Petition for Rehearing En Banc Denied En Banc July 9, 1963.
Petition for Rehearing by the Division Denied July 15, 1963.
McGOWAN, Circuit Judge.
A problem arising in the administration of the United Mine Workers of America Welfare and Retirement Fund of 1950 is the subject of this appeal. It is prosecuted by a member of the union who brought suit to compel the payment of a retirement pension which the Trustees of the Fund had denied him. After a trial to the District Court, his action was dismissed. An understanding of the issues to be resolved requires an examination of (1) the nature and origin of the Fund, including the provisions made for its administration, (2) the circumstances of the appellant in relation to his claim of eligibility for a pension, and (3) the function and scope of judicial review in a matter of this kind.
The creation of the Fund in the first instance was dependent upon the benevolent regard of Congress, as manifested by the following exempting provision in Section 302(c) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947,
Pursuant to this statutory authorization, a subsequent collective bargaining agreement — the National Bituminous Coal Wage Agreement of 1950 — brought the Fund into being, expressly denominating it to be "an irrevocable trust created pursuant to Section 302(c) of the `Labor-Management Relations Act, 1947,'" to endure "as long as the purposes for its creation shall exist." The purposes specified include the payment of pension benefits on retirement of employees. The source of revenues for
At their second meeting on April 5, 1950, the Trustees adopted Resolution No. 10, providing a monthly pension for retired employees. Resolution No. 10 promulgated regulations (stated to be "subject to amendment, revocation and revision at the discretion of the Trustees") prescribing eligibility requirements and covering other administrative aspects of the pension system. In order to be eligible, an applicant for a pension was required to have (1) attained the age of 60, (2) retired by permanently ceasing work in the Bituminous Coal Industry after May 28, 1946, (3) been employed for at least one year immediately preceding his retirement, and (4) completed 20 years of service in the Coal Industry.
On January 28, 1953, the Trustees adopted Resolution No. 30, which superseded Resolution No. 10 as the governing regulation with respect to pension eligibility requirements. The new resolution was made effective forthwith, that is to say, January 29, 1953. The significant change which it made, for purposes of this proceeding, was to prescribe that the requisite 20 years of service must have taken place within the 25-year period immediately preceding the filing of a pension application. A few weeks later, on March 13, 1953, the Trustees, by Resolution No. 31, amended Resolution No. 30, retroactively effective as of January 29, 1953, by enlarging from 25 to 30 years the period immediately preceding application within which the 20 years of service must have occurred. This change was perpetuated in a further amending resolution, No. 32, adopted by the Trustees on May 12, 1953.
The appellant, at the age of 65 years and five months, retired on June 26, 1953, and promptly thereafter filed his application for a pension on the form provided by the Fund. The application recited a total of over 31 years of service in the coal industry, comprised of two nonconsecutive periods. The first of these was from 1906 to 1924 as an employee of Bethlehem Mines Corporation; the second was from 1940 to 1953 as an employee of Stineman Coal & Coke Company.
The administrative files of the Fund relating to this application, which were put in evidence in the District Court, showed that appellant's application was denied for the reason that it did not appear that appellant had had 20 years of service in the 30-year period immediately preceding the filing of the application, as required by Resolution No. 30, as amended. The record suggests that efforts were made over a long period of time, both by the appellant and by others on his behalf, to persuade the Trustees to alter their decision, but these efforts were unavailing and the suit in the District Court was instituted.
The appellant's second period of employment — from 1941 to 1953 — was conceded by the Trustees, but, in response to interrogatories, the Trustees stated that they had no information as to whether the appellant had or had not been employed
The trial judge found that Resolution No. 10 imposed "no restriction as to the period of time in which those 20 years of service had to be completed." This finding seems fully justified by the language of Resolution No. 10, and the Trustees make no contrary contention. Since appellant was over the age of 60 at the time Resolution No. 10 was adopted, he could have qualified for a pension thereunder at any time by a simple election to stop working. He was not bound to do so, however, because Resolution No. 10 did not impose any requirement that an employee, otherwise qualified for a pension thereunder, was obligated to terminate his employment and take his pension.
