Shishido v. SIU-Pacific District-PMA Pension Plan

Decision Date22 December 1983
Docket NumberNo. C82-4776 SW.,C82-4776 SW.
Citation587 F. Supp. 112
PartiesJack SHISHIDO, Plaintiff, v. SIU-PACIFIC DISTRICT-PMA PENSION PLAN, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of California

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Bruce A. Feder, Legal Assistance to the Elderly, Inc., San Francisco, Cal., Neal S. Dudovitz, Gill Deford, National Senior Citizens Law Center, Los Angeles, Cal., for plaintiff.

John F. Henning, Jr., John Paul Jennings, Victor C. Thuesen, Henning, Walsh & Ritchie, San Francisco, Cal., for defendant, Seafarers' Intern. Union of North America, Pacific Dist.

Dennis Daniels, San Francisco, Cal., John Paul Jennings, Henning, Walsh & Ritchie, San Francisco, Cal., for defendants SIU-Pacific District-PMA Pension Plan, Chester D. Hazel as administrator of the SIU-Pacific District-PMA Pension Plan.

ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OF LAW

SPENCER WILLIAMS, District Judge.

This is an action brought by a retired merchant seaman to increase pension benefits. Cross motions for summary judgment were heard by this court on October 14, 1983. All parties having appeared at said hearing, written and oral arguments from all parties having been considered, and good cause appearing therefore, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that defendant Pension Plan's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED; defendant Union's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED; plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED as to defendant Union and GRANTED as to defendant Pension Plan.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD

This action was submitted for decision on cross-motions for summary judgment. All parties have stipulated to a joint statement of facts (hereinafter "Joint Statement") which incorporates by reference the Pension Plan Agreement that forms the basis of controversy between plaintiff, the Pension Plan, and the Union.

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue of as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ. Pro. 56 (c). For purposes of Rule 56, stipulations entered into by counsel are deemed admissions. See Gramm v. Lincoln, 257 F.2d 250 (9th Cir.1958). Thus, where the parties agree on the material facts, and the dispute involving proper interpretation of statutes and regulations, the case can be resolved as a matter of law and summary judgment is therefore appropriate. Smith v. Califano, 597 F.2d 152, cert. denied, 444 U.S. 980, 100 S.Ct. 481, 62 L.Ed.2d 406.

In this case, part of the court's review involves construction of provisions set forth in the Pension Plan Agreement. Though inquiry into the contracting parties' intentions may present questions of fact, the preliminary question of whether any ambiguity exists in the contract is a question of law that may be summarily resolved by the court. See Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison v. Telex Corp., 602 F.2d 866, 871 (9th Cir.1979), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 981, 100 S.Ct. 483, 62 L.Ed.2d 407.

After considering written and oral arguments related to the meaning of certain provisions set forth in the Pension Plan Agreement, discussed more fully below, the court finds that the agreement is unambiguous and presents no triable issue of fact. Based upon the Joint Statement and the Pension Plan Agreement, the court finds that summary judgment may, as a matter of law, be entered in favor of plaintiff against defendant Pension Plan.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND ISSUES

Mr. Shishido is a 64 year old retired merchant seaman who began working in the maritime industry in 1940 at the age of 21. He joined the National Union of Marine Cooks and Stewards (NUMCS) and obtained the required United States Merchant Mariner's Document from the United States Coast Guard at the inception of his 30 year maritime career.

Plaintiff worked continuously on Pacific Maritime Association (PMA) deep-sea vessels until 1951. During World War II, he accepted perilous duty on trans-Atlantic convoys which were subject to U-boat attack. At the conclusion of the war, President Truman issued a certificate commending plaintiff for his "courage and fortitude" in the war effort.

Without regard for plaintiff's documented courage and patriotism, the United States Coast Guard notified him on June 4, 1951 that Presidential Order No. 10173 rendered him ineligible to serve on deep-sea merchant vessels. Reflecting the political tensions of the period, plaintiff's Merchant Mariner's Document was revoked by the Coast Guard because his affiliation with allegedly subversive groups made his presence on board deep-sea vessels "inimical to the security of the United States."

This process of revocation for "security" reasons became known as "screening". As a consequence of being screened, plaintiff, and many others similarly situated, were forced to leave the maritime industry from 1951 to 1956.

