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Home > Blog > D.C. Circuit Affirms Denial of Multiemployer Pension Plan Benefits to Employee Not Deemed a Participant in the Plan

D.C. Circuit Affirms Denial of Multiemployer Pension Plan Benefits to Employee Not Deemed a Participant in the Plan

In Anthony v. International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 1, et al., No. 20-7036, __F.App’x__, 2021 WL 4056297 (D.C. Cir. Sept. 3, 2021), Plaintiff-Appellant Gary Anthony appealed the district court’s dismissal of his ERISA breach of fiduciary duty claims and its grant of summary judgment to Defendants, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 1 (“Lodge”) and the IAM National Pension Fund (“Fund”), on his claim for pension benefits under the Fund. The D.C. Circuit agreed with the district court that Anthony did not establish his entitlement to pension benefits and there was no breach of fiduciary duty by the defendants.

Anthony worked as a Union Organizer for the Lodge from 2004 to 2011. The Lodge contributed to the Fund, a multiemployer pension plan, for employees classified in positions of Business Representative and Secretary. The Lodge did not make any contributions for Anthony or his position of Organizer. The Fund took the position that Anthony was not a participant in the Plan and denied his claim for benefits on that basis. After unsuccessfully appealing this decision to the Appeals Committee of the Fund’s Trustees, Anthony filed suit under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) alleging that defendants wrongfully denied him benefits due under the terms of the Plan, and under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) alleging that they breached their fiduciary duty under 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a)(1)(D). The district court ruled against him on both counts.

On appeal, Anthony contended that the district court erred in holding that the Fund’s decision to deny him benefits was reasonable. Reviewing the district court’s decision de novo, the D.C. Circuit found that the Fund’s decision was reasonable because there was no support for the fact that Anthony was a participant in the Plan. Specifically, it found that when reading the participation agreements between the Lodge and the Fund together, none of the terms could be read as requiring the Lodge to make contributions for Anthony’s position as Organizer. Anthony does not allege that it was discriminatory to cover other employee classifications but not his own. Because Anthony was not employed in a job classification for which employer contributions were required to be made to the Plan by a written agreement the court found that he is not entitled to benefits.

Anthony alleged that the Fund breached its fiduciary duty when it delegated the decision about whether he was a participant in the Fund to the Lodge. Specifically, he claimed that the Appeals Committee impermissibly delegated its fiduciary authority to the Lodge when it asked the Lodge which job classifications it intended to cover with the various participation agreements. The court found that there was no sub-delegation of the Committee’s authority to decide Anthony’s appeal because the Committee considered the evidence provided by the Lodge and made the final decision that Anthony was not a participant based on the record before it. The court found that there was no breach of fiduciary duty and that the Fund’s determination that Anthony was not a participant was reasonable.

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