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Brandt v. Brotherhood's Relief and Compensation Fund

November 12, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George M. Marovich


Plaintiff Thomas A. Brandt ("Brandt") filed a two-count complaint against defendant Brotherhood's Relief and Compensation Fund (the "Fund"). Before the Court is the defendant Fund's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 For reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are undisputed.*fn2

The defendant Fund is a non-profit, fraternal benefit society, whose purpose is to pay certain benefits to members in accordance with the Fund's constitution. Its members are individuals who work for railroads. Among the benefits provided under the constitution are "held out of service" benefits.

Brandt is a member of the Fund. Brandt filed this claim to obtain "held out of service" benefits he believes he is entitled to pursuant to the Constitution of the Fund. Brandt believes he is entitled to benefits for the time period after he was discharged from his position at Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad Company ("BNSF").

Brandt worked for BNSF as a switchman and locomotive engineer from the date he was hired in 1990 until late June 2005, when BNSF terminated his employment. Before his discharge, Brandt, who suffers from cervicobrachial syndrome and brachial neuritis, had taken intermittent leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. After an investigation (which included two hearings, at which Brandt offered testimony and evidence and cross-examined witnesses), BNSF notified Brandt that it was terminating his employment for "violation of General Code of Operating Rule 1.6 Conduct [4] Dishonest, for fraudulent use of your approved Family Medical Intermittent Leave during the certification period of March 25, 2004 through December 8, 2004." (The text of BNSF's rule is not in the record.)

Brandt, who had spent many years in the railroad industry, had been a member of the Fund since 1974. Over the years, Brandt made at least three other claims (in 1978, 1987 and 1995) for "held out of service" benefits. The Fund granted each of those claims. The Fund denied, however, Brandt's most-recent claim.

The Fund's Constitution, as of the time Brandt was denied benefits, provided, in relevant part:

Art. III--Purpose--The object of the Organization is the maintenance of a society for beneficial and protective purposes to all its members from funds collected therein, who, subject to the provisions hereof, shall be entitled to benefits for "Held Out of Service" or "Retirement" as hereinafter defined. * * * Art. XI--Claims for Benefits (Sec. 1)--Disposition of claims will be made by an Officer or Director of the Organization who shall approve or refuse the claim. * * * (Sec. 7)--When the cause for discipline in the employer's official notification is excluded from benefits hereunder, no benefits or compensation shall be paid by the Organization, even though it may appear such discipline was erroneously assessed, and the member's redress for such discipline shall be against the employer. (Sec. 8)--The person reviewing a claim, and the Board of Directors on appeal, shall be entitled to rely upon their experience as railroaders in exercising their discretion in determining whether a claim is a willful or intentional rule violation, and their determination shall be final and binding and shall not be set aside as an abuse of discretion for lack of evidence in support thereof in the claim being reviewed.

Art. XII--Condition of Payment of Benefits * * * (Sec. 4)--Member shall not be eligible for any benefits or compensation whatsoever for "Held Out of Service," as hereinafter defined, where such claim is based in whole or in part upon refusal to perform any duty or service for the employer, insubordination, sleeping on duty, engaging in an altercation (be it physical or verbal), missing calls, playing cards, not being available for duty, not reporting for duty on time, war, strike, being furloughed, misrepresentation of facts to the employer, misappropriation of funds or property, abolishment of job, abandonment of tracks, merger, failure to take training or to take or pass any examination or test required by the employer, failure or neglect of the employer to fix or arrange a time for or give any examination or test prerequisite to duty or service, use or possession of intoxicants, narcotics, sedatives, stimulants or hallucinogens or other drugs, or a derivative or combination of any of these, when subject to call, when reporting for duty, while on duty, while on Company property, while occupying facilities paid for or furnished by the Company or any charge involving a Rule "G" infraction or who conducts himself in a manner which would subject the employer to criticism, and shall not in any case whatsoever pay any sick or death benefits to any of its members. * * * Art. XXXI--Appeals (Sec. 1)--Any member feeling himself aggrieved by the decision of the tribunal authorized to hear and determine his case, whether it be a claim for benefits or expulsion from membership for any cause whatsoever, or in any other matter pertaining to his membership in or benefits from the Organization, or as to the construction of the language or meaning of the provisions of this Constitution, or as to any complaints, objections or charges against any Officers of the Organization, or management, policy or administration of the affairs, shall pursue the procedure and exhaust the remedies of hearing and appeal as herein provided. * * * (Sec. 3)--Whenever an appeal is taken, in any matter as aforesaid, to the Board of Directors, it shall be heard by the said Board of Directors at the next stated meeting thereof, or at such subsequent meeting or time that the Board may designate.

The decision of the Board of Directors by a majority vote of the members thereof upon any such matter shall be final, binding and conclusive as to all matters vested in their discretion under this Constitution, including interpretation of the Constitutional provisions, and no appeal shall be taken therefrom except as herein provided. Whether offenses are willful or intentional shall be determined within the discretion of the Board of Directors and no appeal shall lie therefrom. * * * Art. XXXIII--Definitions (Sec 1-a)--The term "Held Out of Service," as used in this Constitution, shall include all cases where an employee of the Motive Power or Transportation Department has been entirely and permanently, or temporarily, relieved by his employer from the performance of his said usual duties after formal investigation, at which said employee was properly represented by a representative of the local grievance committee or other employee, as discipline for an offense or offenses, not, however, because of any willful or intentional violation or infraction of any order or orders, rule or rules, regulation or regulations, expressed or implied, of his employer, or of any violation or infraction of any Federal or State Law now in force or hereafter enacted.

Art. XXXV--Interpretation of Constitution (Sec. 1)--It shall be the duty of the Board of Directors in their discretion to interpret this Constitution and to determine the rights, privileges, benefits and compensation accruing thereunder. Should an abuse of that discretion be alleged in any Court, it is agreed that the same shall be adjudged in accordance with the statutes and decisions of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and that the rights and duties between the Organization and its members are to be determined in accordance with the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Constitution of the Fund at 9, 11, 12, 27, 28, 32). The Constitution was changed in October 2007. In the amended Constitution, Article XII, Sec. 4 includes "use or misuse of the Family and Medical Leave Act" as conduct for which a member would not be entitled to "held out of service" benefits.

On July 3, 2005, Brandt made a claim for "held out of service" benefits. When he submitted his claim, Brandt included the official notice of investigation he had received from his employer, the transcript of the investigation hearing and the notice from his employer that he was discharged. On July 14, 2005, the Fund sent Brandt a letter to notify him that it was denying his ...

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