Bloom v. The Teamster Affiliates Pension Plan
Order on Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, Order on Motion for Summary Judgment
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF ALASKA
JACQUELINE A. BLOOM,
Case No. 3:07-cv-0079-RRB
THE TEAMSTER AFFILIATES
ORDER RE SUMMARY
This action arises under the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §1001 (ERISA).
At Docket 1,
Plaintiff Jacqueline Bloom seeks past-due benefits and damages from
Teamster Affiliates Pension Plan (TAPP) for failure to pay benefits
under the terms of the plan document and, alternatively, under the
theories of promissory estoppel and breach of fiduciary duty.
Bloom also seeks costs, attorney fees, and interest. TAPP seeks
summary judgment on all counts of Bloom’s Complaint at Docket 27.
Bloom seeks partial summary judgment requiring TAPP to reinstate
her to her “full earned pension” at Docket 30.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 1
This matter has
been fully briefed, and the court heard oral argument on June 24,
Bloom was employed in Fairbanks, Alaska, by General
Teamsters Local 959 from June 1970 through June 2004. As a result
of that employment and contributions made by her employer, she
became a participant, beneficiary, and retiree of two pension
plans: the Teamster Affiliates Pension Plan (“TAPP”) and also the
Alaska Teamster-Employer Pension Trust ("Alaska Plan").1
no dispute that TAPP, the Defendant here, is an employee benefits
plan subject to the provisions of ERISA.
Bloom had a specific concern whether her TAPP pension
would be reduced because she had a second pension under the Alaska
Accordingly, she asked TAPP whether its plan document would
require it to "aggregate" with the Alaska Plan.
with a benefit estimate in a letter dated April 16, 2003, which
stated that Bloom was entitled to a benefit of $78,200 "immediate
lump sum" and a monthly annuity of $2,145.2
Responding to Bloom's
aggregation question, TAPP told her that her pension would "not be
Bloom was enrolled in a third pension plan, which is not
relevant to these proceedings.
Alternatively, Bloom could have chosen a $2,580 monthly
payment without the lump-sum payout. Docket 32-5.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 2
reduced" by aggregation with the Alaska Plan because that plan was
a multi-employer plan.3
Bloom chose to retire effective June 30, 2004.
prepared and submitted her pension application, which TAPP received
on April 16, 2004.
TAPP sent Bloom another letter regarding
estimated benefits on August 25, 2004.4
This letter reiterated
the same amounts as the letter dated April 16, 2003, but did not
contain the aggregation language.
By letter dated September 24,
2004, Bloom was advised her pension had been formally approved by
the trustees in the amount of $78,251 plus $2,187 per month,
retroactive to her July 1, 2004 retirement. She was to expect
checks by mail in the near future.5
But on October 1, 2004, TAPP
notified Bloom by telephone and letter that TAPP had stopped
payment on her lump-sum termination benefit check, as well as her
first pension check.6
On October 12, 2004, TAPP informed Bloom
via letter that her termination benefit of $78,251 would be
reinstated, and that her monthly pension benefit was calculated at
Docket 32, Ex. B at 2.
Docket 27, Ex. K.
Docket 32, Ex. D.
Docket 32, Ex. E.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 3
$62.00 per month.7
The lump-sum payment reissued nine months
later, without interest, on July 28, 2005.8
trustees by letter dated October 12, 2004.9
On January 12, 2005,
Bloom renewed her appeal to the trustees, complaining that she
relied to her detriment on the misinformation provided by TAPP
regarding the amount of her pension.10 Bloom subsequently submitted
a further appeal document to the trustees, contesting the decision
The trustees mentioned the issue at its meeting on
March 15, 2005, but took no action indicating “further research
would be needed.”11
At the next trustees' meeting, Bloom’s situation was
reviewed. Her pension was formally approved by the trustees in the
requested Bloom's signature on a document releasing TAPP and its
advisors of liability from any existing claim and also any future
Docket 32, Ex. X.
Docket 32, Ex. I at 1.
Docket 32, Ex. J.
Docket 32, Ex. M.
Docket 32, Ex. Q.
Docket 32, Ex. R at 145-146.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 4
claim "from the beginning of the world to the end of time."13
Bloom refused to sign the release.
