United States District Court, E.D. New York
RAYMOND E. GOSSELIN, Plaintiff,
SHEET METAL WORKERS' NATIONAL PENSION FUND, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
KATHLEEN TOMLINSON, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Raymond E. Gosselin (“Plaintiff”) brings this
declaratory judgment action against Defendant Sheet M
Workers' National Pension Fund (the “Fund” or
“Defendant”), pursuant to the Employee Retirement
Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C.
§ 1001, et seq., seeking, inter alia,
an award of the entire amount of the pension benefits he
claims is due and payable from the Fund. See
generally Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”)
[DE 13]. Plaintiff alleges that the Fund's decision to
deny his claim for pension benefits was arbitrary and
capricious. See Id. ¶¶ 50, 57.
before the Court is Plaintiff's motion seeking certain
discovery beyond the administrative record. See
Plaintiff's Letter Motion (“Pl.'s Mot.”)
[DE 19]. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks an Order permitting
him to “take the deposition of at least the plan
administrator . . . and to engage in written
discovery.” Id. at 4. The Fund opposes the
motion. See generally Defendant's Opposition
(“Def.'s Opp'n”) [DE 20]. For the reasons
set forth in this Memorandum and Order, Plaintiff's
motion is DENIED.
following facts are taken primarily from Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint, the parties' motion papers and
documents attached to those submissions. All facts alleged
are assumed to be true for purposes of this motion.
began working in the sheet m fabrication industry in 1978
upon accepting an apprenticeship with Triple S Sheet Metal.
Am. Compl. ¶ 7. At the time Plaintiff began his
apprenticeship, “Triple S Sheet M was a signatory to a
contract with the Sheet M Workers' Local Union 55, of
whom Plaintiff was a member. By the end of his
apprenticeship, Triple S Sheet M was a [ ] signatory to a
contract with the Sheet M Workers' Local Union 28
(‘Local 28'), of whom Plaintiff was and still is a
member.” Id. ¶ 8. From 1978 through 1982
- the term of Plaintiff's apprenticeship - he
“began accruing pension service credit. . . .”
Id. ¶ 9. Following the conclusion of the
apprenticeship, Plaintiff continued to work for Triple S
Sheet M as a “Sheet M Worker” and his duties
consisted of ductwork fabrication. Id. ¶ 10.
Thereafter, in 1983, Plaintiff was promoted to the position
of “Shop Foreman” which, in addition to his
fabrication duties, required him to supervise other sheet m
workers, maintain the equipment and hire and terminate
employees. Id. ¶ 11.
1996, Triple S Sheet M was sold and subsequently became known
as Triple S Air Systems, Inc. (“Triple S”).
Id. ¶ 12. Notwithstanding this change in
ownership, “Triple S continued to be a signatory to a
contract with Local 28.” Id. ¶ 12.
Despite his employment with Triple S, “[f]rom 2001
through 2010, Plaintiff received holiday bonuses and travel
reimbursement from Triple S on a separate payroll through
J&S Fabricators, Inc. (‘J&S'), a separate
and distinct company from Triple S.” Id.
¶ 13. According to Plaintiff, the decision to issue
these bonus and reimbursement payments to Plaintiff from
J&S as opposed to Triple S was unilaterally made by
“the former president of J&S, Steven
Benkovsky.” Id. ¶ 15. Plaintiff did not
have knowledge as to the ownership structure or purposes of
J&S and did not have any control over the ultimate
determination concerning which account (i.e., Triple
S or J&S) these payments originated from. Id.
¶ 15. Plaintiff asserts that although he received bonus
payments and reimbursements from J&S, he “did not
perform even one second of work for J&S” and that
he “exclusively worked for Triple S and no other
employers.” Id. ¶¶ 16-17. Further,
although Triple S “remained a signatory to a collective
bargaining agreement with Local 28 . . . J&S was not and
has never been a signatory to a collective bargaining
agreement with Local 28.” Id. ¶¶
2014 - shortly before he reached his 55th birthday
- Plaintiff contemplated retirement due in part to the fact
that “the Fund provides a 55/30 Pension (set forth in
Section 5.09 of the Fund's Plan), which in essence,
allows participants to obtain unreduced pension benefits if
they are fifty-five (55) years old and have obtained thirty
(30) years of service credit.” Id.
¶¶ 20-21. Significantly, “[u]nlike
participants of the Fund, participants of the SMWIA Local 28
Pension Fund are not entitled to unreduced pension benefits
from the SMWIA Local 28 Pension Fund if they retire prior to
age sixty-five (65) and have thirty (30) years of service
credit. However, they are entitled to reduced pension
benefits from the SMWIA Local 28 Pension Fund at age fifty-five
(55).” Id. ¶ 23. As such, Plaintiff opted
to apply for pension benefits from both plans since
“under the Fund, Plaintiff was entitled to receive full
pension benefits.” Id. ¶ 24.
December 17, 2014, Plaintiff was notified by the SMWIA Local
28 Pension Fund that his application for reduced pension
benefits was granted; however, as of January 2015, Plaintiff
had not received any response from the Fund as to his
application for full pension benefits in accordance with
Section 5.09 of the Fund's Plan. Id.
