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Bickhart v. Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia And Vicinity

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 24, 2017

JOHN D. BICKHART
v.
CARPENTERS HEALTH AND WELFARE FUND OF PHILADELPHIA AND VICINITY, et al.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SCHMEHL, J.

         Plaintiff John D. Bickhart (“Bickhart”) brought this action, claiming defendants violated the Employee Retirement Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. 1001, et seq. when they terminated plaintiff's retiree medical benefits. Presently before the Court are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the defendants' motion is granted and the plaintiff's motion is denied.

         Summary judgment is appropriate if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by ‘the mere existence' of some disputed facts, but will be denied when there is a genuine issue of material fact.” Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009)(quoting Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-248 (1986)). A fact is “material” if proof of its existence or non-existence might affect the outcome of the litigation, and a dispute is “genuine” if “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         In undertaking this analysis, the court views the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. “After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party.” Pignataro v. Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J., 593 F.3d 265, 268 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997)).

         While the moving party bears the initial burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, meeting this obligation shifts the burden to the non-moving party who must “set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250.

         The parties have stipulated to the following facts:

         I. PARTIES

         1. Bickhart was a “participant” in the Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity (“Welfare Plan”). Amended Complaint ¶¶5-6; Amended Answer ¶¶5-6.

         2. Bickhart has exhausted his administrative remedies under the Health and Welfare Fund and has standing to maintain this action. Amended Complaint ¶4; Amended Answer ¶4.

         3. Defendant Health and Welfare Fund is a trust fund under 29 U.S.C. 186(c) Amended Complaint ¶¶7, 9; Amended Answer ¶7, 9.

         4. Defendant Board of Administration of the Carpenters Health and Welfare Fund of Philadelphia and Vicinity is the plan sponsor, plan administrator and named fiduciary of the Welfare Plan. Amended Complaint ¶10; Amended Answer ¶10.

         5. The Welfare Plan is an employee benefit plan under 29 U.S.C. §1002. Amended Complaint ¶7; Amended Answer ¶7.

         6. Defendants Edward Coryell, Thomas Breslin, Edward Coryell, Jr., Michael Hand, Michael Morrow, Robert P. Naughton, James R. Davis, Frank Boyer, Joseph Clearkin, Jack Healy, Frank T. Lutter, and Philip Radomski served as the members of Defendant Board of Administration of the Health and Welfare Fund (collectively, “Board of Administration Members”) in 2015 through February 2016. Amended Complaint ¶11; Amended Answer ¶11; Deposition of Ed Coryell, August 8, 2016, at 9-12.

         7. The Board of Administration acts as a collective board or, at times, through a subcommittee thereof. Amended Complaint ¶20; Amended Answer ¶20.

         8. Each of the members of the Board of Administration is a fiduciary with respect to the Welfare Plan with respect to the benefit claim and appeals at issue in this case.

         II. COUNT III - BENEFITS CLAIM

         9. Exhibit A to the parties' stipulation of facts describes documents that are part of the Administrative Record pertaining to Plaintiff and/or the termination of Plaintiff's Retiree Medical Benefits.

         III. COUNTS I AND II - FACTS

         10. Bickhart was born in February 1953. Amended Complaint ¶22; Amended Answer ¶22.

         11. Bickhart applied to retire on January 1, 2007 at the age of 53 and began receiving pension benefits from the Carpenters Pension & Annuity Plan of Philadelphia and Vicinity (“Pension Plan”) and Retiree Medical Benefits from the Welfare Plan as a Retired Covered Participant.

         12. Bickhart paid monthly premiums to the Health and Welfare Fund between the years 2010 and 2015, ranging in amounts increasing from $50 to $230, from year to year. Deposition of Piotr Tonia, July 27, 2016, at 78-80.

         13. Information that Bickhart allegedly was working for a non-union contractor was provided by a Union Business Agent to Coryell on June 5, 2015. Deposition of Ed Coryell, August 8, 2016, at 44-45, 60; Defendant's May 19, 2016 Supplemental Response to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories No. 16.

         14. Coryell provided information to Tonia on June 5, 2015 that Bickhart was working for a non-union contractor. Deposition of Ed Coryell, August 8, 2016, at 31; Defendant's May 19, 2016 Supplemental Response to Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories No. 16.

         15. Piotr (“Pete”) Tonia was appointed in November 2005 as the Fund Coordinator and Coordinator of Benefits for the Health and Welfare Fund by the Board of Administration. Amended Complaint ¶¶13, 55; Amended Answer ¶¶13, 55; Deposition of Piotr Tonia, July 27, 2016, at 9.

         16. Tonia, as Fund Coordinator and Coordinator of Benefits, makes decisions on behalf of the Health and Welfare Fund office to terminate retiree medical benefits under the Welfare Plan. Amended Complaint ¶21; Amended Answer ¶21.

         17. Tonia made the decision to terminate Bickhart's retiree medical benefits under the Health and Welfare Fund on or about June 8, 2015. Deposition of Piotr Tonia, July 27, 2016, at 27.

         18. A July 21, 2015 Appeals Memo was prepared by Tonia pertaining to the termination of Bickhart's retiree medical benefits was presented to the Board of Administration Appeals Committee on that date. Deposition of Piotr Tonia, July 27, 2016, at 62.

         19. The Appeals Committee was comprised of Board of Administration Members Coryell and James Davis, who were the only voting members of the Appeals Committee, among other individuals who were not Board of Administration Members. Deposition of Piotr Tonia, July 27, 2016, at 62.

         20. The voting members of the Appeals Committee agreed with the recommendation of Fund Coordinator Tonia to deny Bickhart's appeal. Deposition of Piotr Tonia, July 27, 2016, at 64-65.

         21. The Board of Administration adopted the recommendation of the Appeals Committee on July 21, 2015. W30003-W-30007, Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity Board of Administration Minutes of Meeting of July 21, 2015.

         22. The First Amendment to the Amended and Restated Health and Welfare Fund was adopted by the Board of Administration of the Health and Welfare Fund on January 20, 2009. Amended Complaint, Docket # 29, Exhibit 1; Amended Complaint ¶59; Amended Answer ¶59.

         23. No further Amendment to Section 3.04 of the Welfare Plan was adopted by the Board of Administration between the First Amendment thereto on January 20, 2009 and the termination of Bickhart's retiree medical benefits. Amended Complaint ¶61; Amended Answer ¶61. A change was made in 2016 for the future.

         24. The administration of waiver requests was undertaken primarily by Coryell, who exercised the discretion to grant waivers or deny ...


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