Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

SWEENEY v. BERT BELL NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT PLAN

April 21, 1997

WALTER F. SWEENEY, Plaintiff,
v.
BERT BELL NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT PLAN, BERT BELL NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT PLAN, BERT BELL/PETE ROZELLE NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT PLAN, BERT BELL NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT TRUST, BERT BELL NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT TRUSTEE, BERT BELL NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT BOARD, BERT BELL/PETE ROZELLE NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT PLANS BENEFIT ARBITRATOR, THE NFL PLAYER SUPPLEMENTAL DISABILITY PLAN, THE NFL SUPPLEMENTAL DISABILITY PLAN ARBITRATOR, THE NFL SUPPLEMENTAL DISABILITY PLAN BENEFIT ARBITRATOR, THE NFL PLAYER SUPPLEMENTAL DISABILITY PLAN DISABILITY BOARD, THE NFL PLAYER SUPPLEMENTAL DISABILITY PLAN TRUSTEE, and DOES 7 through 100, Inclusive, Defendants. BERT BELL/PETE ROZELLE NFL PLAYER RETIREMENT PLAN, Counterclaimant, v. WALTER F. SWEENEY and JEAN MERCHANT, Counterclaim-defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BREWSTER

 This action came on for hearing before the Court on January 21, 1997, Honorable Rudi M. Brewster, United State District Judge presiding, with appearances by Rhonda J. Thompson and Michael T. Thorsnes for the Plaintiff, and William F. Hanrahan, Douglas W. Ell and Daniel R. Salas for the Defendants. After the hearing and pursuant to the Court's oral order, Plaintiff submitted Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law to the Court. Defendants filed their objections, and Plaintiff filed a response. After due consideration of the documents filed by all parties, the Court hereby makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law:

 FINDINGS OF FACT

 1. The Bert Bell NFL Player Retirement Plan was established in 1962 to provide retirement, disability and related benefits to eligible former professional football players (the "Old Plan"). In 1994 the Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (established in 1989) was merged into the Bert Bell NFL Player Retirement Plan, which was renamed the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan ("Plan", "New Plan", or "Base Plan").

 2. The NFL Player Supplemental Disability Plan ("Supplemental Plan") was established in 1993 to provide disability benefits in addition to those provided under the New Plan. The New Plan and Supplemental Plan are occasionally hereafter referred to as "the Plans".

 3. The Plans were established pursuant to a Collective Bargaining Agreement ("CBA") between the National Football League Players Association ("NFLPA"), the exclusive collective bargaining representative for NFL players, and the National Football League Management Council ("NFLMC"), the exclusive collective bargaining representative for NFL clubs. The CBA was ratified in 1993, effective through 2000. The Plans are employee benefit plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. The New Plan is an employee pension benefit plan within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2). The Supplemental Plan is an employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1).

 4. In addition to retirement benefits, the Plan provides disability benefits to eligible participants (i.e., certain active players and vested inactive players) who become totally and permanently disabled. Under the Old Plan, in effect prior to July 1, 1993, an eligible player was "deemed to be totally and permanently disabled if the Retirement Board shall find that he has become totally disabled to the extent that he is prevented from or unable to engage in any occupation or employment or remuneration of profit." 1986 Plan § 5.2. Under the Old Plan, there were two levels of benefits payable for total and permanent disability: (a) a higher "football" benefit for a disability which results from a "football injury"; and (b) a lower "nonfootball" benefit for disability resulting from other than a football injury. 1986 Plan § 5.1.

 5. Under the New Plan, an eligible player is "deemed to be totally and permanently disabled under Article 5 if the Retirement finds that he has become totally disabled to the extent that he is substantially prevented from or substantially unable to engage in any activity for remuneration or profit.

 In place of the two-tiered classification system under the Old Plan, the New Plan awards benefits pursuant to the following 4-point classification scheme:

 
(B) (Active Nonfootball). The monthly total and permanent disability benefit will be no less than $ 4,000 if the disability does not result from League football activities, but does arise while the Player is an Active Player and does cause the Player to be totally and permanently disabled 'shortly after' the disability first arises.
 
(C) (Football Degenerative). The monthly total and permanent disability benefit will be no less than $ 4,000 if the disability arises out of League football activities, and results in total and permanent disability before the later of (1) age 45, or (2) 12 years after the end of the Player's last Credited Season.
 
(D) (Inactive). The monthly total and permanent disability benefit will be no less than $ 1,500 if (1) the total and permanent disability arises from other than League football activities while the Player is a Vested Inactive Player, or (2) the disability arises out of League football activities, and results in total and permanent disability after the later of (i) age 45, or (ii) 12 years after the end of the Player's Last Credited Season. The minimum benefits provided under this Section 5.1(d) will be offset by any disability benefits provided by an employer other than the League or an Employer, but will be not be offset by worker's compensation.

