United States District Court, D. New Jersey
Kevin McNulty United States District Judge.
plaintiff, Nicholas Bergamatto ("Bergamatto"),
brings this action against the Board of Trustees of the New
York Shipping Association International Longshoremen's
Association Pension Trust Fund ("the Board"), and
Charles Ward ("Ward") in his alleged capacity as
plan administrator of the Pension Trust Fund. Bergamatto
seeks to recover pension benefits under an employee pension
benefit plan. The plan is covered by the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C.
§ 1001 et seq.
now move for summary judgment. For the reasons discussed
below, that motion is granted.
previously considered this case in the context of
defendants' motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. See Bergamatto v. Bd, of Trustees
of NYSA-JL A Pension Tr. Fund, No. CV 16-5484 (KM), 2017
WL 4155225 (D.N.J. Sept. 18, 2017). Familiarity with that
opinion, which relates the background of the litigation and
the allegations of the complaint, is assumed.
September 9, 2016, Bergamatto filed this action pursuant to
ERISA section 502, 29 U.S.C. §1132(e)(1). (Compl. ¶
4). The Complaint alleges 1) wrongful denial of accrued
benefits, and 2) statutory penalties for disclosure
violations. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-23).
the Board and Ward, filed a joint motion to dismiss the
Complaint on December 2, 2016. (ECF no. 8). I denied that
motion by Order and Opinion filed September 18, 2017. (ECF
nos. 19, 20).
October 2, 2017, Defendants filed an Answer to
Bergamatto's Complaint, including Affirmative Defenses.
(ECF no. 23).
February 23, 2018, Defendants filed a motion for summary
judgment. (ECF no. 31). On April 12, 2018, Bergamatto filed a
brief in opposition to Defendants' motion for summary
judgment. (ECF no. 36). On April 25, 2018, Defendants filed a
reply brief. (ECF no. 39).
2000, Bergamatto began employment as a dockworker with
employers affiliated with the New York Shipping Association
("NYSA"). (DSMF ¶ 3; Bergamatto Aff. ¶
2). As a result of his employment, he became a member of the
International Longshoremen's Association
("ILA"). (Bergamatto Aff. ¶ 2.)
2000 to 2003, Bergamatto did not participate in his
employer's pension plan, the NYSA-ILA Pension Trust Fund
("Fund"), a "joint labor-management trust fund
established in or about 1950 to administer a multiemployer
pension benefit plan [.]" (Id.; DSMF ¶ 1;
Ward Aff. ¶ 4). Instead, during that time, he
participated in an annuity program. (Bergamatto Aff. ¶
2.) In 2004, however, Bergamatto became a participant in the
to Bergamatto, on April 23, 2010, the Waterfront Commission
suspended his waterfront pass, thereby leaving him unable to
work.(Bergamatto Aff. ¶ 3). About six
months later, on October 27, 2010, while still suspended,
Bergamatto injured his rotator cuff, an injury which rendered
him temporarily disabled. (Id.) He received
temporary disability benefits and at die time, expected to
return to work following the lifting of his suspension.
(Id.) However, the suspension of his waterfront pass
was never lifted. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Thereafter, in
April 2013, Bergamatto submitted his application for
retirement benefits in-person to Charles Ward, the Executive
Director of the Fund. (Id.; Ward. Aff. ¶¶
2, 9; DSMF ¶ 4; Ward Dep. 6:9.) According to Ward, at
that meeting, he provided Bergamatto with a copy of the
February 2010 "Summary Plan Description of the NYSA-ILA
Pension Trust Fund and Plan." (Ward. Aff. ¶ 9).
See (Summary Plan Description, ECF no. 31-3, Exh.
