Meade v. Pension Appeals and Review Committee

Decision Date02 April 1991
Docket NumberNo. C2-88-198.,C2-88-198.
Citation760 F. Supp. 671
PartiesDanny MEADE, Plaintiff, v. PENSION APPEALS AND REVIEW COMMITTEE; Ohio Laborers' Fringe Benefit Programs: Laborer's District Council and Contractors Pension Fund of Ohio, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio

John Keith Everett, Columbus, Ohio, for plaintiff.

Randall Scott Rabe, Columbus, Ohio, for defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

GEORGE C. SMITH, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court pursuant to the motion filed by the plaintiff on March 31, 1989, and the cross motion filed by the defendant on May 15, 1989, for summary judgement pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff initiated this action on January 14, 1988 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, seeking relief under 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1441(a) and 28 U.S.C. Section 1446, the instant action was removed to this Court for its determination. For the reasons stated herein, the plaintiff's motion is hereby DENIED and defendant's cross motion is hereby GRANTED.

FACTS

Plaintiff, Danny Meade was employed as a general laborer by one or more employers, all of whom were participants in the Ohio Laborers' Pension Fund. During the course of his employment, each general laborer made contributions to the Pension Fund on his or her behalf. Although the cause is unknown, the plaintiff apparently suffered an injury to his lower back area in August of 1979. It is based on this injury that plaintiff claims that he is entitled to the "total and permanent" disability benefits provided under the terms of the Laborers' District Council and Contractors Pension Fund of Ohio (The "Pension Plan").

On May 27, 1981, plaintiff submitted an application to the defendant for "total and permanent" disability benefits under the terms of the pension plan. In support of his application, the plaintiff submitted a notice from the Social Security Administration, indicating that he had been declared a qualifying recipient for Social Security Benefits. Upon the defendant's request, the plaintiff submitted an additional medical report of his then attending physician, Dr. F.W. Elder. Contrary to the plaintiff's assertion that he was "permanently" disabled, Dr. Elder's examination report indicated that plaintiff was only "temporarily" disabled. Such a conclusion of fact apparently disqualified the plaintiff for this aspect of benefits under the Pension Plan. However, to assure the accuracy of its decision, the defendant requested that the plaintiff submit to an additional examination by a different physician. Plaintiff agreed and was examined by Dr. John S. Wolfe. Based upon his examination, Dr. Wolfe concluded that the plaintiff in fact had very little disability and that he could return to work without any restriction.

On the basis of the reports of Dr. Elder and Dr. Wolfe, the defendant rejected the plaintiff's application for "Total and Permanent Disability Benefits", notifying him by letter dated October 1, 1981. Obviously dissatisfied with this result, Mr. Meade appealed the decision to the Pension Appeals and Review Committee ("The Committee") who in turn upheld the defendant's initial determination. On January 19, 1982, the plaintiff was notified by letter of the Committee's decision to support the earlier determination.

For approximately three years following the Committee's determination, the plaintiff took no action to challenge the defendant's decision. However, on or about December 5, 1985, Mr. Meade initiated a re-application with the Pension Fund, again seeking "Total and Permanent Disability Benefits" stemming from the injury allegedly suffered in August of 1979.1

In support of his re-application, Meade submitted a medical report of his then attending physician, Dr. Paul J. Matkra. Dr. Matkra's initial report of April 11, 1986 indicated that the plaintiff did not become "totally and permanently disabled" until 1984. However, on May 6, 1985, Dr. Matkra forwarded a letter to the defendant, stating generally that a clerical error had occurred in the report and that the plaintiff was "totally and permanently disabled" in 1979 rather than 1984.2

Based on the nature of this additional evidence, the defendant concluded that the information was unreliable, or at best was "inconclusive" on the issue of whether Meade was "totally and permanently disabled" in 1979.3 Accordingly, the defendant denied the plaintiff's 1985 re-application for disability benefits.

Plaintiff again appealed the decision to the Pension Appeals and Review Committee. Upon request by the Committee, the plaintiff submitted to yet another physical examination to be conducted by Dr. Kackley, a physician selected by the defendant. Based upon his personal examination of the plaintiff, a medical narrative given by the plaintiff and his medical records, Dr. Kackley concluded that the plaintiff was "totally and permanently disabled" in 1979. Despite this conclusion, The Committee upheld the initial decision, questioning Dr. Kackley's ability to conclude the date in which the plaintiff had originally become "totally and permanently disabled".4

Plaintiff filed the instant action on January 14, 1988 in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas seeking relief under 29 U.S.C. Section 1132(a) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and damages for breach of contract under general principles of state law. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1441(a) and 28 U.S.C. Section 1446, the action was removed for determination by this Court. The plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability and the defendant has filed a cross motion on the issue in response.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

In considering this motion, the Court is mindful that the standard for summary judgment "mirrors the standard for a directed verdict under Rule 50(a), which is that the trial judge must direct a verdict if, under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986) citing Brady v. Southern Ry. Co., 320 U.S. 476, 479-480, 64 S.Ct. 232, 234-235, 88 L.Ed. 239 (1943). Thus, the Supreme Court concluded in Anderson that a judge considering a motion for summary judgment must "ask himself not whether he thinks the evidence unmistakably favors one side or the other but whether a fair minded jury could return a verdict for the plaintiff on the evidence presented." 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512.

Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:

The judgment sought shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

In essence, the inquiry is whether the evidence presented a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512.

Such an inquiry necessarily implicates the evidentiary standard of proof that would apply at the trial on the merits. As a result, the Court must view the evidence presented through the prism of the substantive evidentiary burden. Rule 56(e) therefore requires that the nonmoving party go beyond the pleadings and by their own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2553, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986). The plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 322, 106 S.Ct. at 2552.

In Banks v. Rockwell International N. Am. Aircraft Operations, 666 F.Supp. 1053 (S.D.Ohio 1987) (J. Graham), this district enunciated the importance of granting summary judgments in appropriate situations by stating that: "Although summary judgment should be cautiously invoked, it is an integral part of the Federal Rules which are designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Citing, Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. at 2553, (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 1) Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252, 106 S.Ct. at 2512.

Thus, the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of a plaintiff's claim is insufficient — there must be evidence upon which a jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. Having discussed the Rule 56 standard of review, the Court now turns to the merits.

ANALYSIS
I. Plaintiff's Cause of Action and Section 413

The initial issue presented to this Court for its determination is whether the plaintiff's cause of action is time barred by 29 U.S.C. Section 1113(a)(2), Section 413(a)(2) of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Turning to plaintiff's complaint, it alleges that the defendants wrongfully denied him disability benefits that he was entitled to under the terms of the pension plan. Clearly, these allegations assert that the defendant has breached its fiduciary duty in the maintenance and disbursement of funds under the plan, making the applicable statute of limitations 29 U.S.C. Section 1113(a), Section 413(a).5 See, Cowden v. Montgomery Co. Soc. For Cancer Control, 591 F.Supp. 740, 754 (N.D.Ohio 1984), citing, Davidson v. Cook, 567 F.Supp. 225, 235 (E.D.Va.1983); Livolsi v. City of New Castle, Pa., 501 F.Supp. 1146 (W.D.Pa. 1980).

Having determined that 29 U.S.C. Section 1113(a), Section 413(a) applies, it is necessary to determine when the time limitations of the statute began to run. In...

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  • Meade v. Pension Appeals and Review Committee
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Sixth Circuit
    • June 4, 1992
    ...Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of defendants 760 F.Supp. 671 and plaintiff appeals. For the reasons which follow, we reverse the decision of the district court and remand for proceedings consistent with ......

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