United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J. McConnell Jr. United States District Judge
Frank Lewis filed, this action to challenge an Appeals
Committee determination (ECF No. 12-2 at 138-142) approving
his application for early retirement benefits by the Sheet
Metal Workers' National Pension Fund
("Plan") but subjecting it to delays per the Plan
documents. The Plan responded to the Complaint by moving to
dismiss. ECF No. 12. Facts
Lewis was a member of the Sheet Metal Workers' Union,
Local 17 ("Union") for many years. ECF No. 1 at 2,
¶3, 7. From about 2008 until 2011, Mr. Lewis was an
unemployed member of the Union. Id. at 3, ¶13.
He then became "employed by General Dynamics Electric
Boat ["Electric Boat"] from February 14, 2011 to
October 4, 2015." ECF No. 1 at 2, ¶11. His position
with Electric Boat was in the sheet metal industry but not
under a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA")
with the Sheet Metal Workers' Union ("Union")
("noncovered employment'). Id. at 2,
¶¶ 11. The job was provided by a
"Veterans' Administration program entitled Helmet to
Hard Hats." This program "awardts] to Iraqi[ ]
Freedom Veterans" help with work placement in the
building industry. Id. After his employment with
Electric Boat, Mr. Lewis retired.
Lewis, a participant in the Plan, submitted a claim for
pension benefits that included a claim for early retirement
benefits. ECF No. 1 at 2, ¶¶8, 9. The Plan approved
his claim for pension benefits bxit postponed his request for
early retirement benefits because of his period of noncovered
employment. Id. at 2, Â¶10.
Court assumes the factual allegations in the Complaint as
true for purposes of this motion. Arruda v. Sears, Roebuck
& Co., 310 F.3d 13, 18 (1st Cir. 2002). The complaining
party must include "factual content [if it wants] the
court to draw a reasonable inference" in the
pleader's favor. Katz v. Pershing, LLC, 672 F.3d 64,
72-73 (1st Cir. 2012).
ERISA Plan delegates to the Plan administrator the discretion
to construe the Plan and determine eligibility for benefits
under its provisions-as it does here-a Court must uphold a
decision made under the Plan unless it was "arbitrary,
capricious, or an abuse of discretion." Niebauer v.
Crane & Co., 783 F.3d 914, 922-23 (1st Cir. 2015).
The central question under the arbitrary and capricious
standard is whether the decision was reasonable and supported
by substantial evidence. See, e.g., McDonough v. Aetna
Life Ins. Co., 783 F.3d 374, 379 (1st Cir. 2015).
"[T]he question is not which side is right," but
whether the Appeals Committee's "decision was
reasonable based on the record before it."
Niebauer, 783 F.3d at 928.
Court may consider the contents of documents alleged in a
complaint for purposes of a motion to dismiss without
converting the motion to one for summary judgment when the
documents are central to a plaintiffs claims and a plaintiff
sufficiently refers to them in the complaint. See
Watterson v. Page, 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993)
(recognizing the propriety of considering materials outside
the complaint, "for documents central to the
plaintiffs' claim" and "for documents
sufficiently referred to in the complaint").
Plan may impose a delay on the start date for early
retirement of a Plan participant in some cases. See Section
5.06(b) of the Plan. One of those instances occurs if the Plan
participant had worked in noncovered employment. The Plan
contended that Mr. Lewis' period of noncovered
employment-his time working at Electric Boat required them to
delay his early retirement.
Lewis first alleges that, although his employment with
Electric Boat was not under a CBA, his employment was a
"Federal benefit" to a veteran, which "is an
exception and/or should be an exception to the standard
exclusionary language contained in the plan document."
ECF No. 1 at 3, ¶17. Mr. Lewis alleges that he "is
entitled to early retirement benefits and that said benefits
should not be postponed." Id. at 3, ¶20.
Referring to the disposition of his appeal by the Appeals
Committee, [Mr. Lewis] alleges that the Plan "wrongfully
denied [Mr. Lewis] benefits and wrongfully postponed Mr.
Lewis' receipt of pension benefits." Id. at
problem with Mr. Lewis's first argument is that he cites
no sxich exception in the Plan documents-because none exist.
Mr. Lewis' argument boils down to a theory that the Plan
should have recognized such an exception to the requirement
of a delay period imposed on his early retirement benefits
because this noncovered employment was sponsored for
veterans. Although a laudable program, neither the
Plan documents nor the ERISA law allows the Plan to disregard
the explicit provisions of the Plan because the participant
is a veteran and his employment "is a Federal
benefit." Id. at 3, ¶17. The Plan thus
cannot recognize the exception requested by Mr. Lewis, and
neither can this Court.
Complaint in this Court, Mr. Lewis offers a second rationale
for why the Plan and now the Court should not delay his
retirement. Before his employment with Electric Boat, Mr.
Lewis was a member of the Union but remained unemployed for a
period of three years. During this three-year period, the
Union did not find employment for Mr. Lewis under a
Union's CBA. The Union provided other Union members with
employment with companies under the Union's CBA and Mr.
Lewis was qualified for employment, but the Union did not
provide it to him. Mr. Lewis argues that the Plan wrongfully
denied him his early retirement benefits by ignoring the fact
that the Union did not provide covered employment that would
have entitled him to non-delayed early retirement benefits.
problem with Mr. Lewis' newest rationale is that the
Union's alleged failure to find him employment is not a
basis for not following the unambiguous language of the Plan
documents. Mr. Lewis' complaint-that from 2008 to 2011,
the Union did not find him employment, needing him to take
the veterans-sponsored nonunion job at Electric Boat-is
directed at the Union and has no relevance according to the
Plan documents. ...