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Valencia v. Southwest Carpenters Health and Welfare Trust

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 31, 2018

ROBERTO VALENCIA, Plaintiff,
v.
SOUTHWEST CARPENTERS HEALTH AND WELFARE TRUST; SOUTHWEST CARPENTERS PENSION TRUST, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DOC. NO. 26]

          HON. CATHY ANN BENCIVENGO UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants Southwest Carpenters Health and Welfare Trust, and Southwest Carpenters Pension Trust, on April 6, 2018. [Doc. No. 26.][1] Plaintiff filed a one-page opposition to Defendants' motion for summary judgment on May 7, 2018. [Doc. No. 28.] The Court held a hearing on this matter on May 30, 2018. Plaintiff appeared in pro se. Dennis Joseph Murphy, Esq. appeared on behalf of Defendants. After hearing oral argument of the parties and conducting a thorough review of the issues, Defendants' motion is granted for the reasons discussed below.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Roberto Valencia (“Plaintiff”) is a member of the Southwest Carpenters Trust Fund. On December 11, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint, stating in its entirety: “I want the Southwest Carpenters Pen [sic] Union to pay me pencion [sic] benefits that I have earned I have proof of more hours worked then [sic] I was credited a pencion [sic] for proof of disability Please see attached documents.” [Doc. No. 9 at 2.]

         Defendants construed Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as pleading a right to recover long-term disability benefits from the Southwest Carpenters Health and Welfare Trust (“Health Trust”) pursuant to § 1132(a)(1) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. [Doc. No. 26-1 at 2.] The Court agrees with Defendants' interpretation of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as being brought under § 1132(a)(1)(B) for purposes of this motion.

         A. Plan Language

         The Southwest Carpenters Health and Welfare Plan for Active Carpenters Restated January 1, 2015 (the “Plan”), states under Article VI, Section 1, Long Term Monthly Disability Benefit:

3. Special Definition of Eligible Individual for Long Term Monthly Disability Benefit Purposes For the purpose of eligibility for the long term monthly disability benefit set forth in this Section 1, “Eligible Individual” means an individual:
1) Who has accumulated at least 5 Pension Credits under the Southwest Carpenters Pension Plan without a Permanent Break in Service; . . . [Doc. No. 26-5 at 82.] (Emphasis added.)
The Plan also states under Article IX, Section 5, Claims and Review Procedures:
(a) The Board [“the Board of Trustees established by the Trust Agreement”] is the named fiduciary that has the discretionary authority to control and manage the administration and operation of the Plan and Trust. The Board shall have the full, exclusive and discretionary authority to prescribe such forms, make such Rules and Regulations, interpretations and computations, construe the terms of the Plan and determine all issues relating to coverage and eligibility for benefits and take such other action to administer the Plan as it may deem appropriate, including delegation of discretion to a Delegate. The Board's decisions, computations, interpretations and actions shall be final and binding on all persons except as may be provided by law. In administering the Plan, the Board shall at all times discharge its duties with respect to the Plan in accordance with the standards set forth in Section 404(a)(1) of ERISA. . . . .
(c) . . . Any dispute as to eligibility, type, amount or duration of benefits or any right or claim to payments from the Trust, shall be resolved by the Board or its Delegate, such as the Health Care Benefits Committee (which serves as the Appeals Committee pursuant to the Plan), and its decision of the dispute, right or claim shall be final and binding upon all parties thereto except as may be required by law. . . .
[Id. at 98-99.]

         B. Plaintiff's Complaint ...


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