The record shows explicitly, from the testimony of the neutral Trustee, that no notice of any kind was given by the Trustees of their purpose to change the eligibility requirements. As has been noted, the amending resolution was effective immediately upon its adoption. Thus, appellant, at the age of 65, found his existing eligibility abruptly terminated, and he was confronted with the necessity of amassing approximately 8½ years additional service in order to qualify under the new rule.
The trial judge correctly concluded that the issue presented to him was whether the Trustees' action was arbitrary or capricious in relation to the appellant in the light of the facts adduced. This conclusion is fully in accord with the definition of the scope of judicial review articulated by this Court in Danti v. Lewis, 114 U.S.App.D.C. 105, 312 F.2d 345 (1962). Both in that case and in this the Trustees have accepted the appropriateness of this definition, and, accordingly, we need not consider any contention that there is no power whatsoever in a court to interfere in any way with the Trustees in their administration of the Fund. It could not be otherwise. The institutional arrangements creating this Fund and specifying the purposes to which it is to be devoted are cast expressly in fiduciary form;
The question before us, then, is: Was the court below right in determining, on the facts of record, that the abrupt alteration by the Trustees of the eligibility requirements was not an arbitrary or capricious action in its impact upon appellant?
Counsel for appellant have pressed two principal contentions upon us as warranting
In the view we take of the case, however, we find it neither necessary nor illuminating to approach the problem by reference to these well-worn legal slogans.
This brings us to appellant's second major contention, which is that the Trustees acted arbitrarily in altering the eligibility requirement in respect of years of service without prior notice of any kind or the provision of an opportunity rationally calculated to give appellant an opportunity to elect between taking his pension or continuing in employment subject to the new requirement. It is clear from the nature of the testimony given by the neutral Trustee at the trial that the Trustees felt themselves under no obligation of any kind in this regard. This testimony was simply that no notice of any kind was afforded, which is another way of saying that the Trustees looked upon employees situated as was appellant as continuing to work in the coal industry at their peril in terms of the possibility that pension eligibility might be wiped out for all practical purposes at any moment by the sudden action of the Trustees in changing the requirements. We do not believe that the concededly broad grant of authority to the Trustees was this broad.
We do not deny the authority of the Trustees to revise pension eligibility requirements in the light of their experience. Flexibility of this kind seems especially necessary for the operation of
Since the District Court dismissed appellant's claim because it found no arbitrary and capricious action on the part of the Trustees, the decision below is reversed. Because of the completeness of the present record and considering the nature of the case, further proceedings at the trial level are not justified. 28 U.S.C. § 2106 grants this Court broad discretion in the disposition of a case on appeal:
Where the evidence of record points in only one direction, as here, justice does not require this Court to remand a case for the record to be reopened.
Since we have found that the changed eligibility requirements cannot apply to this appellant because the Trustees acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner, appellant's pension eligibility is governed by Resolution No. 10. Appellant's employment from 1941 to 1953 was conceded; and the evidence of appellant's employment from 1906 through 1924 was not only uncontradicted but the Trustees expressly admitted that they had no evidence to rebut it. Reopening the proceedings thus would serve no useful purpose. Appellant met the requirements of Resolution No. 10, and he is entitled to his pension from the date of his retirement.
There remain to be considered two affirmative defenses which the trial judge did not reach, namely, that the statute of limitations and laches bar the present action. Ordinarily, resolution of these issues should be made by the trial judge in the first instance. However, the record itself completely negates both defenses. Indeed, the defense of laches
Turning to the defense that the statute of limitations barred the present action, this Court has previously held that equity does not necessarily follow the statutory period of limitations.
The case is remanded to the District Court with directions to enter judgment for the appellant in accordance with this opinion.