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Agro v. Joint Plumbing Industry Board

decided: April 11, 1980.

JOSEPH AGRO, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
JOINT PLUMBING INDUSTRY BOARD (LOCAL 2, U.A.); HARVEY B. REHNER, JOHN J. MURRAY, LAWRENCE FELDER, AND MORRIS OLSHINA, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITIES AS CHAIRMAN, CO-CHAIRMAN, TREASURER, AND EXECUTIVE SECRETARY, RESPECTIVELY; LOUIS DESIDERIO, MORRIS OLSHINA, WILLIAM GREENBLATT, LEONARD X. FARBMAN, LAWRENCE FELDER, AND WILLIAM GROSS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR CAPACITIES AS TRUSTEES OF THE JOINT PLUMBING INDUSTRY BOARD PENSION FUND; AND LOCAL UNION NO. 2 OF THE UNITED ASSOCIATION OF JOURNEYMEN AND APPRENTICES OF THE PLUMBING AND PIPE FITTING INDUSTRY, JOHN J. MURRAY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS PRESIDENT, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS



Appeal from an order and judgment entered in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Robert W. Sweet, Judge, awarding plaintiff past and future pension benefits. Affirmed.

Before Mulligan, Van Graafeiland and Kearse, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kearse

The Joint Plumbing Industry Board (the "Board"), Local Union No. 2 of the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipe Fitting Industry (the "Union") and the individual defendants appeal from a final judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Robert W. Sweet, Judge, declaring that plaintiff Joseph Agro is entitled to future pension benefits and awarding him past benefits plus interest. 471 F. Supp. 856 (S.D.N.Y.1979). For the reasons below, we affirm.

I

This is one of several unconsolidated cases argued together on appeal.*fn1 All of the cases involved retired plumbers who were denied pension benefits from the Plumbing Industry Pension Fund (the "Fund"), established and administered by the defendants. The complaints challenged certain amendments to the rules of eligibility for benefits as applied to the plaintiffs.

The history of the various amendments to the Fund's rules for pension eligibility is set forth extensively in our opinion filed today in Valle v. Joint Plumbing Industry Board, No. 79-7616, 623 F.2d 196, and will only be summarized here. Under the rules as they existed in 1963, a participant in the plan could qualify for pension benefits if he was 65 years old, had worked at least 1250 days for contributing employers, and had worked for such employers during the 2 years preceding his application for benefits. The 1966 amendments introduced a requirement that the participant have worked for contributing employers in each of the 15 years immediately prior to application for pension benefits. Amendments in 1968 and 1969 lowered the minimum age for regular retirement to 64 and 62, respectively.

Under the rules prevailing through 1970, the level of monthly benefits payable upon regular retirement was determined by multiplying a fixed dollar amount times the number of years of Union membership.*fn2 In 1971, the plan was amended to, inter alia, change the basis for computing benefits from years of Union membership to years of contributory service.

Joseph Agro was born in 1906. He began working in the plumbing trade in the early 1920's and joined the Union in 1939. Although Agro apparently worked in the trade continuously from 1950-1971, there were several periods in which he did not work for contributing employers. These occurred in 1956-1958 and 1966-1969, when he worked abroad, and in 1952 and 1954. Thus in the period 1950-1971 Agro worked for contributing employers for a total of 13 years, accumulating 1466 days of contributory service.

In 1971 Agro retired. He sought to apply for a pension in August of that year, but defendants discouraged him from applying formally at that time. Agro testified that he was not informed of the amendments to the eligibility requirements adopted in 1966 and 1971 until long after he retired. In May 1978 Agro brought suit alleging that the defendants had failed adequately to inform employees of the changes in eligibility requirements, and had denied him pension benefits arbitrarily and capriciously in violation of federal and state law.*fn3

The District Court's Decision

The district court held that the defendants had no duty to inform Agro of changes in the eligibility requirements for pension benefits, and, emphasizing that Agro's breaks in service for contributory employers were voluntary, ruled that the 15 consecutive years service provision imposed by the 1966 amendments was not arbitrary or capricious as applied to Agro.

Nevertheless, the district court ruled that Agro was entitled to a pension on the ground that the eligibility requirements under the 1963 amendments had been "grandfathered" into the 1966 and 1971 amendments: that any employee who prior to 1966 met at least all of the non-age requirements for a pension under the 1963 amendments, continued to be eligible for pension benefits under the 1966 amendments. Since Agro had satisfied, prior to 1966, all of the requirements of the 1963 amendments except age, the court concluded that he was entitled to benefits, and awarded him $27,900 in past benefits, plus interest accruing from the due date of each monthly payment. The past benefits were computed on the basis of years of Union membership rather than on years of contributory service.

On appeal, the defendants argue chiefly that the district court's finding of a grandfathering provision was clearly erroneous*fn4 and challenge the calculation of benefits awarded. Agro, in addition to arguing in support of the opinion below, contends that the judgment may be sustained on the ground ...


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