On July 28, 2005, another letter from TAPP detailed the
calculations made pursuant to Section 415 of the Internal Revenue
Code, and concluded that Bloom’s monthly pension amount under TAPP
receiving payments at this rate.
This lawsuit followed.
Summary Judgment Standard
Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides
that summary judgment should be granted if there is no genuine
dispute as to material facts and if the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law.
The moving party has the burden of
showing that there is no genuine dispute as to material fact.15
The moving party need not present evidence; it need only point out
the lack of any genuine dispute as to material fact.16
moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must set
forth evidence of specific facts showing the existence of a genuine
Docket 32, Ex. T.
Docket 32, Ex. I.
Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).
Id. at 323-325.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 5
issue for trial.17
All evidence presented by the non-movant must
be believed for purposes of summary judgment, and all justifiable
inferences must be drawn in favor of the non-movant.18
the nonmoving party may not rest upon mere allegations or denials,
but must show that there is sufficient evidence supporting the
claimed factual dispute to require a fact-finder to resolve the
parties’ differing versions of the truth at trial.19
Terms of the TAPP Plan & Internal Revenue Code § 415
A pension plan document is a legal document that sets
forth the terms and conditions for participants to earn and receive
a vested pension at retirement age. It is undisputed that Bloom was
eligible for a pension under TAPP.
Via the Internal Revenue Code,
(IRC), Congress has provided for a maximum limit on the amount of
pension benefits that can be provided to any individual participant
through a tax-qualified pension plan.20
TAPP argues the amount of
pension sought by Bloom is illegal because it exceeds the maximum
benefit limitation on the annual payout amount that is placed on
defined benefit pension plans by § 415(b).
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.
Id. at 255.
Id. at 248-49.
26 U.S.C. § 415.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 6
, 477 U.S. 242, 248-49
Section 10.1 of the TAPP plan document attempts to
incorporate the limitations described in § 415.21
It is undisputed
that §415 would not impose any limitation on Bloom's pension unless
the test was applied after aggregating her TAPP and Alaska Plan
benefits. Accordingly the dispute centers on whether the plan
benefits with her Alaska Plan benefits.
In 2001, in an attempt to comply with a change in the law
under the IRC, TAPP’s legal counsel drafted an amendment to the
The plan document was subsequently amended again and
Accordingly, at the time of Bloom’s retirement in 2004, the TAPP
Notwithstanding any other provision of this
Plan, if a Member is or has been covered under
this Plan and another defined benefit plan
that is required to be aggregated under
Section 415 of the Code and the regulations
there under, then the benefits payable with
respect to such Member under this Plan shall
be reduced to the extent necessary to ensure
that the total amount payable with respect to
the Member under this Plan and the other
defined benefit plan does not exceed the
limitations of Section 415(b)of the Code. For
purposes of the preceding sentence, the term
Section 10.1(a)(1) describes the "maximum compensation"
limit (based on highest compensation during a 36 month period.)
Section 10.1(a)(2) describes the "maximum dollar" limit ($160,000
subject to actuarial reduction for early retirees).
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 7
“defined benefit plan” shall be redefined,
effective as of January 1, 2002, to mean only
a defined benefit plan that is not a
multi-employer plan. This redefinition shall
be applied, however, only to the maximum
dollar limitation which is set forth in
Section 415 of the Code and in Section
In drafting the amendment, TAPP’s counsel used the words “maximum
dollar limitation” instead of “maximum compensation limitation,”
which gave the provision an entirely different meaning that what
TAPP now says was intended.
TAPP now describes this error as a
Trustees took action in February 2008 to amend and restate Plan
Amendment retroactively to 2001.
Bloom seeks enforcement of the Plan as written in 2004.
She argues that a plain reading of section 10.1(h) yields the
result that her two pensions should not be aggregated, resulting in
a significantly higher monthly pension payment from TAPP.
argues that under the 2004 language of the Plan, the pre-retirement
advice Bloom received from TAPP, that it would not aggregate her
TAPP and Alaska Plan benefits, and also the original 2004 approval
of her pension, were in accord with the Plan Document.
Section 10.1(h), Docket 27, Ex. C at 44 (emphasis added).
