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Lamontagne v. Pension Plan of United Wire

decided: February 24, 1989.

JOSEPH L. LAMONTAGNE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PENSION PLAN OF THE UNITED WIRE, METAL & MACHINE PENSION FUND, THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF THE UNITED WIRE, METAL & MACHINE PENSION FUND, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Mary Johnson Lowe, J.) which dismissed appellant's complaint on the grounds (1) that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over appellant's ERISA claims and (2) that appellant's Taft-Hartley claim was time-barred.

Meskill, Pierce and Miner, Circuit Judges.

Author: Pierce

PIERCE, Circuit Judge.

Joseph L. Lamontagne appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Judge Mary Johnson Lowe, which dismissed his complaint on the grounds (1) that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") claims and (2) that his Taft-Hartley Act claim was time-barred. We affirm.

BACKGROUND

The Pension Plan ("the Plan") of the United Wire, Metal & Machine Pension Fund ("the Fund"), as amended through 1970, in Article I, § 7, defines "Covered Employment" as employment in which the employee earns credit towards a pension to be supplied by the Fund. Lamontagne worked in covered employment as a machinist from 1954 to 1971. On September 7, 1971, when he aggravated a back injury, Lamontagne left his job and never again returned to covered employment.

According to Article III, § 5(b) of the Plan, an employee's failure to work at least 800 hours in covered employment within a period of two consecutive calender years, termed a "break in employment," results in the cancellation of the employee's previously earned pension credit. Section 5(c) provides for an exception to the break in employment policy; it states that an absence from covered employment shall not be considered a break in employment if the employee is absent from work due to a total disability and the trustees of the Fund grant the employee's application to have the period of his absence recognized as a "grace period."

The Fund offers four types of pensions: Normal, Early Retirement, Reduced and Disability. See Article II. As set forth in Article II of the Plan, an employee must have accumulated pension credit for at least fifteen years to be eligible for any one of these pensions.

More than six years after leaving his job, on April 19, 1978, Lamontagne applied to the Fund for a Disability Pension. In a letter to Lamontagne dated November 14, 1978, the Fund's administrator responded; he wrote:

On Monday, November 6, 1978, the Board of Trustees of the United Wire, Metal and Machine Pension Fund denied your application for pension benefits for failure to meet the requirements for either a Disability or Partial Pension from the Fund.

Eight years later, on or about November 7, 1986, Lamontagne again applied for a pension from the Fund. This time the type of pension for which he applied was a Reduced Pension. Again, the Fund denied Lamontagne's application. In a letter to Lamontagne dated December 3, 1986, the Fund's attorney wrote that the Fund's trustees "declined the reconsideration of their determination of 1978 which found that a break-in-service occurred."

Following the denial of his second application for a pension, Lamontagne commenced this suit against the Fund in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. In a complaint dated January 6, 1987, Lamontagne alleged that the Fund denied him a pension in violation of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a) (1982) ("fiduciary standards claim") and 29 U.S.C. § 1053 (Supp. IV 1986) ("vesting standards claim"); in violation of the terms of the Plan ("Plan violation claim"); and in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(5) (1982) ("Taft-Hartley claim"). In a judgment dated July 19, 1988, pursuant to the Fund's motion to dismiss the ERISA claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and the Fund's motion for summary judgment on the Taft-Hartley claim based on the statute of limitations, the district court dismissed the complaint. In her memorandum opinion and order, Judge Lowe held that the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over Lamontagne's ERISA claims and that Lamontagne's Taft-Hartley claim was time-barred. While Judge Lowe did not explicitly discuss Lamontagne's Plan violation claim, she alluded to it and effectively dismissed it in a footnote. This footnote read: "Because plaintiff never had a vested right to a pension under either a pre-ERISA or ERISA plan, the Court need not consider . . . those cases which hold that ERISA provides a federal forum for wrongful termination of benefits which vested prior to ERISA's effective date."

Discussion

A. Fiduciary ...


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