FEINBERG, Circuit Judge:
Plaintiff Juan Sanchez Lugo appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, John R. Bartels, J., dismissing his complaint against The Employees Retirement Fund of the Illumination Products Industry and the individual trustees of the Fund. After a bench trial, the judge held that Lugo had failed to establish that the Fund, when it denied his claim for a pension, was in violation of section 302(c)(5) of the Taft-Hartley Act, 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5).
In April 1972, appellant had been continuously employed in the industry and a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union, Local No. 3, for over 16 years, and was a participant
An additional letter from the doctor, dated May 22, 1972, in support of the application, stated:
In May 1972, appellant was examined by physicians retained by the Fund and given various tests. Dr. W. T. Kriete, Medical Director of the Fund's Pension Committee, then reported that appellant "was found to have diabetes as well as a visual disturbance which is correctable by glasses. I do not consider this man disabled." At a meeting of the Fund's Pension Committee in September 1972, at which the results of the tests and the other written material were considered, appellant's application for a disability pension was denied on the ground that he was not in fact disabled.
Appellant claims that at about the same time, he also applied for standard pension benefits, which, under the labor agreement governing the Fund, would not ordinarily be available until age 60. Defendants say that no such formal application was ever made.
In May 1973, appellant filed his complaint in the district court, claiming that defendants' refusal to award him disability or retirement benefits was unlawful. As to the former, the basis of the claim was the absence of proper procedures. As to the standard retirement benefits, plaintiff argued that the minimum work requirement of 90 months of employment in the 10 years before the application (the 90/10 rule) was arbitrary and unreasonable. The relief sought was a declaratory judgment, an order either requiring defendants to grant the application for disability or standard retirement benefits or requiring them to accord him full hearing procedures, and $25,000 damages. In October 1973, Judge Bartels denied defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that the district court had jurisdiction under section 302(e) of the Taft-Hartley Act, 29 U.S.C. § 186(e),
After a non-jury trial in October 1974, the judge found for defendants. Regarding the claim for disability benefits, the judge held that "The absence of a provision for a hearing" was not a structural defect because
As to the denial of standard retirement benefits, the judge viewed plaintiff's case as
Finding that the eligibility requirements were "designed in good faith to provide for the actuarial soundness of the Fund" the judge held that plaintiff's claims were without merit.
On appeal, plaintiff argues essentially as he did in the district court. In addition, plaintiff claims that Judge Bartels erred in excluding evidence plaintiff offered at trial to show that the 90/10 rule was not necessary to preserve the fiscal integrity of the Fund. Defendants renew their contention that the federal courts lack jurisdiction over this suit. They also deny that plaintiff was deprived of any rights by the Fund's procedures and contend that he lacks standing to sue for standard pension benefits. We turn now to the arguments of the parties.
Plaintiff argues that federal jurisdiction exists under section 302(e) of the Taft-Hartley Act, see note 3 supra, because that section authorizes suits for violations of section 302, and this is such a suit. His theory is that section 302(c)(5), see note 1 supra, requires the Fund to be "established . . . for the sole and exclusive benefit of the employees," and that the challenged provisions of the Fund are so arbitrary and unreasonable that no plan containing them can be considered to fit that description.
Section 302(e) has been the focus of considerable litigation, and several controversies about its meaning have developed. One question which receives considerable attention in the briefs in this case is whether section 302(e) confers jurisdiction "over all cases pertaining to § 302 pension plans," as plaintiff contends,
Alvares v. Erickson, 514 F.2d 156, 165 (9th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 423 U.S. 874, 96 S.Ct. 143, 46 L.Ed.2d 106 (1975). See also deLoraine v. MEBA Pension Trust, 499 F.2d 49, 51 n. 9 (2d Cir. 1974). Support for the broad view of section 302(e) can be found in a number of cases.
