Kiser v. Huge, 73-1393

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (District of Columbia)
Citation170 U.S.App.D.C. 407,517 F.2d 1237
Docket NumberNo. 73-1393,73-1393
Parties86 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3213, 170 U.S.App.D.C. 407, 74 Lab.Cas. P 10,234 Slimp KISER, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, et al. v. Harry HUGE et al., and United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950, Appellants.
Decision Date05 August 1974

Page 1237

517 F.2d 1237
86 L.R.R.M. (BNA) 3213, 170 U.S.App.D.C. 407,
74 Lab.Cas. P 10,234
Slimp KISER, on behalf of himself and all others similarly
situated, et al.
v.
Harry HUGE et al., and United Mine Workers of America
Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950, Appellants.
No. 73-1393.
United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit.
Argued April 23, 1974.
Decided Aug. 5, 1974.

Page 1239

Daniel L. O'Connor, Washington, D. C., with whom J. Michael Farrell, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for appellees Kiser, et al.

Page 1240

Lewis D. Sargentich, Washington, D. C., with whom Joseph A. Yablonski, Clarice R. Feldman, Daniel B. Edelman, Washington, D. C., and Steven B. Jacobson were on the brief, for United Mine Workers of America as amicus curiae on the Matter of Attorneys' Fees.

Fred M. Vinson, Jr., Washington, D. C., with whom Michael P. Bentzen, Joseph A. Rafferty, Jr., Joseph T. McFadden, Washington, D. C., and M. E. Boiarsky, Charleston, W. Va., were on the brief, for appellants.

Julian H. Singman, Washington, D. C., with whom Martin Shulman, Washington, D. C., was on the brief, for plaintiff/intervenor-appellees.

Before EDWARDS,* United States Circuit Judge for the Sixth Circuit, and TAMM and WILKEY, Circuit Judges.

WILKEY, Circuit Judge:

This case and its companion, Pete v. UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950, 170 U.S.App.D.C.--, 517 F.2d 1267, No. 73-1270, are the latest in a series of legal confrontations between retired mine workers and the Trustees of the United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950 (the Fund). That the present controversies have proceeded to this stage without some extrajudicial resolution is attributable not so much to the novelty of the legal issues, for the governing law is fairly clear, nor to the need for an intensive factual inquiry, for the material facts are on the whole uncontroverted. Rather, these controversies owe their lives to the continuing intractability of the Trustees in the face of a series of unambiguous pronouncements by this court designed to guide the Trustees in the discharge of their obligations to the Fund's beneficiaries. The individuals serving as Trustees have changed from time to time during the course of this extensive litigation, as have their legal counsel, and all the incumbent Trustees were not participants in the major actions described herein. We hope that our affirmance of the orders entered below, granting the plaintiff classes summary judgment, will help close the book on this chapter, in the annals of litigation.

I. Background

The fund is an irrevocable trust established by the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1950 under the authority of section 302(c)(5) of the Labor-Management Relations Act of 1947. 1 It is administered by three Trustees: one selected by mine operators who have signed the Agreement (signatories), one designated by the United Mine Workers of America, and one neutral selected by the other two. Each signatory operator must pay into the Fund royalties based on the quantity of coal it produces. From the accumulated royalties and the income earned by investing the Fund's principal, the Trustees are charged with paying various benefits to employees of the coal operators, including medical and hospital costs, pensions, and compensation for work-related injuries and illnesses. Under the Agreement, the Trustees have full authority to establish criteria with respect to eligibility for benefits. The pension plan adopted by the Trustees provides for flat monthly payments to all retired miners who meet applicable eligibility criteria. 2

The plaintiff class in this case consists of all miners who retired after 1 February 1965 and who met all pension eligibility requirements in effect at the time they applied, except the so-called 'signatory last-year employment requirement.' This requirement, embodied

Page 1241

in Resolution No. 63 of the Fund's Trustees, 3 provided that an applicant was eligible for a pension only if he had '[p]ermanently ceased work in the coal industry immediately following regular employment for a period of at least one (1) full year as an employee in a classified job for an employer signatory to the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement . . ..' 4

