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Erhart v. Plasterers Local 8 Annuity Fund

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 12, 2018

WILLIAM ERHART, et al, Plaintiff(s),
v.
PLASTERERS LOCAL 8 ANNUITY FUND, etal, Defendant(s).

          OPINION

          ROBERT B. KUGLER United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER having come before the Court upon defendants Plasterers Local 8 Annuity Fund and Joseph Diehl's ("Defendants") motion to dismiss plaintiffs William Erhart, Colleen Erhart, Thomas Cox, Arthur Crandell, Jason Derby, Patrick Jones, Carl E. Montgomery, Charles Parks, John F. Pearcy, Mark Riess, Matthew J. Schwegel, Cynthia Scipione, and Jorge Vasquez's ("Plaintiffs") complaint. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED and Plaintiffs' complaint is dismissed without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Jurisdiction

         Plaintiffs allege that Defendants wrongfully denied them employment benefits. (See Compl. at 2). Plaintiffs are all New Jersey residents and participants in Plasterers Local 8 ("Local 8") Annuity Fund ("Fund"), currently administered by Cement Masons & Plasterers Local Union No. 592 of Eastern Pennsylvania ("Local 592"). (Id. at 3-4). Defendant Fund is an employee benefit fund and plan for the purposes of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") Section 404(c).[2] (Id. at 4); 29 CFR § 2550.404c-l(b)(1). Defendant Joseph Diehl ("Diehl") is the fund administrator.[3] (Compl. at 4). This Court has jurisdiction of this case pursuant to Section 502(e)(1) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1). (See also 28 U.S.C. § 1331). Venue is appropriate in this District pursuant to Section 502(e)(2) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(2), because the breach allegedly occurred here.

         Factual Background

         Plaintiffs are, or were, [4] employees of Jersey Panel Corporation/Baruffi ("Baruffi"). (Compl. at 5). Baruffi was a party to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") with Local 8. (Id.). Local 8 negotiated the CBA that covered Baruffi employees and the CBA was renewed every three years. (Id.). In 2015, Local 8 merged with Local 592. (Id.). Local 592 took over as the administrator of the Fund. (Compl. at 5-6). Baruffi and Local 592 did not come to an agreement after the existing CBA expired. (Id. at 6). Baruffi then signed a new contract with Local 5 of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers ("Local 5") in 2016. (Id.). This agreement has different benefits and contribution levels and is administered by a different plan administrator. (Id.). Plaintiffs subsequently left Local 8 and became members of Local 5. (Id.).

         The terms of the Local 8 Fund Plan Document ("Plan Document") provide that if no contributions are made for twelve months or more, a participant in the Fund is free to request a distribution. (Compl. at 6). None of the Plaintiffs have made contributions to the Fund for over twelve months. (Id.). In a letter dated December 29, 2014, prior to the merger of Local 8 and Local 592, BPI[5] informed Mr. Erhart of the forms he needed to fill out in order to make a claim for benefits. (Id.).

         On or about December 20, 2016, Mr. Erhart telephoned Diehl and requested that Diehl provide him with instructions on how to withdraw his Fund balance and requested that Diehl send him the required forms. (Compl. at 7). Diehl told him that he could not take out his account balance. (Id.). Mr. Erhart told Diehl that he wanted his money out and that he did not want to pay the $40 administrative fee. (Id.). Diehl told Mr. Erhart that he could get Mr. Erhart's money if Mr. Erhart returned to Local 8 (now Local 592). (Id.). Mr. Erhart was not provided with the plan documents, forms, or any other communications from Diehl. (Id. at 6-7). Mr. Erhart did not contact Diehl again. The other Plaintiffs never contacted Defendants.

         Plaintiffs now bring four claims: "wrongful denial of benefits pursuant to ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B)" (Count One); "wrongful violation of the terms of the plan and the provisions of ERISA pursuant to ERISA Section 503, 29 U.S.C. [§] 1133" (Count Two); "claim for statutory penalties against Joseph Diehl for failure to provide requested information pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)(1)(A), 29 U.S.C. [§] 1132(a)(1)(A) and § 502(c)(1), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1)" (Count Three); and "claim against Joseph Diehl for interference pursuant to ERISA § 510 and 29 U.S.C. [§] 1140" (Count Four).

         The Fund Plan Document

         The Plan Document in dispute in this case was made effective on May 1, 2014. Some of the operative terms and requirements will be paraphrased below.

         Section 3.5 provides that a Fund participant who has performed no services for a qualifying employer for at least twelve months can withdraw his or her accumulated share upon application for benefits.

         Section 7.1 states that all claims "shall be made in writing on the appropriate form furnished to the applicant by the Fund Office." Each claim made to the Claims Coordinator will be approved or disapproved within 90 days. Section 7.2 sets out the requirements for notice to the Claimant upon such a ...


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