By our decision in Cuff v. Gleason, 515 F.2d 127 (2d Cir. 1975), we joined the courts that have taken a narrow view of the scope of section 302(e). In that case, we regarded the question as "whether the application of rules of a jointly-administered pension trust to an individual claim was arbitrary and capricious." Id. at 128. We held that federal jurisdiction is lacking "where an application of a trust pension plan . . . was involved and the specific requirements of § 302(c)(5) are met." Id. See also Beam v. International Organization of Masters, Mates and Pilots, 511 F.2d 975, 978-79 (2d Cir. 1975). This does not dispose of our case, however, since Lugo is challenging not the application of the provisions of the trust in his particular case, but the provisions themselves, which he claims violate section 302(c)(5). In this case, unlike Cuff, the very issue raised is whether the requirements of section 302(c)(5) are met.
Defendants however, argue in effect that claims such as those made in this case are not claims of "structural deficiencies" in the pension plan. According to defendants, the "sole and exclusive benefit" language means only that the trust funds must not grant benefits to anyone other than employees.
However this dispute is to be resolved, it seems to us that the controversy is not about the jurisdictional provisions of section 302(e), but about the proper interpretation of the substantive requirements of section 302(c)(5). As the Supreme Court made clear in Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682, 66 S.Ct. 773, 776, 90 L.Ed. 939 (1946):
In this case, Judge Bartels correctly analyzed the true scope of the jurisdictional inquiry when he said with reference to plaintiff's claim for standard retirement benefits:
366 F.Supp. at 102. The same analysis applies to the claim for a disability pension. Plaintiff argues that a trust fund authorizing the trustees to act arbitrarily and capriciously in determining claims without extending certain procedural protections fails to satisfy the "sole and exclusive benefit" requirement of section 302(c)(5). It is not necessary for us, at this stage, to agree with plaintiff's interpretation of that requirement in order to have jurisdiction to decide the case; so long as plaintiff's claim that the section has been violated is not "wholly insubstantial and frivolous," Bell v. Hood, supra, 327 U.S. at 682-83, 66 S.Ct. 773, jurisdiction exists.
As we have already indicated, plaintiff's theory of the scope of section 302(c)(5) raises difficult questions. It is not necessary for us to decide whether that interpretation is correct, however, because plaintiff's claims to both disability benefits and standard retirement benefits must be dismissed even if his liberal interpretation of section 302(c)(5) is correct.
Lugo argues that before his claim to disability benefits could be denied, he was entitled to such procedural safeguards as notice of the meeting at which the decision was to be made, a hearing at which he would be confronted with the evidence against his claim and entitled to present evidence of his own and cross-examine witnesses against him, and a decision by the trustees containing articulated findings and conclusions. Cf. Sturgill v. Lewis, 125 U.S.App.D.C. 335, 372 F.2d 400, 401 (D.C. Cir. 1966). The failure of the pension plan to provide such protections is the defect that allegedly violates section 302(c)(5).
We do not believe that the decision made by the Fund was wanting in procedural fairness. In support of his disability application, Lugo only submitted two letters from his doctor, which did not contend that he was disabled. They stated merely that plaintiff had a "moderate elevation in his blood sugar," that he was being treated for diabetes with an identified medication, and that his condition was "fair." Plaintiff submitted no further information in support of his application, although he obviously knew that he could.
Under these circumstances, we simply do not think it is necessary to examine the merits of plaintiff's argument that the Fund's procedures were so wanting in elements of fair play as to amount to a structural defect. We do not see how the Fund could be found at fault for dismissing plaintiff's application without the full procedures plaintiff now seeks. There has been no showing that more formal and elaborate procedures might have brought about a different result. At least when an applicant's claim of disability is this weak, reliance on written medical reports could not be a violation of section 302(c)(5). Cf. Richardson
We turn now to plaintiff's claim regarding standard retirement benefits. At the trial below, Judge Bartels initially indicated that he found this claim unripe, and for that reason excluded certain evidence offered by plaintiff relating to it. In his final decision, however, the judge disposed of the claim on the merits, ruling that the regulation challenged by plaintiff was reasonable and not a violation of the Taft-Hartley Act. We believe the judge's initial reaction was correct and that the dispute between Lugo and the Fund is not ripe for adjudication.