The plaintiffs-appellees filed their complaint on 28 February 1970, 14 days after this court issued its pivotal opinion in Roark v. Boyle 5 Roark II. Earlier, in Roark v. Lewis 6 (Roark I), we had concluded that the signatory last employment requirement of Trustees' Resolutions Nos. 56 and 57, as applied to miners with several years of total signatory service, was prima facie unreasonable. We afforded the Trustees an opportunity to show 'what, if any, reasonable relationship exists between the purposes of the Fund and the requirement that an employee's last regular employment be with a signatory operator.' 7 In Roark II, we found that such a requirement induces miners to continue serving a signatory operator until their departure from the coal industry, and thereby advances the legitimate objective of 'prevent[ing] non-contributing employers who made no pension contribution from getting the benefit of miners' who have acquired training and experience in the service of a contributing employer. 8 However, we held that a bare signatory last employment requirement is arbitrary and irrational, since it permits a miner who worked just one year, his last, for a signatory employer to receive a pension, while it denies pension benefits to a miner who accumulated several years of signatory service but retired from the employ of a nonsignatory operator. We concluded that the three plaintiffs, who had accumulated from 9 to 15 years' signatory service, were 'entitled to a declaration that the signatory last employment requirement is invalid as applied to them and that they are entitled to a pension if they met the other eligibility requirements in effect at the time their pension applications were filed.' 9 We reached the

Page 1242

same result in the companion case of Collins v. UMWA Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950. 10

Since the court in Roark II perceived that the signatory last employment requirement could serve a legitimate purpose in some situations, we stated that such a requirement 'can be valid,' but

only if it is in context of a plan that conditions eligibility on a period of contributory employment that is of sufficiently significant duration to warrant eligibility for a flat pension. A period less than five years would manifestly not be sufficient under this standard. 11

We further indicated that if the Trustees chose to retain the objectionable requirement in a validating context, they would 'have discretion to make their amended regulation retrospective, in the sense of being applicable to applications hereafter filed even though they relate to past retirements.' 12 We continued, 'Similarly we think such provisions may be made applicable to applications heretofore rejected and subsequently presented for reconsideration.' 13

On 14 January 1971 the Trustees approved Resolution No. 83, which contained a signatory last-year employment requirement for miners who retired on or after 1 February 1965, 14 as in the case of members of the plaintiff class. In an attempt to follow Roark II and supply a validating context for this requirement, the Trustees added a provision that 'an applicant . . . must have worked, after May 28, 1946, [a minimum of five] years of signatory service . . ..' 15 However, Resolution No. 83 by its terms applied only to applications received on or after 1 April 1971. Those received before that date were subject to the resolution then in effect. 16

Subsequently, on 25 June 1971, we handed down our decision in DePaoli v. Boyle. 17 DePaoli had retired after 1 February 1965 and had filed his pension application before 14 August 1970, the date Roark II was decided. Before his retirement, he had accumulated over eight years of total signatory service, but he retired from the coal industry at a time when he was self-employed. His pension application was denied on the ground that he failed to meet the signatory last-year employment requirement of Resolution No. 63. We held that DePaoli was in the same position as Roark and Collins and was therefore entitled to the same relief. We assessed the effect of Resolution No. 83 on the case in the following manner:

[T]he new Resolution No. 83 makes no provision whatsoever for persons such as DePaoli who, like Roark and Collins, had filed before 14 August 1970 and had been denied pensions on the basis of the signatory last employment requirement declared unlawful in the Roark case. The net result of the trustees' action is not to accept the invitation

Page 1243

of the court to make the new eligibility requirements retroactive in an equitable and valid context, as in their discretion the trustees might have done, but specifically to promulgate as far as DePaoli and others similarly situated are concerned the very eligibility requirements struck down in Roark. 18

On 28 January 1972, in Belcher v. Carey, 19 we affirmed the District Court's decision in favor of retired miners who had filed their pension applications before 14 August 1970, had been denied benefits solely on the basis of the signatory last employment requirement of Resolution No. 63, and had filed suit prior to 14 August 1970.

On 2 March 1972 the Fund's Trustees promulgated Resolution No. 89, which attempted to give Resolution No. 83 retroactive effect with respect to applications received before 14 August 1970. However, on 12 May 1972, in Teston v. Carey, 20 we held that a miner whose situation was 'virtually identical' to that of DePaoli 21 was entitled to relief under the Roark II and DePaoli decisions. In so doing, we indicated dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Trustees had exercised the discretion that we had conferred on them in Roark II:

[T]he manner in which the Trustees...

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