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Bellah v. American Airlines

April 22, 2009



This matter is before the court on defendant International Association of Machinists' ("IAM") motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiff Barbara Bellah ("Bellah") filed an opposition to defendant's motion. For the reasons stated herein,*fn1 defendant's motion is GRANTED.


Plaintiff Bellah worked as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines, Inc. ("TWA") from 1985 until 2001. (UF ¶ 1.) On March 6, 1997, the National Mediation Board certified defendant IAM as the exclusive collective bargaining representative for TWA's flight attendants. (UF ¶ 2.) Subsequently, IAM and TWA negotiated a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA"), effective August 1, 1999, that provided for short term disability benefits (the "STD Plan"). (UF ¶¶ 3-4.) The collective bargaining agreement did not provide long term disability benefits to flight attendants. (UF ¶ 5.) However, American Bankers Life Assurance Company ("ABLAC") offered a voluntary Long Term Disability Income Plan (the "LTD Plan") to members of IAM who were employees of TWA. (UF ¶ 6.) Plaintiff enrolled herself in the LTD Plan. (UF ¶ 12.) The LTD Plan was effective from October 1, 1997 through November 30, 2001. (UF ¶ 6.) The parties dispute the role of IAM with respect to plaintiff's long term disability benefits plan.

In early 2001, TWA and American Airlines ("AA") entered into an agreement by which TWA would file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, AA would purchase nearly all of TWA's assets, and AA would take over TWA's operations. (UF ¶ 13.) AA created a company, TWALLC, to continue operations that were once performed by TWA. (UF ¶ 13.) These operations included the STD Plan. (UF ¶ 13.) IAM continued to represent TWA-LLC employees until April 19, 2002. (UF ¶ 13.)

In or around August 2001, plaintiff stopped working because she became disabled. (UF ¶ 14.) Plaintiff received short term disability payments through the STD Plan, which was administered by MetLife for AA. (UF ¶ 16.) The short term disability payments ceased on September 16, 2006. (UF ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff filed a complaint for violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), Title 29, United States Code Chapter 18, asserting that she is owed long term disability benefits from one or more of the defendants. (Compl., filed Jan. 10, 2008). Defendant IAM filed a motion for summary judgment on May 28, 2008, prior to any discovery in the litigation. (Mem. & Order [Docket #35], filed July 23, 2008). The court granted plaintiff's motion for a continuance of the motion pending additional discovery. (Id.) On February 6, 2009, plaintiff filed an amended opposition to IAM's judgment. (Am. Opp'n [Docket #41], filed Feb. 6, 2009). Subsequently, the parties agreed to an extension for defendant to file a reply, and the court allowed both parties to submit supplemental briefing.


The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary judgment where "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see California v. Campbell, 138 F.3d 772, 780 (9th Cir. 1998). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

The moving party bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). If the moving party fails to meet this burden, "the nonmoving party has no obligation to produce anything, even if the nonmoving party would have the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co. v. Fritz Cos., 210 F.3d 1099, 1102-03 (9th Cir. 2000). However, if the nonmoving party has the burden of proof at trial, the moving party only needs to show "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 325.

Once the moving party has met its burden of proof, the nonmoving party must produce evidence on which a reasonable trier of fact could find in its favor viewing the record as a whole in light of the evidentiary burden the law places on that party. See Triton Energy Corp. v. Square D Co., 68 F.3d 1216, 1221 (9th Cir. 1995). The nonmoving party cannot simply rest on its allegations without any significant probative evidence tending to support the complaint. See Nissan Fire & Marine, 210 F.3d at 1107. Instead, through admissible evidence the nonmoving party "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).


Defendant IAM moves for summary judgment on the basis that it is not a proper party to this litigation and thus, all claims by plaintiff should be dismissed. Specifically, IAM asserts that (1) it is not and was not the benefit plan or plan administrator under ERISA; and (2) that it is not and was not a fiduciary with respect to the long term disability benefits plan. Plaintiff concedes that IAM was not the plan or the plan administrator. However, she asserts that there are triable issues of fact regarding whether IAM was fiduciary.

A. Evidentiary Objections

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(e) provides that an affidavit in support or opposition to a motion for summary judgment "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Under Federal Rule of Evidence 602, "[a] witness may not testify to a matter unless evidence is introduced sufficient to support a finding that the witness has personal knowledge of the matter." See Bliesner v. Communication Workers of Am., 464 F.3d 910, 915 (9th Cir. 2006) (holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion in striking portions of affidavits on summary judgment that were not based upon personal knowledge); Block v. City of Los Angeles, 253 F.3d 410, 419 (9th Cir. 2001) (same). Personal knowledge may be inferred from the affiant's position. In re Kaypro, 218 F.3d 1070, 1075 (9th Cir. 2000) (holding that declarant's five-year tenure as manager lent support to his claim of personal knowledge of industry practice); Self-Realization Fellowship Church v. Ananda Church of Self-Realization, 206 F.3d 1322, 1330 ...

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