In October 1956, the Ninth Circuit upheld a district court judgment which found the "screening" system to be an unconstitutional violation of due process. The court enjoined the Coast Guard from continuing the screening process and from instituting any other measure which would deprive seamen of employment opportunity without due process. Lester v. Parker, 112 F.Supp. 433 (N.D.Cal.1953), remanded, 227 F.2d 708 (9th Cir.1955), 141 F.Supp. 519 (N.C. Cal.1956), aff'd., 235 F.2d 787 (9th Cir. 1956), pet. for reh'g. denied, 237 F.2d 698 (9th Cir.1956).

Upon reissuance of his Merchant Mariner's Document in 1957, plaintiff again sought work as a merchant seaman. However, plaintiff found that his former union, NUMCS, had been replaced with a rival union, defendant SIU-PD. As a result, he lost all his seniority and was ineligible for maritime employment in the Pacific region.

The collective bargaining agreement entered into between SIU-PD and PMA, in effect between 1955-58, provided that no seaman could sail in 1957 who was not eligible to sail on PMA ships in 1952. The agreement thus operated to exclude plaintiff, who had been unlawfully "screened-off" during 1952.

The collective bargaining agreement in effect between 1958-61 provided that the registration list of the SIU-PD union hall be closed as of 1956. Even this later agreement excluded plaintiff, who was not able to get on the 1956 registration list due to his previous ineligibility caused by the illegal "screening".

Plaintiff eventually received additional training in 1960 which provided him with enough seniority to ship-out until his disability retirement in 1976 at the age of 57. Upon retirement, plaintiff applied for pension benefits.

Despite plaintiff's 30 year maritime career, his application for a basic pension was denied and his claim for a Disability Pension was allowed only for the minimum amount of $125.00 per month.

The subject benefit plan was originally negotiated between PMA and SIU-PD in 1957. The most recent restatement of its terms is the Second Amended SIU Pacific District-PMA Pension Plan Agreement, attached as exhibit A to defendant Pension Plan's Answer and incorporated within the Joint Statement. The plan provides for a variety of pension programs but this action concerns only the Basic Pension and the Disability Pension.

The Basic Pension provides for a monthly benefit of $250.00 for seamen who have earned 20 years of Qualifying Time during a Qualification Period of 30 years. Agreement, § 6.01 (a) at p. 28. The Disability Pension provides a monthly benefit ranging from $125.00 to $250.00, depending upon length of service, to any seaman who has earned at least 10 years of Qualifying Time during a Qualification Period of 25 years. Id. To be eligible for the maximum Disability Pension, a seaman must have worked at least 20 years in the 25 year period. Id.

A seaman's Qualifying Time includes not only his days in covered employment for which contributions were contemporaneously paid by the employer to the plan, but also his days at sea on PMA vessels prior to the Plan's inception in 1957. Agreement, § 4.02(c), at p. 11, appendix E to Agreement at p. 1. For example, plaintiff would be entitled to pension credit for his pre-1952 service if those years are included within his Qualification Period. Id.

Plaintiff's service record shows 9.075 years worked from 1940 to 1951. He accrued 12.62 years of Qualifying Time from 1961 to 1975. Joint Statement of Facts, p. 8. Defendant Plan found plaintiff eligible for a Disability Pension at the lowest rating of $125.00 a month based on 12.62 years of Qualifying Time accrued during a 25 year Qualifying Period extending from 1951 to 1976.

The Defendant Plan did not include the 9.075 years plaintiff worked between 1940 to 1951 because those years had not been worked within the 25 year Qualification Period of 1951 to 1976. Plaintiff was found not to have qualified for a Basic Pension because he had not earned 20 years of Qualifying Time during the Qualification Period extending from 1946 to 1976.

Plaintiff alleges that the trustee's refusal to modify the qualification period to take into account the 9.075 years he worked prior to being unlawfully screened is arbitrary and capricious conduct, clearly violative of the strict fiduciary duties imposed upon trustees by ERISA and Section 302 of the LMRA. Therefore, plaintiff seeks an order requiring the trustees to add the 9.075 years on to the 12.62 years of accrued Qualifying Time for a total of 22.37 years of Qualifying Time which would qualify plaintiff for total benefits of $250.00 per month.

In evaluating plaintiff's claims, we consider two issues: (1) whether defendant Pension Plan has the fiduciary duty to modify the Qualification Period to avoid an arbitrary or capricious denial of benefits and whether that duty has been violated; and (2), whether Defendant Union is liable to plaintiff for the amount of the maximum Disability Pension due to the alleged failure of the Union to represent adequately the interests of...

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