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United States v. New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund and First National Stores

June 28, 1984

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, EX REL. MARTIN J. REILLY, JR., PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
NEW ENGLAND TEAMSTERS AND TRUCKING INDUSTRY PENSION FUND AND FIRST NATIONAL STORES, DEFENDANTS, NEW ENGLAND TEAMSTERS AND TRUCKING INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT



Appeal from a Judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Jose A. Cabranes, Judge, Awarding the Plaintiff Pension Benefits under the Veteran's Reemployment Rights Law, 38 U.S.C. §§ 2021-2026 (1982).

Kaufman, Kearse, and Pierce, Circuit Judges.

Author: Kearse

KEARSE, Circuit Judge:

Defendant New England Teamsters and Trucking Industry Pension Fund (the "Fund") appeals from a judgment of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, Jose A. Cabranes, Judge, awarding Martin J. Reilly, Jr., pension benefits under the Fund's "Minimum Thirty Year Service Pension," pursuant to the Veteran's Reemployment Rights Law (the "Act"), 38 U.S.C. §§ 2021-2026 (1982), on the ground that Reilly was entitled to pension credit for a 15-month period of training and hospitalization when he was on duty as a National Guard reservist and therefore had the 30 years of service credits required for the pension. On appeal, the Fund contends that the court erred in awarding such benefits because (12) Reilly had failed to comply with the requirements of § 2024(d), (2) Reilly had waived his rights, and (3) benefits under the Fund's plan are not perquisites of seniority within the meaning of § 2024(d). Finding no merit in any of these contentions, we affirm the judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

Most of the pertinent facts have been stipulated to by the parties in a Statement of Issues Not in Dispute ("Stipulation").

A. Reilly's Employment and Military History

Reilly was born on March 14, 1925, and was first employed by defendant First National Stores ("FINAST") in other than a temporary position on June 11, 1946. He remained employed by FINAST until September 1950, when he left to serve in the Connecticut National Guard during the Korean conflict. Reilly was honorably discharged in July 1952 and was reemployed by FINAST. (Stipulation paras. 1-3.) There is apparently no dispute that Reilly received pension credit for the time served during the Korean conflict.

On June 20, 1958, Reilly began a two-week National Guard encampment. During this tour of duty, however, Reilly suffered a service-related injury, and his period of active duty status was extended until August 20, 1959. (Stipulation para. 4.) According to Connecticut National Guard officials whose statements have not been disputed by the Fund, Reilly was hospitalized for more than nine months during this period and then continued his recuperation at home; during the entire period from June 1958 to August 1959, Reilly received military pay and allowances. From August 21, 1959, until September 4, 1959, Reilly remained in military service to fulfill his annual obligation in the Guard. (Stipulation para. 4.) Reilly returned to work at FINAST in September 1959 immediately after his military obligation had been fulfilled. (Stipulation para. 5.) Reilly received no pension credit for the period from June 1958 to September 1959. (Stipulation para. 6.)

B. The Fund Pensions

In 1967, FINAST entered into an agreement with the Fund for the Fund to provide pension benefits for certain of its employees. FINAST thereby became a "contributing employer," and a group of its employees, including Reilly, was allowed to elect to be covered by the Fund pension plan by waiving their rights under the FINAST pension plan.(Stipulation para. 7.) Reilly executed such a waiver and elected pension coverage under the Fund.

The Fund provided several types of pensions with varying amounts of benefits for employees of contributing employers. The "Normal Pension" was available to an employee who, inter alia, had attained the age of 60 years and had at least 25 years of credited service. Credited service included "past service," i.e., that rendered prior to the employer's joining the fund; a year of past service was defined as at least 135 days of work in a calendar year.

A "Reduced Pension" was available to an employee who, inter alia, had attained the age of 60 and had at least 15 years but less than 25 years of credited service. The Reduced Pension amount was that proportion of the Normal Pension amount that the number of years of credited service bore to 25. For example, it an employee had 17 years of credited service, his Reduced Pension would be 17/25 of the Normal Pension amount.

An "Early Retirement Pension" was available to an employee who, inter alia, had attained the age of 52 years but was under the age of 60, and who had at least 15 years of credited service. The Fund's plan showed specified percentage reductions from the Normal or Reduced Pension amounts tied to the age of early retirement. Early retirement at age 59, for example, meant a 6% reduction from the Normal or Reduced Pension amount; early retirement at age 52 meant a 40% reduction.

A "Minimum Thirty Year Service Pension" (hereinafter "30-Year Plan") was available to an employee who, inter alia, had at least 30 years of credited service and who did not qualify for any higher pension benefit from the Fund. The amount of the 30-Year Plan benefit was 75% of the Normal Pension benefit amount.

An employee's right to a Fund pension vested when he had attained 52 years of age and had 15 years of credited service with contributing employers.

In 1976, in anticipation of his 52nd birthday, Reilly applied for early retirement benefits under the 30-Year Plan, to be effective in 1977. The Fund denied his application on the ground that he was not entitled to credit for the years 1958 and 1959 and hence did not have the required 30 years of service. (Stipulation para. 9-11.) Had Reilly received credit in the computation of his pension eligibility for the time he spent in military service in 1958 and 1959, he would have been eligible for full pension benefits under the Fund's 30-Year Plan. (Stipulation para. 12.)

C. The Proceedings Below

In 1978, Reilly, represented by the United States Attorney pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 2022, commenced the present action against the Fund and FINAST for a judgment pursuant to § 2021(b) directing the defendants to pay Reilly benefits under the 30-Year Plan. Both sides moved for summary judgment. The Fund argued that it should not be held liable because (1) Reilly had waived his rights to object to FINAST's calculation of his pension credits, (2) benefits under Fund plans were not keyed to seniority within the meaning of 38 U.S.C. § 2024(d),*fn1 and (3) Reilly had not complied with the terms of § 2024(d) by returning to FINAST in April 1959 when he was released from the hospital.

In a decision dated August 1, 1983 ("Decision"), the district court rejected all of the Fund's arguments.*fn2 It ruled that Reilly's claim was asserted under the Act, not under the terms of the pension plan and ...


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