Plaintiff attacks the provision of the plan that requires an applicant for standard retirement benefits to have worked 90 months in the industry within the 10 years immediately preceding his application in order to be eligible. According to plaintiff, this rule is arbitrary and unreasonable because it excludes some employees from benefits while extending benefits to others who have worked an equal or lesser time in the industry, cf. Roark v. Lewis, 130 U.S.App.D.C. 360, 401 F.2d 425 (D.C. Cir. 1968), and because in Lugo's case it takes away benefits already earned because of an occurrence beyond the control of the worker, namely, disability. Cf. Lee v. Nesbitt, 453 F.2d 1309 (9th Cir. 1971).
There is, however, another rule of eligibility which excludes Lugo. Before an employee can apply for a standard retirement pension, he must have reached age 60. The plaintiff specifically stated at trial, on more than one occasion, that he does not challenge the validity of this rule. Lugo was about 49 when he allegedly applied for pension benefits,
We believe that this case, in which plaintiff argues that a regulation that might affect him at some future time is invalid because it conflicts with a federal statute, may usefully be analogized to a challenge to an administrative regulation on the ground that it conflicts with statutory or constitutional provisions. After a lengthy discussion of the Supreme Court's decisions regarding the ripeness for adjudication of such challenges, Professor Davis concludes that "An issue is normally ripe for judicial determination when interests of the plaintiff are in fact subjected to or imminently threatened with substantial injury." 3 Davis, Administrative Law Treatise § 21.10, at 200 (1958), and at 700 (Supp.1970). See Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, 387 U.S. 136, 152, 87 S.Ct. 1507, 18 L.Ed.2d 681 (1967). This test essentially restates in more concrete terms the standard for declaratory judgments announced by the Supreme Court in Maryland Casualty Co. v. Pacific Coal & Oil Co., 312 U.S. 270, 273, 61 S.Ct. 510, 85 L.Ed. 826 (1941), and restated as recently as Lake Carriers' Ass'n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 506, 92 S.Ct. 1749, 1755, 32 L.Ed.2d 257 (1972):
We do not believe that Lugo can meet this test. The possibility, or even, if such it is, the certainty that the Fund
Of course, there are situations in which a case may be ripe for declaratory relief before the challenged regulation is actually applied. As Professor Davis puts it, "Resolving a debilitating legal uncertainty is a legitimate judicial function . . . whenever the continued uncertainty causes substantial harm. . . ." Davis, supra, at 203. An example is our recent decision in Begins v. Philbrook, 513 F.2d 19 (2d Cir. 1975), where we held justiciable a challenge to a state welfare regulation making ineligible any family owning two cars, even though at the time of the suit the plaintiffs owned only one car, because the plaintiffs alleged a need for two cars.
513 F.2d at 23. In this case, Lugo does not allege that uncertainty as to whether he will be eligible for a pension at age 60 has any effect on his present behavior or condition. Cf. also Abbott Laboratories v. Gardner, supra, 387 U.S. at 152-54, 87 S.Ct. 1507.
It is possible that plaintiff's complaint could be read as a challenge not to the 90/10 rule in isolation, but to the interaction of that rule with the rule making 60 the minimum age for application.
A number of other considerations lend support to this view. There is no factual dispute that needs to be resolved immediately because memories of the relevant transaction might dim or because witnesses might become unavailable or die; the dispute concerns only the legality of one of the Fund's regulations. Moreover, this case is not like an ordinary contract claim, where a plaintiff may argue that defendant's indication that it will not pay benefits is an anticipatory
Accordingly, we find that the district court did have jurisdiction to determine whether the challenged aspects of the pension plan violated section 302(c)(5); that at least as applied to plaintiff, the claimed lack of procedural due process in determining applications for disability benefits does not violate that section; and that plaintiff's attack on the 90/10 rule, which may prevent him from receiving a standard retirement pension at some point in the future, is not ripe for adjudication. We therefore affirm the judgment of the district court dismissing plaintiff's complaint.
(a) It shall be unlawful for any employer . . . to pay . . . any money or other thing of value—
(1) to any representative of any of his employees . . .
* * * * * *
(c) The provisions of this section shall not be applicable . . .
(5) with respect to money or other thing of value paid to a trust fund established by such representative, for the sole and exclusive benefit of the employees of such employer, and their families and dependents . . .
The statutes referred to are provisions of the Clayton Act and Norris-LaGuardia Act restricting injunctive relief in labor disputes.