Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. D.C. Civil Action No. 89-5162
Before: Becker and Stapleton, Circuit Judges, and Restani, Court of International Trade Judge*fn*
This matter is before the court following our remand to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey to consider Velis v. Kardanis, 949 F.2d 78 (3d Cir. 1991), with respect to appellant's garnishment of appellee's bank account containing disability benefits. Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund, Inc. v. Colville, 986 F.2d 1410 (3d Cir. 1993) ("Colville III "). The district court found Velis inapplicable to the facts of this case. This appeal ensued and we now reverse on the basis of Velis.
Appellee, Robert Colville, is a beneficiary of appellant, Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund Inc. ("the Fund"). The Fund is a health, welfare, and pension plan as defined in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1), (2) (1988). On October 1, 1980 the Fund began paying Colville disability benefits of $500 per month. Colville was advised on July 20, 1982 that October 1981 was the last month for which he was entitled to receive Social Security disability benefits.
According to Section 4.6(d) of the pension plan, termination of Social Security disability benefits also triggers the termination of Fund disability payments. See Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund, Inc., v. Colville, Civ. Action No. 89-5162, at 3 (D.N.J. May 28, 1991) ("Colville I "), Appellant's Appendix ("App.") at 23. Although Colville was a union shop steward, and had in his possession booklets that explained the plan terms, he did not notify the Fund that his Social Security benefits had terminated. The Fund did not learn of the termination until February 1989, at which time Fund disability payments to Colville were discontinued. Colville refused to reimburse the $44,000 in overpayments that he had received. The Fund then commenced withholding Colville's early retirement benefits.
The Fund brought the instant action in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey for restitution of the overpayments. Colville counterclaimed for release of his retirement benefits. On May 28, 1991, the district court granted the Fund judgment in the amount of $44,000 plus interest, but declined to place a constructive trust on the withheld benefits in favor of the Fund. Colville I, at 10, App. at 30. Further, the district court, sua sponte, ordered release of the withheld funds. Id. at 12, App. at 32. No appeal was taken from this judgment.
The released funds were deposited in Colville's personal bank account. On March 2, 1992, pursuant to the request of the Fund, a writ of execution was served on the account. On April 27, 1992 the district court denied the Fund's motion for turnover of the account funds, see Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund, Inc. v. Colville, Civ. Action No. 89-5162, at 6, (D.N.J. Apr. 27, 1992) ("Colville II "), App. at 51, and the first appeal herein was taken. As indicated, this court remanded the case to the district court for consideration of Velis, which the parties had not brought to the attention of the district court previously. Colville III, at 4-5, App. at 18-19. The district court did not find Velis to be controlling and again declined to order turnover. Trucking Employees of North Jersey Welfare Fund, Inc. v. Colville, Civ. Action No. 89-5162, at 3 (D.N.J. Apr. 12, 1993) ("Colville IV "), App. at 5.
We have appellate jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1988) to review the final order of the district court. The district court had jurisdiction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e) (ERISA) (1988) and 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (1988). We exercise plenary review, as the only issues before us are legal in nature. Williams v. New Castle County, 970 F.2d 1260, 1264 (3d Cir. 1992).
At issue in this appeal is the scope of ERISA's anti-alienation provision, which states: "Each pension plan shall provide that benefits provided under the plan may not be assigned or alienated." 29 U.S.C. § 1056 (d)(1) (1988). The district court's first opinion denying turnover of funds construed § 1056(d)(1) to bar recovery of overpayments, and was based largely on the holding in Guidry v. Sheet Metal Workers Nat'l Pension Fund, 493 U.S. 365, 107 L. Ed. 2d 782, 110 S. Ct. 680 (1990), decision after remand rev'd , Guidry v. Sheet ...