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SPENCER v. CATERPILLAR

May 12, 2003

ROSMOND SPENCER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE CATERPILLAR, INC. NON-CONTRIBUTORY PENSION PLAN AND CATERPILLAR, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Susan Illston, United States District Judge

JUDGMENT

Summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiff has been granted on the merits. Accordingly, judgment is hereby entered in favor of defendants and against plaintiff.

IT IS SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED.

ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING PLAINTIFF'S CROSS-MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
On February 28, 2003, this Court heard argument on defendants' motion for summary judgment and plaintiff's motion for summary judgment. Having carefully considered the arguments of counsel and the papers submitted, the Court hereby GRANTS defendants' motion and DENIES plaintiff's motion for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this action, pursuant to § 502 of ERISA, asserting that defendants Caterpillar, Inc. ("Caterpillar") and Caterpillar, Inc. Non-Contributory Pension Plan ("Plan") violated ERISA. Plaintiff worked for in Caterpillar's Regional Distribution Center in Hayward, California, for 19 years as a warehouseman. Complaint ¶ 8. In April 1995, plaintiff injured his back at work, and was out on medical leave from July 1995 to July 1996, under the one year medical leave to which he was entitled. Complaint ¶ 9. At the end of this leave, plaintiff sought reinstatement at Caterpillar in a different capacity. Id.; Exhibit A to Declaration of Lisa T. Belenky in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. In mid October of 1996, Caterpillar determined that plaintiff was unable to work for them in any capacity, and terminated his employment. Complaint ¶ 10.

In 1997, plaintiff filed suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), alleging that he was able to work and that Caterpillar failed to accommodate for his disability; in that action, Caterpillar countered that plaintiff was not a "qualified individual with a disability." Exh. B to Belenky Decl., Spencer v. Caterpillar Inc., No. C 97-1321 MMC (N.D.Cal, Aug. 16, 1999). On August 16, 1999, Judge Maxine Chesney granted summary judgment for defendant Caterpillar Inc. with respect to plaintiff's ADA discrimination and retaliation claims.*fn1 The Social Security Administration, twice in 1996, denied plaintiff's application for disability benefits, but in 1999 determined that plaintiff was totally disabled as he was unable to engage in any substantial gainful work existing in the national economy as of January 24, 1999. Exh. C to Belenky Decl.

Beginning in October, 1999, plaintiff through counsel began requesting forms necessary to apply for retirement disability benefits from the Caterpillar Pension Plan. In the course of several exchanges, Caterpillar informed plaintiff that as a former employee, he was not eligible for disability retirement benefits under Caterpillar's plan. Harrison Decl., Exhs. 15, 17-22. Ultimately, by letter dated March 1, 2001, Caterpillar rejected plaintiff's claim for retirement disability benefits on the basis that plaintiff had not been permanently and totally disabled while an employee of Caterpillar. Harrison Decl., Exh. 23.

Now before the Court are the parties' cross motions for summary judgment.

LEGAL STANDARD

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c).

In a motion for summary judgment, "[if] the moving party for summary judgment meets its initial burden of identifying for the court those portions of the materials on file that it believes demonstrate the absence of any genuine issues of material fact, the burden of production then shifts so that "the non-moving party must set forth, by affidavit or as otherwise provided in Rule 56, `specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" See T.W. Elec. Service, Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 317 (1986)).

In judging evidence at the summary judgment stage, the Court does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence, and draws all inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See T.W. Electric, 809 F.2d at 630-31 (citing Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 106 S.Ct. 1348 (1986)); Ting v. United States, 927 F.2d 1504, 1509 (9th Cir. 1991). The evidence presented by the parties must be admissible. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). Conclusory, speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment. See Falls Riverway Realty, Inc. v. City of Niagara Falls, 754 F.2d 49 (2d Cir. 1985); Thornhill Publ'g Co., Inc. ...


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