Pension-Plan-Collecting Teamster Is Out of Luck

     (CN) – A teamster who belongs to at least four union-affiliated pension plans waited too long to sue his way into a fifth, a federal judge ruled.
     U.S. District Judge James Boasberg noted Monday that Daniel Virtue had been “something of a collector” when the International Brotherhood of Teamsters Retirement and Family Protection Plan rejected him in 2009.
     “Over the course of his employment with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, with his local union, and as a rank-and-file Teamster, he has collected memberships in at least four Teamsters-affiliated pension plans. … Unfortunately for Virtue, his quest to assemble a complete portfolio of IBT pension plans ends here,” the 13-page decision states.
     The plan, formerly called the IBT Retirement and Family Protection Plan, attributed its rejection of Virtue to its 2001 amendment of regulations that excluded part-time “stipend employees” hired after April 1, 1999.
     Prior to the change, IBT employees were eligible for benefits under the plan so long as they worked at least 1,000 hours over a 12-month period.
     Between October 2000 and January 2007, Virtue worked in a variety of part-time positions for the IBT in addition to local union duties. The former union local president claimed that he had already met the 1,000-hour requirement before the amendment went into effect.
     But the pension plan pointed to a notice it mailed Virtue and other union employees that informed them of their status as stipend employees and said they were only eligible to receive travel-accident insurance.
     The plan also noted that when Virtue was going through a divorce in 2006, his wife’s attorney requested information regarding all the benefits to which he was entitled. Virtue did not object to his being classified as a part-time, stipend employee at that time, the plan said.
     Virtue nevertheless then sought benefits in 2009, and later filed an administrative appeal over them. In both cases, Virtue’s pursuit of the benefits was denied.
     He sued the plan in April 2012, claiming that the plan had violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in 2001 by improperly eliminating his rights to benefits without adequate notice.
     The plan successfully fought off class certification and then moved for summary judgment.
     It said Virtue’s claim was time-barred because it had clearly repudiated his right to plan benefits on two separate occasions: in the letters sent to stipend employees, informing them of the amended policy, and during his divorce proceedings.
     Boasberg agreed Monday noting that, “at the very least, the notice Virtue received in April 2006 qualified as a clear repudiation, which would mean that the statute of limitations expired no later than April 2009.”
     “The 2006 correspondence is crystal clear, and it certainly made the repudiation of any claim of benefits ‘known to the plan beneficiary,'” Boasberg added.
     Virtue failed to show that the plan waived its statute-of-limitations defense by reconsidering his eligibility for benefits in 2009, according to the ruling
     “To begin with, courts in this circuit have been ‘loath to hold that mere investigation’ of a plaintiff’s complaint or claim ‘without more constitutes a binding waiver of any agency’s right to raise the timeliness issue,'” Boasberg wrote.
     He added that it “would be a bridge too far” to say that the mere response to Virtue’s appeals waived the statute-of-limitations defense.
     Virtue also failed to show that the plan failed to clearly and consistently repudiate his claim to benefits, the ruling states.
     “In light of the 2006 letter … the court must find that Virtue was or should have been aware of the plan’s repudiation of his right to benefits no later than April 2006,” Boasberg wrote.

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