 The first three categories provide a minimum monthly benefit of $ 4,000. The Inactive category provides a minimum monthly benefit of $ 1,500.

 In § 5.1 of that Article, the New Plan states that all benefits provided by Article 5 of the New Plan "will be retroactive to the later of (a) the first of the month following the date of the total and permanent disability, or (b) July 1, 1993, and will be payable for life or until cessation of such total and permanent disability."

 6. Per Article III thereunder, the Supplemental Plan automatically awards additional benefits, corresponding to the 5.1(a) classification (Active Football) of the New Plan as follows: $ 4,335 per month from July 1, 1993 to February 28, 1995; increasing to $ 8,500 per month from March 1, 1995 to February 28, 1997, and increasing further to $ 12,670 per month from March 1, 1997 to February 28, 2000.

 7. The defendants can undertake a disability re-examination of Sweeney under § 5.3 of the New Plan after his normal retirement date "if (a) he has not yet attained age 70, (b) three voting representatives reasonably believe that he may no longer be totally and permanently disabled, (c) he has not been re-examined during the preceding 36 months, (d) such re-examination does not require the person to travel to an extent deemed medically inadvisable, and (e) his Normal Retirement Date is after September 30, 1993." The Court interprets this section to mean that Sweeney can be examined 36 months after his last examination, which took place on August 24, 1994. The Plan therefore has the right to examine Sweeney at the earliest, on August 24, 1997, provided all other applicable requirements are satisfied.

 8. The Retirement Board is the named fiduciary and administrator of the New Plan. The Disability Board is the named fiduciary and administrator of the Supplemental Plan. Each Board has six voting members; three are appointed by the NFLPA, and three by the NFLMC. By the terms of the Plans, the Retirement Board and the Disability Board have full power, authority and discretion to interpret the Plans and decide claims for benefits under the Plans. The Retirement Board generally meets four times a year to consider and decide both applications for benefits and appeals of decisions on applications for benefits.

 9. For fourteen seasons, from 1963 through 1976, Plaintiff Walter Sweeney played professional football with the National Football League, first with the San Diego Chargers and, for his final four seasons, with the Washington Redskins. Plaintiff has been a NFL Players Association dues-paying member since the beginning of his football career to the present. Plaintiff has earned 14 "credited" seasons.

 10. Playing professional NFL football is a stressful, violent, painful, and injury-riddled occupation that places extreme pressure on players to win.

 11. From almost the start of his NFL career, coaches and trainers with the San Diego Chargers and later the Washington Redskins recommended and supplied to Sweeney a plethora of prescription-strength controlled substances to increase his stamina, resistance to pain, and durability. Plaintiff began taking Dexadrine and steroids at the strong advice of Chargers coaches and trainers in 1963. At one point, Sweeney was fined an exhibition game check if he refused to take the steroids. In 1964, the Chargers trainer began distributing Desbutol (combination upper/downer). Because of the resultant difficulty sleeping, the Chargers doctor prescribed Seconal for Plaintiff, and continued to fill the same prescription for the next five years without ever writing a new one. In 1970, the Chargers began administering Desoxyn (pure speed). In 1971, after Plaintiff complained to Chargers doctor Mandel that the amphetamines made him feel depressed and suicidal, the doctor recommended Plaintiff smoke marijuana. Sweeney was subjected to even more outrageous drug practices upon being traded to the Redskins in 1974, after the 1973 drug scandal in which players and teams, including the Chargers, were fined for their indiscriminate drug administration.

 12. An indiscriminate administration of amphetamines by trainers before Sunday games and important practice sessions followed by post-contest barbiturates of various sorts also administered by team trainers and physicians was Sweeney's typical regimen for approximately the last ten years of his pro-football career.

 13. The fact that Plaintiff was given these narcotics by the medical and training department of the NFL teams was an assault on his body which injured plaintiff. Plaintiff is suffering from an injury to his mind because of the assault on his body by these narcotics, just as much as if it were a blow to the head. The drugs were an assault on his body and caused Sweeney damage. It is a contact with a foreign object into his body either by needle or by swallowing it. It is still an impact done to his body by the narcotics. It is an introduction of the narcotics into his body and that can be as gentle or as violent as is describable: it is still an intrusion of the narcotics into his body -- and the NFL teams put that into him.

