Nos. 266 & 267, January Term, 1979, Appeal from the Order of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania as of October Term, 1978, No. 92.
Wilfred F. Lorry and Stephen L. Hymowitz, Philadelphia, for Stoughton et al.
Kip D. Denega, Jr. and S. Jay Sklar, Philadelphia, for Cohen et al.
Melvin Alan Bank, James J. Leyden, Ann Schmerling-Salsburg, Burton M. Epstein, James D. Crawford, Marvin Schwartz, Philadelphia, for appellees.
O'Brien, C. J., and Roberts, Nix, Larsen, Flaherty, Kauffman and Wilkinson, JJ.
Once again we are called upon to resolve a dispute concerning the rights and obligations of the parties to this long and involved litigation which has been the subject of numerous court proceedings during the last twenty-five years. The underlying facts were set forth in our opinion, reported at 456 Pa. 436, 318 A.2d 918 (1974):
In 1956 twelve members of Local 2 of the defendant union, International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots of America, instituted an action in equity against the union for improper expulsion. Preliminary objections were sustained by the trial court which held that its jurisdiction was preempted by that of the National Labor Relations Board. This Court overturned that ruling and remanded the case, 414 Pa. 277, 199 A.2d 432 (1964), cert. denied, 379 U.S. 840 [85 S.Ct. 76, 13 L.Ed.2d 46] (1964). Trial was had under a bifurcated procedure, on the issue of liability and, after two years, the defendant union was adjudged liable and a date for the trial on the damages issue was set.
Approximately two weeks after the assessment of damages proceeding began, a settlement was agreed upon by the union and eleven of the twelve plaintiffs, and on June 23, 1971, the decree was formally signed and filed. This decree commanded that the defendant union should make such payments to the Union's Pension and Welfare Plan as necessary to give the plaintiffs their normal pension according to the schedule set down in the decree. The date for such payment was July 1, 1971. On the appointed day the defendant union failed to comply with the
provisions of the consent decree. The plaintiffs, appellants here, then filed a Petition for Contempt Citation wherein they prayed that the court hold defendant-appellees in contempt, direct them to comply forthwith with the consent decree, and impose an appropriate fine. The employer and union designated trustees of the pension fund were joined as party defendants in this contempt action pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 2232 and the employer trustees unsuccessfully attempted to remove the case to the federal district court. The lower court, after a hearing, denied the contempt petition without opinion. This appeal was taken from that order. [Footnotes omitted.]
I.O.M.M. & P. of A., Local No. 2 v. I.O.M.M.P. of A., 456 Pa. 436, 438-440, 318 A.2d 918, 920-21 (1974).
In that opinion, we held that the International Organization Masters, Mates and Pilots of America, Inc. (Union), appellees herein, could not avoid the enforcement of a consent decree*fn1 based upon their allegation that it was conditional and subject to approval by the Board of Trustees of the Pension Plan.
On remand pursuant to our Order, appellants contended that the appellees were not fully funding the Pension Plan as required by the Consent Decree,*fn2 and in addition, were
denying appellants the right to participate in health, medical and other benefits which are provided to all other union pensioners pursuant to the union's established Pension Plan. President Judge Bradley of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia rejected appellant's request for relief and the Superior Court affirmed without opinion, per curiam.
The crux of the present appeal is whether the Consent Decree provides appellants with identical benefits to those union members under the M.M.&P. Pension Plan or whether the Consent Decree was intended to confer upon appellants a special status wherein their pension benefits were less than those that all other union members receive.
Appellants contend that the Consent Decree requires the union to pay into the established M.M.&P. Pension Plan (Plan) ". . . such full payments . . . as are necessary for the various plaintiffs to be qualified for and to receive pensions from the [M.M.&P.] . . . Plan . . ." Since the M.M.&P. Pension Plan provides health and welfare benefits, appellants assert they are entitled to the same.
Appellees, on the other hand, contend that the Consent Decree merely requires that appellants receive the specific monetary amounts as listed in the schedule and that the Consent Decree was never intended to return appellants to the status of full union pensioners.
Moreover, appellees assert that the "conduit" structure of funding is a completely proper and sound method of paying the specific monetary amounts listed in the Consent Decree. It is clear that in interpreting the terms of a consent decree, rules of contract interpretation apply. Universal Builders Supply, Inc. v. Shaler Highlands Corp., 405 Pa. 259, 175 A.2d 58 (1961); Dulles v. Dulles, 369 Pa. 101, 85 A.2d 134 (1952). "The cardinal rule in the interpretation of contracts is to ascertain the intention of the parties and to give effect to that intention if it can be done consistently with legal principles." ...