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Frederick G. Fischer, Jr. v. Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity

February 23, 2012

FREDERICK G. FISCHER, JR.
v.
CARPENTERS PENSION AND ANNUITY FUND OF PHILADELPHIA AND VICINITY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Padova, J.

MEMORANDUM

On December 12, 2011, we held a non-jury trial on Plaintiff Frederick G. Fischer, Jr.'s claim that Defendant Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity breached its fiduciary duty to him under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., when it failed to inform him at the time he opted for early retirement that his Supplemental Pension payments would be terminated if he began collecting Social Security Disability benefits. The parties filed Post-Trial Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law on January 17, 2012. For the following reasons, we conclude that the statute of limitations in 29 U.S.C. § 1113 bars Plaintiff's claim and we therefore enter judgment in favor of Defendant and against Plaintiff.

I. FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Plaintiff is a carpenter, who joined the joined the Carpenters' Union in 1965 and worked for more than 30 years as a union member. (N.T. 12/12/11 ("N.T."), at 15, 18.) Plaintiff is now retired and is a participant in the Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity, which is the Defendant in this action.

2. In the Spring of 1999, when Plaintiff was 52 years old, he learned from a supervisor at his place of employment that the retirement age for union workers with at least 30 years of service had been lowered from 55 to 52. (Id. at 18.) Plaintiff thereafter called the Carpenters Health and Welfare Office and set up an appointment to discuss retirement. (Id. at 17-18.)

3. Plaintiff and his wife attended a retirement interview at the Health and Welfare Office on May 5, 1999. (Id. at 19, 21.) Plaintiff informed Defendant's employee who conducted the interview, Agnes Bricker, that he was interested in retiring. (Id. at 20, 50-51, 114.) Ms. Bricker advised Plaintiff of the amounts he would receive in pension payments on a monthly basis. (Id. at 17, 56; Ex. D-6.) She also advised him that he would be able to work one week each month while continuing to collect his pension. (N.T. at 17.)

4. During the interview, Plaintiff filled out and signed a pension application. (Id. at 20; Ex. D-4.) In the application, Plaintiff opted for an Early Retirement Pension, with a 100% Joint and Survivor Benefit for his wife. (Ex. D-4.)

5. Under his chosen pension option, Plaintiff was eligible to receive a monthly payment of $3,260.28, which was comprised of both an Early Retirement Pension payment ($1507.82) and a Supplemental Pension payment ($1752.46), the latter of which would ordinarily be paid until he reached the age of 62 and became entitled to receive Social Security. (See Ex. D-6.)

6. During the retirement interview, Plaintiff also signed a paper entitled "Pension and Health and Welfare Regulations, Governing Participants Applying for Retirement with the Carpenters Pension Plan" (the "Pension Regulations Notice"). (N.T. at 23; see Ex. P-2.) The Pension Regulations Notice advised Plaintiff that, upon retirement, he would not be permitted to work in the construction industry more than 40 hours per month. (N.T. at 24; see Ex. P-2.) It also advised him that his Supplemental Pension payment would be permanently discontinued if he violated that condition by working more than 40 hours in the construction industry in any given month. (N.T. at 26; see Ex. P-2.)

7. Plaintiff was not advised at the May 5, 1999 meeting that, if he began receiving Social Security Disability payments in the future, while he was still receiving his Supplemental Pension payment, his Supplemental Pension payment would be terminated. (N.T. at 27.) According to Plaintiff, he therefore expected that, if he were ever to become disabled, his Supplemental Pension payments would nevertheless continue until he reached the age of 62 and began receiving Social Security. (Id. at 29, 59-60.)

8. Plaintiff requested a copy of the Carpenters Pension and Annuity Plan of Philadelphia & Vicinity (the "Pension Plan") at his retirement meeting, but it was not given to him. (Id. at 34.) The plain terms of the Pension Plan in effect at that time provided that Plaintiff's Supplemental Pension payments would be discontinued if he became eligible for a disability pension from Social Security. (Ex. D-1, at § 3.04.)

9. Plaintiff testified at trial that he would not have opted for early retirement if he had known that he would give up his Supplemental Pension payments if he became disabled and began receiving Social Security Disability. (N.T. at 29-30.) According to Plaintiff, it was important for him to know exactly how much money he would be receiving in retirement, because he needed to know that it would be sufficient to support him and his wife. (Id. at 28.) In calculating the money he would receive in retirement, Plaintiff considered not only the Early Retirement Pension payment and the Supplemental Pension payment, but also the amount that he could earn by working up to 40 hours per month. (Id. at 28-29.) Plaintiff testified that he would not have retired when he did if he had understood that, upon becoming disabled, he would lose not only his ability to earn extra money by working, but also his Supplemental Pension payment. (See id. at 29-30.)

10. By the conclusion of the meeting, based on the information that he had received at the meeting, Plaintiff decided to start early retirement on June 1, 1999, and submitted a completed Pension Application to that effect to Ms. Bricker. (Id. at 32.) Plaintiff began receiving monthly pension checks beginning in June of 1999. (See id.)

11. Approximately five years later, in July 2004, Plaintiff became eligible to receive Social Security Disability benefits of $1774.00 per month, due to his suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. (Ex. D-16; N.T. at 11.) He began receiving those benefits, and was ...


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