 14. The reason Sweeney was given all of the narcotics was to help him get over the pain and stiffness of his injuries to get him on the playing field, playing like a 19-year-old kid. That was the reason they gave him these drugs, to pump him up so he did not feel any pain. When the players go out on the grid iron they beat the hell out of each other and then they go back into the locker room and the trainers give them downers to calm them down and help them sleep. In other words, it is the pressure to win and the injuries that necessitate the drugs.

 15. There is no evidence in the record to contradict the findings set forth above.

 16. During the last game of the 1975 regular season, plaintiff severely injured his knee. Doctors could not operate on Plaintiff for three days because of the drugs in his system.

 17. Plaintiff's injury appeared to have healed during the off-season, but during the pre-season of 1976 plaintiff seriously re-injured it and has been disabled ever since.

 18. Realizing that his career was over, and under a paranoid influence of drugs, Plaintiff emptied a revolver into his unoccupied bunk at training camp during his 1976 season, and was officially cut from the Redskins roster the next day. That is the point at which Plaintiff's disability arose and Plaintiff became totally and permanently disabled.

 19. Plaintiff reported to training camp and played every season from 1963 to 1976, thus illustrating he was not disabled during those years.

 20. There is no contradictory evidence in the administrative record to Plaintiff's claim that his drug addition is football-related.

 22. From 1977 through 1980, Plaintiff reported no income, subsisting off a $ 25,000 workers' compensation award he received from the Redskins organization for his knee injury, an "early payment" benefit of $ 14,923 from the Old Plan, sundry loans and gifts from friends, and his wife's income.

 23. From February through June of 1980, Plaintiff tried working as a substitute teacher in his home town in Massachusetts, and for the next five months he attempted working on a friend's commercial fishing boat in that state.

 24. From mid-1981 through mid-1982, Plaintiff worked as a bartender in San Diego, earning about $ 3,765 in 1981, and $ 5,703 in 1982.

 25. Plaintiff lost all of these jobs because of the lingering effects of his chronic and continuing drug addiction.

 26. In July of 1982, Plaintiff entered a drug-rehabilitation program at Sharp Cabrillo Hospital but left after only one month. One of his fans occupied a management position there and "created" a position for Plaintiff at the hospital. Plaintiff, still addicted to drugs and alcohol, purported to be a motivational speaker for recovering addicts.

 27. In 1983 Plaintiff realized $ 3,001 in self-employment income from speaking fees.

 28. In late 1983, Plaintiff returned to Boston. In spring or summer of 1984, he secured a position as an "employee ombudsman" at Telco Systems Fiber Optics Corporation in Norwood, MA. Plaintiff's job was to lecture employees -- among whom drug use was apparently a problem -- on the dangers of drug addiction. The president of that corporation hired Plaintiff both because of his experience in team sports, his ex-NFL star status, and because of his experience with drugs. Plaintiff earned $ 12,846 at Telco in 1984, $ 32,146 in 1985, and $ 30,049 in 1986. During that same period, Plaintiff also realized income from speaking engagements: $ 1,501 in 1984; $ 6,838 in 1985; and $ 3,151 in 1986. When the company changed ownership in 1986, Plaintiff was discharged. Plaintiff's performance in his position at Telco was woeful; consisting of sporadic absences, and continued drug abuse while "counselling" others to overcome their drug problems. Plaintiff remained on the payroll only because Mr. Bowman was unaware of Plaintiff's unacceptable performance, and had he known of Plaintiff's drug abuse he would have terminated Plaintiff forthwith.

 29. In 1986, after being terminated from Telco when new management took over, Plaintiff received a sales job with Sharp Cabrillo Hospital in San Diego. Plaintiff's job was to speak to various groups throughout the county in an effort to drum up business for the hospital. Plaintiff earned $ 1,269 at the hospital in 1986, $ 41,776 in 1987, $ 43,280 in 1988, and $ 12,047 in 1989. During that same period, Plaintiff also received self-employment income of $ 4,674 in 1987 and $ 4,840 in 1988, presumably for speaking engagements or endorsements. Plaintiff was discharged from Sharp Cabrillo after a quarrel with his supervisor.

 30. Plaintiff's drug abuse was so bad during the early nineties that he was unable to cope in any kind of professional environment. Plaintiff often acted irrationally thinking that others were out to get him. He had no organization in his life and was constantly getting high, at work or at home, on whatever drugs were available. Plaintiff's constant drug abuse continued while he was counselling other drug abusers.

 31. For the rest of 1989, Plaintiff worked as a drug counselor and a referral agent for several local hospitals. Plaintiff received $ 14,715 in self-employment earnings and $ 5,385 from a local ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.