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Silvaggio v. Cement Masons Local 526 Pension Fund

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 2, 2015

PALMA SILVAGGIO, Plaintiff,
v.
CEMENT MASONS LOCAL 526 PENSION FUND, a/k/a CEMENT MASONS LOCAL 526 COMBINED FUNDS, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

DAVID STEWART CERCONE, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Palma Silvaggio ("Palma" or "Plaintiff"), filed this action against Defendant, Cement Masons Local 526 Pension Fund (the "Fund"), under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., seeking to recover the benefit of the 100% Joint and Survivor Annuity under Local 526's Pension Plan (the "Plan") pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132. The Fund has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, Plaintiff has responded and the matter is now before the Court.

II. STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Cement Masons Local 526 ("Local 526") is a local union within the Operative Plasters and Cement Masons International Association and maintains a primary office in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Defendant's Concise Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("Defendant's CSUMF") ¶ 6. Local 526 is organized and exists as a collective bargaining agent for cement masons who are members and work in the Pittsburgh and tri-state area. Defendant's CSUMF ¶ 7. The Fund, by and through its duly authorized Board of Trustees and Fund Administrator, acted as the Plan Administrator within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1002(16)(A) of the Fund for employees and employee members of Cement Masons Local 526. Defendant's CSUMF ¶ 8; Complaint ¶ 12.

Domenic Silvaggio ("Domenic"), Palma's husband, was a cement mason and member of Local 526. Defendant's CSUMF ¶ 3. Domenic was a participant in Local 526's Pension Plan, and had enrolled Palma as a dependent for all pension and benefit purposes. Defendant's CSUMF ¶¶ 4 & 5. In or around December, 1991, Domenic decided to retire. Defendant's CSUMF ¶¶ 11 & 12. Prior to filing his election to retire, Domenic was provided with a letter dated December 19, 1991, along with an Application for Pension Benefits from the Cement Masons Local 526 (the "Application"), which provided his benefit payment for each of the offered retirement selections: (1) the 60-Month Certain Annuity provided $1, 497.77/month for 60 months with the beneficiary receiving any of the 60 payments not paid at the time of the payee's death; (2) the 50% Joint and Survivor Annuity (the "50% Option") provided $1, 315.04/month for life and upon the death of the payee, the spouse would receive $657.52/month for life; and (3) the 100% Joint and Survivor Annuity (the "100% Option") provided $1, 180.24/month for life and upon the death of the payee, the spouse would also receive $1, 180.24/month for life. Defendant's CSUMF ¶¶ 12, 13 & 14; Defendant's Exhibit 2.

Prior to completing his application, Domenic sought the advice of John La Scola ("La Scola") who was the business manager/financial secretary for Local 526, and was a trustee of the Fund. Complaint ¶¶ 20 & 20[1]; Defendant's Exhibit 10, pp. 20-22. La Scola contends that he advised Domenic to elect the 100% Option, and it was his understanding that Domenic wanted the 100% Option for Palma. Defendant's Exhibit 10, pp. 22-23.

On or about December 24, 1991, Domenic completed and executed the Application for benefits[2]. Defendant's Exhibit 1. The Application, however, contains a check-mark indicating the selection of the 50% Option[3]. Defendant's CSUMF ¶ 15; Defendant's Exhibit 1. Domenic's December benefit check from the Fund, dated January 1, 1992, was accompanied by a letter informing him that he was to receive monthly checks as follows:

Gross Amount $1315.04 Withholding tax 131.50 Net Amount 1183.54

See Defendant's Exhibit 3. The check, which was signed by La Scola, had the same information on the face of the check. Id. The gross amount of the check corresponded to the amount Domenic was to receive under the 50% Option as set forth in the December 19, 1991 letter. Neither Domenic, Palma nor La Scola questioned the amount of the benefit check. Domenic received his monthly pension benefit checks, without question or complaint, until his death on July 31, 2011. Defendant's CSUMF ¶ 17. At the time of his death, Domenic was collecting $1, 928.85 per month in pension benefits. See Defendant's Exhibit 5. Under the 50% Option, Palma was to receive $964.43 per month. Id.

When Palma received a reduced benefit check after Domenic's death, she submitted a letter of appeal to the Board of Trustees of Local 526, dated September 13, 2011, alleging that it was Domenic's intent that she receive no reduction of benefits after his death. See Defendant's Exhibit 4. By letter dated January 18, 2012, Palma was notified that the Pension Fund Trustees had denied her appeal, and informed her that she could appeal the denial by filing suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. See Defendant's Exhibit 6. By letter dated January 23, 2012, counsel for Palma requested a full hearing before the Board of Trustees. See Defendant's Exhibit 7. Following a full hearing before the Board in April, 2012, Palma's appeal was again denied. Defendant's CSUMF ¶ 21. The Board of Trustees indicated that the decision was based upon the following factors:

(1) The pension application of Mr. ...

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