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 8
TAPP requests this court to reject enforcement of the
written Plan language under various theories. TAPP asks this court
to disregard the non-aggregation mandate of Section 10.1(h) as a
scrivener’s error, and instead apply the aggregation language set
forth in IRC §415(f)(3)(A) in order to effectuate the intent of the
trustees. It requests a finding that the language is unenforceable
because it violates ERISA. Elsewhere, TAPP suggests that the
language of 10.1(h) is ambiguous, and therefore the Court must look
to extrinsic evidence to resolve this ambiguity.
provision of this Plan”) should be elevated to the status of a
contravene its former meaning.
The Ninth Circuit has held that the terms in an ERISA
plan should be interpreted “in an ordinary and popular sense as
would a [person] of average intelligence and experience.”23
[C]ourts should first look to explicit
language of the agreement to determine, if
possible, the clear intent of the parties. The
intended meaning of even the most explicit
language can, of course, only be understood in
the light of the context that gave rise to its
inclusion. . . . Each provision in an
Richardson v. Pension Plan of Bethlehem Steel, 112 F.3d
982, 985 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted).
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 9
agreement should be construed consistently
with the entire document such that no
provision is rendered nugatory. . . .
Typically, however, when a plan is ambiguous,
a court will examine extrinsic evidence to
determine the intent of the parties.24
The Court finds that § 10.1(h) is, at best, ambiguous.
It is impossible to reconcile the second and third sentences of the
provision with the first sentence of the provision, “in the light
of the context that gave rise to” the amended language.
undisputed that the amended language of the last two sentences was
included in response to a change in the IRC, but the new language
scrivener’s error or TAPP counsel’s misinterpretation of the law.
The Court need not determine which explanation is true in order to
find that the amendment as written is inconsistent with the plan
purpose and language, and is inconsistent with the IRC, and that it
therefore is ambiguous.
Furthermore, in light of Bloom’s estoppel
argument, it is unnecessary for the Court to consider extrinsic
evidence to determine the “intent of the parties.” For purposes of
this matter, the intent of TAPP or its counsel at the time of the
amendment is irrelevant.
Id. (citations omitted).
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 10
Plaintiff argues that if the Court finds ambiguity, the
doctrine of estoppel should be applied, and TAPP should not be
permitted to retroactively change her pension amount because she
relied on the quoted amount in making her retirement decisions.
TAPP disputes that there is adequate evidence to support an
The Ninth Circuit has held that recovery may be permitted
under the federal common law claim of equitable estoppel in an
Specifically, the Ninth Circuit allows federal
common law estoppel to enforce a representation regarding a benefit
plan when the representation interprets an arguably ambiguous plan
term, and does not modify the plan itself, but only when incorrect
representations involving an oral interpretation of the Plan are
made to the employee.26
The Court has already determined ambiguity.
is undisputed that oral estimates were provided to Bloom, TAPP
suggests that Bloom’s claim is preempted to the extent she relies
on written, rather than oral, statements to assert reliance.
However, the Court finds that the written letters of Tom Metzinger,
See Greany v. Western Farm Bureau Life Ins. Co., 973 F.2d
812, 821-22 (9th Cir. 1992).
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 11
the Trust Administrator, merely exceed the requirement that there
be “incorrect representations involving an oral interpretation of
Metzinger’s letters memorialize his interpretations.
Furthermore, they are consistent with the oral statements made by
other TAPP representatives. The Court finds it would put form over
substance to exclude his letters because they were not presented
orally to Bloom.
Having concluded that Bloom has standing to pursue an
estoppel claim, the Court turns to the elements she must prove.
When a plaintiff seeks to recover benefits under an ERISA plan
based on a claim of equitable estoppel, the Ninth Circuit requires
the plaintiff to show:
(1) that the party to be estopped knew the
relevant facts; (2) that the party to be estopped intended that its
conduct would be acted on or acted in a way that the plaintiff had
a right to believe it was so intended; (3) that the plaintiff was
ignorant of the true facts; and (4) that the plaintiff relied on
the former's conduct to his injury.27
TAPP knew the relevant facts.
Bloom was hoping to
retire, and she sought a summary of her benefits under the Plan.
