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Kough v. Teamsters Local 301 Pension Plan

April 6, 2010

THOMAS KOUGH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TEAMSTERS LOCAL 301 PENSION PLAN, TRUSTEES OF TEAMSTERS LOCAL 301 PENSION PLAN, AND MICHAEL HAFFNER, PLAN ADMINISTRATOR, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James B. Zagel

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff pension fund participant challenges Defendant Fund's decision to award his disability pension beginning on September 1, 2008. The parties have filed cross motions for summary judgment. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendants' motion is granted.

II. STATEMENT OF FACT

Plaintiff Thomas Kough ("Kough") was and is a participant in the Teamsters Local 301 Pension Plan ("Plan"). He secured Social Security disability benefits in 1999 based on medical events occurring before he was covered by Defendants' Plan, and his 1999 application for a Plan disability pension was denied. In June 2005, while continuing to receive his Social Security benefits, Kough began working at R&L Trucking ("R&L") allegedly pursuant to a trial work period sanctioned by the Social Security Administration ("SSA"). R&L was party to a collective bargaining agreement requiring it to make contributions to the Teamsters Local 301 Pension Fund ("Fund") on behalf of employees. While working under the Plan, Kough had a heart attack. He claims that subsequent open heart surgery left him with nervous system and neurological complications that precluded him from working.

On October 3, 2005, Plaintiff contacted the Fund's office regarding a disability pension. The following day, Kough submitted pay stubs from his time at R&L. Plaintiff contends that he was neither given a written application to complete, nor told what additional information he would need to submit in order to complete his application. By letter dated October 6, 2005, Plaintiff's application for a disability pension was denied. Kough appealed this decision, and the Plan Trustees denied the appeal on April 27, 2006. On September 27, 2006, Plaintiff filed his complaint in this Court challenging the Trustees' decision.

In December 2005, Plaintiff was notified that the SSA was conducting a disability review. In December, Plaintiff wrote a report to SSA claiming continuing disability. He also submitted two physical reports from early 2006 in support of his claim to SSA. On April 5, 2006, SSA said disability benefits would continue. But SSA said nothing about why disability existed or whether it was related to the 2005 injury. About the same time, in early April, the Plan argued that Plaintiff needed a paper from SSA connecting its disability finding to the 2005 injury.

In April 2007, Plaintiff knew he needed that paper. Indeed, he lost his case here on July 24, 2007, because he did not have that paper. Plaintiff did call SSA on April 3 to try to get a paper or to make a new claim to get a finding on the 2005 medical event and its relation to disability. SSA said it would not provide further information. He was already eligible for disability, so no new claim could be made. A second call two days later to SSA produced the same results; so, too, on May 22, 2007. In June 2007, Plaintiff made personal visits to SSA, where he spoke with two different supervisors and delivered two letters drafted by his attorney. All of this changed nothing.

On July 24, 2007, this Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment, finding Trustee's denial of benefits was not arbitrary or capricious in light of the fact that Plaintiff had failed to submit, as required by the Plan, an SSA award connected to the condition for which he was seeking a disability pension. After filing his appeal of my ruling, Plaintiff received a report from SSA dated August 13, 2007, indicating that his disability was connected to the 2005 event. Plaintiff notes that this report was referred to in motions filed before both this court and the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, copies of which were provided to Plan attorneys. Upon learning of the SSA paper, I granted Plaintiff's motion for an order of certification pursuant to Seventh Circuit Rule 57, and requested that the Seventh Circuit remand the case for the purpose of vacating the July 24, 2007 judgment. On January 30, 2008, the appeal was remanded to this Court.

In August 2008, I remanded the matter to the Plan Trustees for a new determination of Plaintiff's application of benefits, in light of the new SSA report. On April 23, 2009, the Plan granted Kough's benefits between the period of September 1, 2008, and April 30, 2009, the day before Kough became eligible for his vested pension benefits. The Plan denied Kough benefits between October 2005 and August 2008 on the ground that August 2008 was the first time Trustees had an opportunity to consider the SSA, and therefore the earliest Kough would be eligible for a pension was September 1, 2008. Plaintiff then sought leave to file a Second Amended Complaint challenging the Plan's April 23, 2009 denial of benefits. Instead, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(d), I granted Plaintiff leave to supplement his First Amended Complaint with relevant facts that occurred after the filing of the First Amended Complaint.

Plaintiff now challenges the April 23, 2009 decision as violating certain provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), and contends that he is entitled to benefits for the period between October 2005 and September 1, 2008. In his Supplemental Complaint, Plaintiff notably alleges (1) it was only in April 2007 that he first became aware that he was required to provide an SSA statement specifically connecting his disability to the 2005 injury; and (2) Defendants were aware of the August 13, 2007 SSA report no later than December 2007, when Plaintiff filed with the Seventh Circuit its Motion to Remand, and the Motion was served on Defendants' attorneys.

Plaintiff and Defendants filed cross motions for summary judgment.*fn1 For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendants' motion is granted.

III. PRELIMINARY ISSUES

Three months after submitting his October 20, 2009, motion for summary judgment, Plaintiff sought to supplement his Rule 56.1(a)(3) statement of fact to include (1) a pre-suit letter in which Defendants' counsel threatened Rule 11 sanctions in response to certain requests for information; (2) verbal statements made by Defendants' counsel that Plaintiff had a "history" with Trustees involving lawsuits going back to 1999; (3) a conversation in which Defendants' counsel explained the Trustees' prior dealings with Kough including a 1999 lawsuit against the Local, a 2000 pension claim, a 1999 discrimination claim against the Local, that Kough was "a litigious SOB," and that Defendants would seek sanctions if Plaintiff pursued his claims; and (4) statements by ...


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