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BURICK v. CEMENT MASONS LOCAL 699 PENSION PLAN

August 5, 2005.

GARY BURICK, Plaintiff,
v.
CEMENT MASONS LOCAL 699 PENSION PLAN, and its BOARD OF TRUSTEES, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] OPINION

Plaintiff Gary Burick brought this civil action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA")*fn1 against defendants Cement Masons Local 699 Pension Plan and its Board of Trustees to obtain disability pension benefits. This matter comes before the Court upon the defendants' motion for summary judgment. For the reasons expressed in this opinion, defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted. I. BACKGROUND

A. THE DEFENDANTS

  Defendant Cement Masons Local 699 Pension Plan (the "Plan") is a defined benefit plan that is subject to the provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Most employees covered by the Plan "work under the terms of collective bargaining agreements between the employers of such employees and Cement Masons Local 699 or its successor, Cement Masons Local 592." (Moskovitz Cert. Ex. D-4 at 00051.)

  Defendant Board of Trustees ("Trustees") is responsible for the operation of the Plan. The Trustees, who interpret and make determinations under the Plan, are appointed in equal numbers by Local 592 and the employers who contribute money to fund the Plan. (Moskovitz Cert. Ex. D-4 at 00051.)

  B. PLAN FUNDING

  The Plan is funded by employers who have collective bargaining agreements with Local 592, by employers who have agreements directly with the Trustees, and by other pension plans through reciprocal agreements with the Plan. (Moskovitz Cert. Ex. D-4 at 00053.) The Plan provides that its assets "are to be used for the benefit of the participants, surviving spouses, and beneficiaries." (Id. at 00054; see id. Ex. D-3 at 00033.) "Under no circumstances may money which has been properly contributed to the Plan ever be returned to any employer or the Union." (Id. Ex. D-4 at 00054; see id. Ex. D-3 at 00034.)

  C. DISABILITY PENSION BENEFITS UNDER THE PLAN

  There are two Plan instruments relevant to this case: one adopted in 1995 (the "1995 Plan") and one adopted in 2001 (the "2001 Plan"). Both the 1995 Plan and the 2001 Plan entitle certain Plan participants to disability pension benefits.

  1. Disability Benefits Under the 2001 Plan

  A participant is "disabled" under the meaning of the 2001 Plan when that participant is entitled to Social Security disability benefits and does not work. (Moskovitz Cert. Ex. D-4 at 00064.) To obtain disability pension benefits under the 2001 Plan, a participant "must have been recently active in covered employment at the date [his] disability started." (Id.) The 2001 Plan defines "recently active in covered employment":
Being "recently active in covered employment" means that when the accident (or condition) that caused your disability occurred (or started), you were not in a period of substantial gainful work outside a collective bargaining agreement between the Local 592 and an employer (or work covered by an agreement between your employer and the Plan Trustees) and, during the Plan Year in which you became disabled or in the immediately preceding Plan Year, you earned at least one-quarter of a year of Pension Service.
(Id. at 00065.) The Plan defines "Pension Service" to mean employment "for which the employer is required to contribute to this Plan because the employer has entered a collective bargaining agreement with Local 592 (or another type of agreement with the Trustees) that calls for this contribution." (Id. at 00056.)

  2. Disability Benefits Under the 1995 Plan

  A participant is "totally disabled" under the meaning of the 1995 Plan when that participant is entitled to Social Security disability benefits and does not work. (Moskovitz Cert. Ex. D-3 at 00011.) Under the 1995 Plan, a participant who "attains Disability Pension Date" after June 30, 1994 is entitled to disability benefits. (Id. at 00013.) "The Disability Pension Date for a participant who becomes totally disabled shall be the first day of the month following cessation of the participant's employment because of such total disability. . . ." (Id. at 00011.)

  D. TRUSTEES' DISCRETION UNDER THE PLAN

  Under the 1995 Plan:
Notwithstanding any other provision of the Plan, the Trustees shall have exclusive authority and discretion to:
A. determine whether an individual is eligible for any benefits under the Plan;
B. determine the amount of benefits, if any, an individual is entitled to under the Plan;
C. interpret all of the provisions of the Plan; and
D. interpret all of the terms used in the Plan. All determinations and interpretations made by the Trustees, or their designee, pursuant to this Section shall be binding upon any individual claiming benefits under the Plan, be given deference in all courts of law, to the greatest extent allowed by applicable law, and not be overturned or set aside by any court of law unless such court determines that the Trustees have abused their discretion in rendering such determination or interpretation.
(Moskovitz Cert. Ex. D-3 at 0032.) The 2001 ...

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