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Rabinak v. United Brotherhood of Carpenters Pension Fund

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

March 3, 2015

WILLIAM RABINAK, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED BROTHERHOOD OF CARPENTERS PENSION FUND, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MANISH S. SHAH, District Judge.

William Rabinak worked for the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters as a Business Representative. He received a weekly paycheck. Because he served on the Council's Executive Board, he also received a quarterly payment of $2, 500. When he retired, he was entitled to a pension, paid by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters Pension Fund-the defendant here. His pension depends on how much he was making before retirement: the more he made before, the more he gets in pension payments. But not every dollar he made counts-what counts is his "Compensation, " a term that is defined in the pension plan. The Fund decided that Executive Board payments were not "Compensation, " and Rabinak challenges that decision.

Because the plan gives the Fund broad discretion to interpret "Compensation, " and because the Fund's decision was not arbitrary or capricious, its interpretation is upheld. Accordingly, the Fund's motion for summary judgment is granted and Rabinak's is denied.

I. Legal Standards

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. Spurling v. C & M Fine Pack, Inc., 739 F.3d 1055, 1060 (7th Cir. 2014); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must construe all facts and reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. CTL ex rel. Trebatoski v. Ashland Sch. Dist., 743 F.3d 524, 528 (7th Cir. 2014).

This suit was brought under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), a provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. "This provision permits a plan participant to bring a civil action to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan." Frye v. Thompson Steel Co., 657 F.3d 488, 492 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal marks omitted). Where an ERISA plan explicitly gives the administrator discretion to construe the plan terms and determine eligibility, courts ask only whether the administrator's decision was arbitrary or capricious. Tompkins v. Cent. Laborers' Pension Fund, 712 F.3d 995, 999 (7th Cir. 2013); Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989).[1] Only decisions that are "downright unreasonable" will be overturned. Fischer v. Liberty Life Assur. Co., 576 F.3d 369, 376 (7th Cir. 2009).

II. Facts[2]

Rabinak's pension depends on his pre-retirement "Compensation, " which is defined in relevant part as follows:

"Compensation" means all salary paid to [Mr. Rabinak] by a Local Union, Council or the United Brotherhood but shall not include overtime, or fees or expenses paid or reimbursed to [Mr. Rabinak]. If [Mr. Rabinak's] Compensation for any year includes Compensation paid in lieu of paid vacation or other paid time off not taken by [him], ... such Compensation shall be allocated to the year in which such vacation time or other time off was permitted but not taken by [him].
Compensation shall include any salary deferred as a result of a formal program adopted by [Mr. Rabinak] and his Local Union, Council, or the United Brotherhood, provided contributions are made to this Pension Fund with respect to such deferred compensation. Compensation shall not include the value of employee benefits or other non-wage payments, even if such payments are considered income for tax purposes.

PSOF ¶¶ 8-9. Rabinak received a weekly paycheck. PSOF ¶ 18. On the pay stub for that weekly payment, the text "SALAR" appears in the field named "CODE." DSOF ¶ 21. Because Rabinak served on the Council's Executive Board, he also received $2, 500 each quarter. PSOF ¶ 18. Pay stubs for those quarterly payments were coded "EBOAR." DSOF ¶ 21.

The Fund is a "multiemployer plan, " meaning it collects contributions from multiple employers and aggregates those contributions to pay benefits. DSOF ¶ 2. Before its final decision on Rabinak's pension, the Fund was made aware that Rabinak's employer had not made the contributions that would have been required if Executive Board payments were considered "Compensation." PSOF ¶¶ 25-27, 33.

Rabinak urged that Executive Board payments were "Compensation" because they were given to him for doing his job. PSOF ¶ 30. The Fund disagreed, excluding ...


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