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Louis La Bella v. Chicago Newspaper Publishers

July 9, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge:


Louis La Bella has filed a pro se lawsuit against the Chicago Newspaper Publishers Drivers Union Pension Plan pro se, asserting a claim under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The Plan has moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants the Plan's motion.


La Bella began working for the Chicago Tribune in 1947 as a truck driver. He was a member of the Chicago Newspaper Publishers Drivers Union. He voluntarily left his job and the union sometime between 1963 and 1965 to start his own business. Between 1968 and 1970 he was again a member of the union, working for a newspaper that the parties refer to interchangeably as Chicago Today or Chicago American Publishing Company. La Bella voluntarily left that job in 1970 but began working for the Chicago Tribune again in 1973. He worked at the Tribune and was a member of the union until he retired in 1991.

As a member of the union, La Bella participated in the pension plan and was eligible for a pension the value of which depended on the amount of time he had worked in the newspaper industry and was represented by the union. In response to a request from La Bella's attorney in connection with his divorce, the plan wrote letters in 1986 and 1987 indicating that it was calculating the value of La Bella's pension by including only his years of service since he had resumed working for the Tribune in 1973. La Bella applied for a pension in October 1990. He received a response from the plan indicating that his pension would be determined based upon the time he had worked for the Tribune starting in 1973. The letter stated:

While you had previous years of credited benefit service from 1957 to 1973, during that period of time there were six of those years in which you had no credited service. These breaks in service resulted in the loss of any credited benefit service prior to your most recent period of employment beginning in 1973 with Chicago Tribune Company.

Def. Ex. M.

La Bella began receiving pension benefits on August 1, 1991. He received credit for seventeen years and seven months of service and his pension benefit was $738.53 per month. If he had received credit for all of the years that he was a member of the union, disregarding the breaks in his service, his pension benefit would have been $1,050 per month.


On a motion for summary judgment, the Court "view[s] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[s] all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Trinity Homes LLC v. Ohio Cas. Ins. Co., 629 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2010). Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In other words, a court may grant summary judgment "[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

La Bella contends that he is entitled to greater pension benefits because the plan should have credited all of the years he worked as a member of the union. The plan argues that La Bella failed to exhaust internal plan appeals, the suit is barred by the statute of limitations, and on the merits La Bella is not entitled to a greater pension. The Court finds that the plan administrators' determination of La Bella's pension was not arbitrary and capricious and therefore does not address the exhaustion and statute of limitations arguments.

The plan in effect at the time La Bella retired in 1991 was the plan as amended in 1987. Def. Ex. C. La Bella contends that the plan was amended in 1989 as well and provides a document he asserts is the 1989 version. Pl. Ex. A. That document, however, is a summary plan description that expressly states that it describes the 1987 plan and that if there is a conflict between the summary and the 1987 plan, the plan language controls. Id. at 1--2.

The 1987 plan gives the plan trustees the discretion "to construe and interpret the Plan, decide all questions of eligibility and determine the amount, manner and time of payment of any benefits." Def. Ex. C § 7.10(a). Given this language, the plan administrators' determination regarding La Bella's pension will be upheld unless it was arbitrary and capricious. Daill v. Sheet Metal Workers' Local 73 Pension Fund, 100 F.3d 62, 67--68 (7th Cir. 1996); see Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989). "This means that the trustees' decision stands so long as it is based on a reasonable interpretation of the plan's language and the evidence in the case." Daill, 100 F.3d at 67--68.

It is undisputed that La Bella did not work in the union during 1972 and thus did not participate in the plan during that year. Furthermore, no reasonable fact finder could find that La Bella worked in the union in 1971. La Bella's statement of facts and affidavit state that ...

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