¶¶ 21, 23. As a result, Plaintiff advised the SMWIA
Local 28 Pension Fund and the Fund that he wished to postpone
his retirement date of January 31, 2015 until further notice,
and he continued to work for Triple S and continues to do so
to this day.” Id. ¶ 24.
on March 24, 2015, the Fund advised Plaintiff that based upon
the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”)
records, which reflected that Plaintiff had, in fact, worked
for J&S from 2001 through 2010, the Fund would require
Plaintiff to provide a description of the services provided
by J&S, Plaintiff's title, job description, and
whether it had any union affiliation” in order to
“determine Plaintiff's eligibility for the 55/30
pension.” Id. ¶ 28. In response,
Plaintiff stated that he had “no job description or job
title from J&S and that he received money from J&S
only as bonuses for work done at Triple S.”
Id. ¶ 29. In addition, Plaintiff provided the
Fund's correspondence to Benkovsky who, in turn, drafted
a letter to the Fund setting forth that J&S did not
“perform any work under a collective bargaining
agreement” nor did it engage in sheet m work or any
other services “relating to handling, manufacturing,
fabrication, installation, dismantlement, balancing and
testing, alteration, repair, or servicing of any sheet m or
substitute product.” Id. ¶ 30. In
addition, Benkovsky stated that J&S ceased activities in
2010, filed its final corporate income tax for 2014, and
[wa]s expected to dissolve by April 30, 2015.”
the provision of this additional information, “the Fund
denied Plaintiff's application for the 55/30
Pension” on June 5, 2015 because it determined that
“Plaintiff must have worked for J&S since the SSA
indicated that Plaintiff received earnings from
J&S” during the applicable time period. In the
Fund's view, J&S did perform work in the “Sheet
M Industry" since (1) it was "still an active
employer" and (2) "the name [ ] lends itself to be
a company that works in the assembly and fabrication of
products. Id. ¶¶ 31-33.
the Fund's denial of his application for pension
benefits, "Plaintiff requested an appeal of the
Fund's decision" on November 3, 2015. Id.
¶ 36. In support of his appeal, Plaintiff submitted
written correspondence which stressed that "the money
that was paid to him by Triple S through J&S were for
bonuses, not for work performed for J&S" and that in
any event he had "no idea at the time why Triple S used
another company to pay him his bonuses and that he should not
be penalized for something that he had no control over."
Id. ¶ 37. On December 19, 2015, the Appeals
Committee denied Plaintiffs appeal. Id. ¶ 38;
see Def.'s Opp'n, Exhibit ("Ex.")
A (December 19, 2015 Denial Letter).
Plaintiff retained counsel and on March 7, 2016, Plaintiff
(through counsel) sent a letter to the Fund's
"Pension Specialist" and requested that the Fund
permit a ninety (90) day extension to supplement Plaintiffs
appeal to ensure Plaintiff is provided with a full and fair
review." Id. ¶ 40. In support of this
request, Plaintiffs counsel provided the Fund with additional
documentation. Id. ¶¶ 41-42. In response,
the Fund reiterated that it understood Plaintiffs position
but that "its decision was based on the fact that
official filings with the SSA indicate that Plaintiff was
paid by J&S (a non-signatory company in the Sheet M
Industry) for employment." Id. ¶ 43.
according to Plaintiff, the Fund, through counsel, indicated
that Plaintiff could still provide evidence that Plaintiff
was not an employee of a non-signatory company in the Sheet M
Industry." Id. ¶ 44. As such, Benkovsky
provided a sworn affidavit to Plaintiffs counsel which
attempted to clarify certain information contained in his
earlier letter." Id. ¶ 45. On May 16,
2016, Plaintiffs counsel sent Benkovsky's affidavit to
the Fund and requested reconsideration of the denial of his
application for a 55/30 Pension. . . .” Id.
¶ 46. Despite the provision of this additional
information “the Fund upheld the denial of
Plaintiff's application.” Id. ¶ 47.
does not set out the applicable standard of review for
actions challenging benefit eligibility
determinations.” Fay v. Oxford Health Plan,
287 F.3d 96, 103 (2d Cir. 2002) (quoting Zuckerbrod v.
Phoenix Mut. Life Ins. Co., 78 F.3d 46, 49 (2d
Cir.1996)) (quotation marks omitted). However, the Supreme
Court has held that “a denial of benefits challenged
under [ERISA] § 1132(a)(1)(B) is to be reviewed under a
de novo standard unless the benefit plan gives the
administrator or fiduciary discretionary authority to
determine eligibility for benefits or to construe the terms
of the plan.” Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v.
Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989); see Kosakow v. New
Rochelle Radiology Assocs., P.C., 274 F.3d 706, 738 (2d
Cir. 2001) (“[W]here a plan does confer discretion upon
the administrator to determine eligibility or interpret the
terms of the plan, the determinations of the administrator
are reviewed under an abuse of discretion standard.”).
“When such discretionary authority is reserved, a court
‘will not disturb the administrator's ultimate
conclusion unless it is arbitrary and capricious.'”
S.M. v. Oxford Health Plans (N.Y.), Inc.
(“S.M. II”), 94 F.Supp.3d 481, 497
(S.D.N.Y. 2015) aff'd sub nom. S.M. v. Oxford Health
Plans (N.Y.), 644 F. App'x 81 (2d Cir. 2016),
cert. denied sub nom. S.M. v. Oxford Health Plans (NY),
Inc., 137 S.Ct. 148, 196 L.Ed.2d 45 (2016) (quoting