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Delgrosso v. Spang and Co.

July 30, 1985

MATTHEW A. DELGROSSO, JAMES P. BLAIR, LESTER WARE, JIMMIE MINES JR., JOE HENRY, ROBERT C. TRAINER, JAY T. RICHLER, ROBERT HARDWICK, JEROME J. PHILLIPS, GILBERT WEESE, LARRY K. HILL, CHARLES G. CHURCH JR., JOHN R. ALVES, BARRY K. RALZ, DONALD LEE ADAMS, CHARLES WOODRUM, RICHARD W. MARTINEAU, HUBERT J. LEE APPELLANTS
v.
SPANG AND COMPANY APPELLEE; MATTHEW A. DELGROSSO, JAMES P. BLAIR, LESTER WARE, JIMMIE MINES JR., JOE HENRY, ROBERT C. TRAINER, JAY T. RICHLER, ROBERT HARDWICK, JEROME J. PHILLIPS, GILBERT WEESE, LARRY K. HILL, CHARLES G. CHURCH JR., JOHN R. ALVES, BARRY K. RALZ, DONALD LEE ADAMS, CHARLES WOODRUM, RICHARD W. MARTINEAU, HUBERT J. LEE, CROSS-APPELLEES V. SPANG AND COMPANY CROSS-APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 82-2672)

Author: Garth

BEFORE: WEIS, GARTH and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges

Opinion OF THE COURT

GARTH, Circuit Judge:

Matthew Delgrosso, et al, the non-vested participants*fn1 in the Spang pension plan (the Fund) for its Lorain, Ohio ferro slag plant, sought a ruling which would prevent Spang & Company from appropriating to itself the surplus assets of the Fund and would instead order those assets to be distributed among the non-vested participants. The district court rejected Delgrosso's claims and entered summary judgment for Spang, clearing the way for Spang & Co. to receive the surplus assets of the Fund remaining after Spang had funded all vested benefits through insurance contracts. Delgrosso appealed to this Court.

Because we conclude that Spang violated its fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1104 by unilaterally amending the pension plan to provide for a reversion of assets to Spang, we reverse so much of the judgment of the district court which held otherwise, and which did not provide for an allocation of the surplus funds among vested and non-vested participants.

I.

Most of the underlying facts are undisputed. The Fund has been maintained since 1963 under a succession of collectively bargained pension agreements between Spang and United Steel Workers (USW). The most recent of these pension agreements was an agreement effective for the period November 1, 1980 to November 1, 1983 (the Pension Agreement). Under earlier agreements, the Fund was to be maintained as a defined contribution plan - that is, Spang was required to contribute $.40 per hour worked for each employee, and the employee would receive a pension in the amount of however much pension the Fund could buy once he retired.

In 1974, the plan was converted into a defined benefit plan, under which Spang was obligated to maintain funding for the plan at whatever level was actuarially necessary in order to provide the guaranteed benefits specified under the collective bargaining agreement. As it worked out, the earlier contributions which Spang had been required to pay into the Fund have always been adequate to fund the plan's pension obligations and Spang has made no contributions since 1974. Thus, all contributions to the Fund were contributions under a defined contributions plan and none were made under an actuarially based defined benefit plan.

A.

Since 1970 all pension agreements have contained a clause unequivocally prohibiting any reversion to Spang of its contributions. This clause appears in the 1980 Pension Agreement:

12.6 The contributions made by the Company hereunder may not, under any circumstances, revert to the Company. If this Pension Plan shall terminate, the funds under the Pension Fund shall be used in the manner provided in Section 13. Without in any way limiting the foregoing, neither the Company nor any Participant hereunder nor any beneficiaries nor persons claiming through them shall have any right, title or interest in or to any of the funds in the Pension Fund, except as specifically provided in this Agreement.

Section 13 of the Pension Agreement provides priorities for funding of benefits in case of insufficient assets upon plan termination. Section 13.3 also provides:

13.3 In the event a plant is permanently shut down or a plant is relocated outside of the Geographical Area of its present operation, the assets of the fund established for the Pension Plan are to be allocated to each plant location in relationship to the contribution made on behalf of all Participants at such locations compared to the total Contributions made on behalf of all locations. From the funds so established, there shall be deducted:

(a) The reserves applicable to those Participants who have been transferred to other locations.

(b) Sufficient reserves to insure those persons then receiving benefits to continue to so receive them.

(c) Reserves to provide benefits for those entitled to benefits but who are not at that time receiving them.

(d) The remaining assets will be prorated among the remaining Participants in relation to each Participants established seniority to the total seniority of all Participants for whom distribution is to be made.

For the purpose of this partial termination Section, those Participants who are on layoff and if recalled would not have a break in Continuous Service for pension purposes will be considered as active Participants for the allocation under (d) above.

Subsequent to the effective date of the 1980 Pension Agreement, but prior to its expiration date, several significant events occurred. First, the Fund was divided into two funds, one for each of Spang's two ferro slag plants. The fund covering employees at the Chicago, Illinois plant was terminated, as operations at the location were terminated in 1979. Second, to comply with ERISA's requirement of a permanent plan document, 29 U.S.C. § 1102,*fn2 Spang unilaterally drafted a new plan (the Plan). Third, Spang closed its Lorain, Ohio plant and purchased full benefit annuity contracts for all vested participants, as well as pro-rata deferred annuity contracts for the plaintiffs, the non-vested participants. A surplus of over $100,000 remained in the Fund after fully funding these annuities. It is this surplus which has given rise to this action.

B.

The Plan adopted by Spang incorporated two significant changes from the 1980 Pension Agreement, which was still in effect at the time Spang drew and adopted the Plan. First, the prohibition against reversion to Spang was removed, and the Plan specifically provided for reversion to Spang of Spang's earlier contributions:

(e) To the extent there remains a surplus of assets of the trust fund after fully funding of all of the above determined liabilities due to benefits payable under the Plan, such surplus shall be considered an actuarial surplus and shall be returned to the Company.

Section 12.3(e). Second, the provision that remaining assets be distributed among non-vested participants was amended to provide distribution to non-vested participants only to the extent benefits had accrued by the time of plant closing:

(4) The remaining assets, if insufficient to provide for all remaining accrued benefits, will, if permitted by law, be prorated among the remaining Participants in relationship to each Participant's established seniority to the total seniority of all remaining Participants for whom allocation is to be made under this subparagraph (4).

Such allocation shall not, however, be deemed to increase any accrued benefit nor be considered to create a benefit supplement.

Section 12.2. The Spang prepared Plan also allowed the Fund to finance health insurance premiums that Spang was under an independent obligation to finance on its own.

In order to support its contention that section 13.3 of the 1980 Pension Agreement was not intended to authorize a distribution of the Fund surplus to the non-vested employees, Spang filed affidavits and documents relating to the negotiating history of section 13.3. According to these documents, in 1970 USW sought ten year vesting in the pension fund. While rejecting 10 year vesting, Spang offered a provision which would result in the vesting of all employees upon a permanent termination of a plant location. Spang, contrary to Delgrosso's assertion, claims that this negotiating history governs the interpretation of section 13.3 of the ...


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