Bergamatto's retirement, in April 2013, NYSA and ILA had
entered into a collective bargaining agreement for the Port
of New York and New Jersey which, in part, provided that
pension participants hired after October 1996 would receive
credit for pension benefit accruals based on years worked
from 1996 to 2004. See (ECF no. 31-3, Exh. 5,
NYSA-ILA Pension Trust Fund and Plan Secretary's
Certificate at 1)("[e]ffective October 1, 2012,
Participants hired on or after October 1, 1996 shall receive
pension benefit accruals for years of credited service earned
from 1996 through 2004 [.]"). On May 2, 2013, the Board
amended the NYSA-ILA Pension Trust Fund's January 7, 2010
Agreement and Declaration of Trust and Plan ("2010
Plan") to incorporate that new provision, which by its
terms was effective October 1, 2012. (Id. at 1; DSMF
letter dated June 20, 2013, Ward informed Bergamatto that
effective July 1, 2013 and retroactive May 1, 2013" he
was approved to receive pension benefits. (ECF no. 31-3, Exh.
2). Ward made that determination based on the terms of the
2010 "Agreement and Declaration of Trust and Plan of the
New York Shipping Association-International
Longshoremen's Association Pension Trust Fund and
Plan." (Ward. Aff. ¶ 11). See (2010 Plan,
ECF No. 31-3, Exh. 3) (providing copy of the "Agreement
and Declaration of Trust and Plan of the New York Shipping
Association-International Longshoremen's Association
Pension Trust Fund and Plan," which was amended and
restated on January 7, 2010).
signed the letter and the typed signature line indicates that
Ward is the Executive Director of the Fund. (ECF no. 31-3,
Exh. 2.) The next month, on July 21, 2013, Bergamatto,
through counsel, submitted a "Dear Sir or Madam"
letter to the Fund requesting pension credit for his years of
service from 2001 to 2004 pursuant to the May 2, 2013
Amendment. (ECF no. 31-3, Exh. 6). By letter dated July 25,
2013, Ward responded on behalf of the Fund and rejected
Bergamatto's request. (ECF no. 31-3, Exh. 7). Ward's
The NYSA-ILA Pension Trust Fund and Plan states as follows:
Article I, Section 2:
The provisions of the Plan in effect during the
Participant's last year of credited service shall be
applied to determine the Participant's right to benefits
and amounts thereof.
Since Mr. Bergamatto's last year of credited service was
2010, prior to the effective date of the contractual
provision, he would not be entitled to credited service for
the years prior to 2005.
This decision may be appealed to the Board of Trustees,
NYSA-ILSA Pension Trust Fund, 77 Water Street, 16 Floor, New
York, NY 10005.
(Id.) Ward signed the letter as Executive Director
of the Fund. (Id.)
a year later, Ward received a letter dated July 10, 2014 from
new counsel for Bergamatto. (ECF no. 31-3, Exh. 8.) The
letter, directed specifically to Ward, reiterated
Bergamatto's July 2013 request for pension credit for die
years 2001 through 2004. (Id.) It explained that
based on documents counsel had in his possession, "which
include[d]" a March 13, 2013 memorandum from the
President of the ILA and a Settlement of Local Conditions
for New NYSA-ILA CBA as of March 13, 2013, Bergamatto
was entitled to that credit. (Id.) It stated:
"I presume that the aforementioned documents are an
accurate representation of the amendments to the NYSA-ILA
Plan and summary plan description (SPD). If they are in any
way inconsistent with same, I would appreciate your
forwarding me copies of the pertinent Plan or SPD amendments
in accordance with 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1021(a)."
to Ward, he "had no idea" what documents counsel
had in his possession, "as he never specified what
documents he had." (Ward Aff. ¶ 21). Ward
"assumed that the 2010 SPD was in [counsel's]
possession, as [Ward] had given a copy to Mr. Bergamatto on
April 25, 2013." (Id.) Ward interpreted the
letter "as not raising a problem of inconsistent
documents, but as [counsel] misunderstanding the 2010 Plan
letter dated July 25, 2014, which was addressed to counsel
for Bergamatto, Ward referenced and quoted the Plan's
Pension Determination Clause, which stated: "[t]he
provisions of the Plan in effect during the Participant's
last year of credited service shall be applied to
determine the Participant's right to benefits and the
amount thereof." (ECF no. 31-3, Exh. 9) (emphasis
added). He concluded:
Mr. Bergamatto's last year of credited service was 2010.
Therefore, he was not eligible for any provision under the
contract effective October 1, 2012.
You may dispute this decision by appeal to the Board of
Trustees, NYSA-ILSA Pension Trust Fund, 77 Water Street,