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Titus v. Operating Engineers' Local 324 Pension Fund

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

November 8, 2017

Robert E. Titus, Jr., Plaintiff,
v.
Operating Engineers' Local 324 Pension Plan, Defendant.

          ANTHONY P. PATTI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD [41] AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S CROSS-MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE ADMINISTRATIVE RECORD [42]

          GERSHWIN A. DRAIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         I. Introduction

         This is a case regarding the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001. See Dkt. No. 1. On March 16, 2016, Plaintiff Robert Titus, Jr. filed a Complaint against Defendant Operating Engineers' Local 324 Pension Plan (“the Pension Plan”) seeking remedies under ERISA. Id. In his Complaint, Titus asserted three claims, asking that the Court: (i) enjoin the suspension of his retirement benefits and reform the Pension Plan under ERISA §§ 203(a)(3)(B) and 502(a)(3); (ii) order the Defendant to provide a full and fair review of his benefit claims under ERISA §§ 502(a)(3) and 503; and (iii) both grant retirement benefits he contends were improperly suspended and require that the Plan clarify his right to benefits, pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B).

         The Court issued a Case Management Scheduling Order for Review of ERISA Administrative Denial of Benefits on August 31, 2016, and the Administrative Record was filed under seal pursuant to Local Rule 5.3(a) on September 30, 2016. See Dkt. Nos. 11, 12.

         The Defendant filed a Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings on October 31, 2016. See Dkt. No. 19. In this motion, the Defendant sought judgment on Plaintiff's claims I and II. Id. The Court granted Defendant's motion and later denied Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to Amend. See Dkt. Nos. 34, 40. Accordingly, only Plaintiff's third claim remains for adjudication.

         Presently before the Court are the parties' Cross-Motions for Judgment on the Administrative Record. See Dkt. Nos. 41, 42. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT Defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record [41] and DENY Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Judgment on the Administrative Record [42].

         II. Background

         A. Retirement Considerations

         Titus joined the Operating Engineers Local 324 in August 1978, and his employment primarily consisted of operating and maintaining cranes. Dkt. No. 1, p. 3 (Pg. ID 3); Dkt. No. 45, p. 5 (Pg. ID 1804). Through his employment, he became a member of the Pension Plan, a multi-employer defined benefit plan. Dkt. No. 1, pp. 1-3 (Pg. ID 1-3). The Pension Plan provides a Service Pension for active participants who have both reached the age of fifty-five and have at least thirty years of credited service. Id. at 3 (Pg. ID 3).

         In February 2014, Titus became eligible to receive benefits under the Pension Plan. Id. at p. 4 (Pg. ID 4). At this time, he contemplated first retiring and then starting his own sales and consulting company. Id. Titus understood that the Plan imposed restrictions on beneficiaries' post-retirement employment, and thus, he sought to start a company as long as it did not impact his retirement income. Id.

         ERISA offers guidance related to restrictions on post-retirement employment, where a retiree is receiving a pension. It provides that:

[a] right to an accrued benefit derived from employer contributions shall not be treated as forfeitable solely because the plan provides that the payment of benefits is suspended for such period as the employee is employed, subsequent to the commencement of payment of such benefits--. . .
(ii) in the case of a multiemployer plan, in the same industry, in the same trade or craft, and the same geographic area covered by the plan, as when such benefits commenced.

29 U.S.C. § 1053(a)(3)(B). In addition, ERISA contains a provision related to a status determination and the suspension of benefits.

Status determination. If a plan provides for benefits suspension, the plan shall adopt a procedure, and so inform employees, whereunder an employee may request, and the plan administrator in a reasonable amount of time will render, a determination of whether specific contemplated employment will be section 203(a)(3)(B) service for purposes of plan provisions concerning suspension of benefits. Requests for status determinations may be considered in accordance with the claims procedure adopted by the plan pursuant to section 503 of the Act and applicable regulations.

29 C.F.R. § 2530.203-3(b)(6).

         When he became eligible to receive a pension in February 2014, Titus requested a status determination regarding the work contemplated and spoke with the Pension Plan Manager, Duane Menter. Dkt. No. 1, p. 6 (Pg. ID 6). Menter summarized this conversation in a letter dated March 28, 2014. Dkt. ...


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