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MOGLIA v. GEOGHEGAN

April 27, 1967

Kathleen Moglia, Plaintiff
v.
James Geoghegan et al., as Trustees of Local 282-Pension Trust Fund, Defendants


Ryan, D.J.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RYAN

RYAN, D.J.:

Plaintiff and defendants have moved for summary judgment. On the undisputed and stipulated facts, for the reasons hereinafter given, we have denied plaintiff's motion and granted defendants judgment on the merits.

 Plaintiff is the widow of John J. Moglia, who at the time of his death on August 7, 1966 was a member in good standing of Local Union No. 282, affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers. Plaintiff has filed this action under Section 302 of the L.M.R.A. (Section 186 Title 29, U.S.C.) for a judgment declaring that she, as Moglia's widow, is entitled to payments under the Pension Plan of Local 282 - Pension Trust Fund, established under Section 302(c)(5) of the Act - of $200 per month for a period of 36 months commencing May 1, 1965 and directing the defendants, as Trustees of the Fund, to make such payments.

 Defendants, Trustees, denying plaintiff's right to such payments from the Pension Trust Fund, have counterclaimed for judgment declaring that plaintiff is not entitled to the Pension Trust Fund payments she seeks.

 Plaintiff contends that, since her deceased husband's employer had made payments to the pension trust fund on behalf of its employee, and the Trustees had accepted these payments, they should be and are equitably estopped from denying pension benefits to her.

 The defendants, Trustees' position is that, since the statute providing for pension trust funds requires the existence of an agreement spelling out the detailed basis on which payments to it are to be made, in the absence of such an agreement, the Trustees would be violating the statute if they were to make the payments sought, that their decision not to do so has been made in good faith and that there is no equitable estoppel requiring them to do otherwise.

 It appears undisputed that Moglia, prior to his death and on April 15, 1965, had filed an application with the Trustees for a pension and that the Trustees had denied the application on the ground that Moglia's employer, Elmhurst Contracting Company, Inc. (from 1937 through March 31, 1965) had never signed a collective bargaining agreement with Local 282.

 Although the complaint pleads to the contrary, it has now been stipulated by plaintiff that there never was a collective bargaining agreement between the employer of plaintiff's husband and the Union.

 The motions before us present but one issue of law: may the defendants, Trustees, lawfully pay the pension benefits sought by plaintiff, as the widow of an employee of Elmhurst, in the absence of a collective bargaining agreement and a written trust agreement between the employer and the Union. We have concluded that they may not.

 We accept the following undisputed facts:

 For many years prior to his death, decedent was a member in good standing of Local Union No. 282, a labor organization representing employees of employers engaged in industries affecting commerce within the meaning of Section 302(a)(2) of the Labor Management Relations Act of 1947, as amended. From 1937 until April, 1965, the decedent was employed by Elmhurst Contracting Company, Inc., or its successor, both of which were employers within the meaning of Section 302(a) of the Act. From July 1, 1953, through March 31, 1965, the employer of decedent made payments to the Fund on behalf of the decedent, and such payments were received and accepted by the Fund. On April 15, 1965, the decedent filed an application for a pension with the Fund and thereafter defendants, as Trustees of the said Fund, rejected this application for a pension.

 The decedent's age, length of service, and other qualifications for benefits under the Pension Plan of the Fund at the time of filing his application for a pension, and subsequent thereto up to the time of his death, were such that, if he was entitled to benefits under the said Pension Plan, he would have been entitled to payments for life commencing May 1, 1965, at the rate of $200.00 per month. If the decedent was entitled to receive benefits for life commencing May 1, 1965, at the rate of $200.00 per month, the decedent not having received any such benefits up to the time of his death, plaintiff, as the surviving wife of the decedent, would be entitled, pursuant to Article II, Section 8 of the Local 282-Pension Plan, as amended, to receive payments for a period of 36 months commencing May 1, 1965, at the same rate.

 The collective bargaining agreements between Local 282 and employers of employees represented by it require regular specified payments to be made by such employers to the Fund on behalf of their employees. Elmhurst never signed a collective bargaining agreement with Local 282 but it made the payments apparently in the amounts required under the applicable collective bargaining agreement as though it had executed such agreement.

 No claim is made that the Trustees acted in bad faith in refusing to make payments to plaintiff. It is uncontroverted that they are acting on advice of counsel. When Moglia's application on the basis of his employment with Elmhurst was received at the Trustees' office in April, 1965, a search was made by the Fund Administrator for a copy of the collective agreement and counterpart trust fund agreement, but none could be found. A further search was made by the Fund Administrator in the files of the Union office and none found there; the Fund Administrator then inquired of the officials of the Union and was informed that none had ever been entered into in spite of the Union's many attempts to have Elmhurst execute one.

 The claim of the Local that, for many years, it had attempted to have Elmhurst execute such an agreement and that it repeated its attempts recently after the rejection of plaintiff's application, is undisputed. [It appears that even as of this late date such an execution could validate pension payments to plaintiff (Bey v. Muldoon, 217 F. Supp. 401 (E.D. Pa. 1962)).]

 These facts were reported to the Trustees at their meeting on June 15, 1965 and action was deferred until they had consulted counsel. At the following meeting of Trustees, which decedent attended with his attorney, the Trustees were informed that Elmhurst had been paying into the Fund and that they had been accepting such payments into the Fund. On the opinion of their attorney that they could not legally pay Moglia pension benefits, they rejected his application and, on March 1, 1966, a check in the amount of $4,435.93, representing $3,500 paid on behalf of Moglia and other employees, was sent to Elmhurst, one of whose officers promptly returned it because he understood that Moglia's attorney was contemplating legal action. The sum remains segregated for Elmhurst subject to the Court's disposition of the action.

 The Pension Trust Fund was created in 1955 by Local Union No. 282 with various employers who had entered into collective bargaining agreements with the Union and 14 Trustees - 4 designated by the Union and 10 designated by the employers, exercising control by one vote each.

 It was founded by execution of an agreement and declaration of trust - the "Trust Agreement" as the successor to other trust funds in which the Union had theretofore participated. *fn1"

 The condition precedent that there be a collective bargaining agreement is stated by the recital in the preamble that "the Union and the Employers have entered into written collective bargaining agreements requiring payments by the Employers for the purpose of providing a pension and welfare program for the employees covered by said agreements . . . ." The Trust Agreement (T.A.) ...


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