony*fn3 established that Blofsen entered the ice delivery industry in 1928 as a truck driver for American. However, by June 26, 1953, Blofsen had clearly lost the status of employee. On that date a certificate was filed with the Prothonotary of Philadelphia County stating that Blofsen and James McCaughan were engaged in the business of hauling and delivering ice under the name of "Terminal Ice Company".*fn4 From that date until June 20, 1963, when a certificate of incorporation was granted to "Terminal Ice Company, Inc.", it is clear from the testimony that Blofsen's status was that of an employer. Blofsen testified he purchased several trucks from American for use in the business. He admitted having several employees on the payroll. Blofsen signed collective bargaining agreements with the union, representing himself as the "employer". And Blofsen's
earnings were commensurate with employer status. For example, in 1954, the year after Terminal was formed, he earned nearly twice the wages paid the highest paid laborer in the industry, covered by union contract.
In order to be eligible for normal retirement pension benefits, certain preconditions must be met. One such requirement is the completion of "20 years of Continuous Service".*fn5 In computing "Continuous Service", provision is made for including employment engaged in both before and after an individual has become covered by the Pension Plan.*fn6 All employment engaged in prior to an individual becoming covered by the Pension Plan is added to all employment after an individual has become covered, provided the prior employment was pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement to which any union ...