Any error on TAPP’s part was an error in interpretation of its own
TAPP routinely provided estimates to its participants in
Greany, 973 F.2d at 821.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 12
anticipation of retirement.
It should have come as no surprise
that a participant would rely on TAPP for at least a close
approximation of available pension benefits.
TAPP also knew or
should have known about the § 415 limitations.
estimates and subject to change, this case is unique in that Bloom
specifically asked about aggregation, a question that required a
straightforward “yes” or “no” answer.
The Court is not persuaded
by TAPP’s repeated argument that the TAPP statements came from
“non-fiduciary plan administrators.”
Although this may be true
with respect to the telephone conversations Bloom had with various
trust employees, the letters were drafted on TAPP Board of Trustees
The final letter was from the Board itself.
requirement, that she was “ignorant of the true facts,” because
Bloom knew as well, or better, than the trust employees the impact
understood and engaged in a legal analysis, not a fact.
is that Bloom had knowledge that aggregation could occur, and she
sought a definitive answer from TAPP - the entity responsible for
making the calculations - as to whether aggregation would occur.
Although TAPP argues that Bloom’s repeated requests regarding
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 13
aggregation are a sign that she knew TAPP was calculating her
pension incorrectly and took advantage of TAPP’s error, the Court
finds that Bloom’s repeated requests regarding aggregation should
have triggered someone at TAPP to realize that they had made an
Instead, Bloom’s application went through numerous levels
of review before the trustees officially informed her of her
pension amount by letter on September 24, 2004.28
Finally, Bloom relied on TAPP’s conduct to her injury.
TAPP argues that Bloom never relied on any of the incorrect
information on her TAPP benefit in making her decision to retire
early, and therefore her claims in this regard are without merit.
Specifically, TAPP has made much ado about Bloom’s statement at
her deposition that even if she had known the aggregated amount of
her TAPP retirement, she could not say definitively whether or not
she would have retired when she did, but rather that it would have
“weighed heavily” in her decision.29
TAPP argues that Bloom’s
statement is not enough to show reliance on TAPP’s conduct.
conjunction with additional debts she took on at the time of her
retirement, clearly indicates her reliance on TAPP’s repeated
Docket 32, Ex. D.
Docket 27, Ex. I at 117-118.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 14
unreasonable in light of the specific facts of this case.
There is no evidence to support the theory that Bloom
somehow took advantage of TAPP, using her knowledge of § 415.
is the Court persuaded by Metzinger’s statement in his deposition
that pension estimates never contained aggregation calculations.
Bloom specifically asked whether her pension amounts - whatever
they were - would be aggregated.
Metzinger specifically replied
that her pensions would not be aggregated.
This, more so than the
mathematical blunders, was TAPP’s critical error.
TAPP offers no
rational argument why Bloom should have presumed that her pension
amounts would be aggregated, in light of the definitive answer from
the TAPP trust administrator that they would not be aggregated.
calculations of such interest are governed by ERISA.
TAPP suggested that because Bloom took early retirement, that the
interest provisions may be inapplicable. Elsewhere, TAPP indicated
Bloom’s affidavit at Docket 31 indicates that she made
financial commitments in light of the amount of her pension,
including home renovation and construction, college tuition, and
expenses associated for caring for her elderly mother.
Docket 27, Ex. F at 91.
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 15
that it would not pay interest on any late payments absent a court
appropriate in this case.
The parties shall advise the Court if
further briefing is required to determine the rate or amount of
Plaintiff’s Complaint also alleges a breach of fiduciary
duty, as well as a failure to follow claim procedures and a failure
inadequate information in the record to grant summary judgment to
either party regarding these issues.
Moreover, they may be
rendered moot by virtue of this decision. The parties shall advise
the Court if they require the assistance of a settlement judge.
In light of the foregoing, it is hereby ORDERED that
Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment at Docket 30 is
Bloom’s pension amount shall be calculated without
aggregation, retroactive to the date of retirement. TAPP shall pay
interest under ERISA for any past-due amounts.
for Summary Judgment at Docket 27 is DENIED.
ENTERED this 5th day of August, 2008.
S/RALPH R. BEISTLINE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
ORDER RE SUMMARY JUDGMENT MOTIONS - 16
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?