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.

Williams v. The NFL Player Supplemental Disability Plan

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

January 3, 2020

DELVIN WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE NFL PLAYER SUPPLEMENTAL DISABILITY PLAN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE RE: DKT. NO. 14

          LUCY H. KOH United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Delvin Williams (“Plaintiff”), a former National Football League (“NFL”) player, sues the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (“the Plan”), the Retirement Board of the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Retirement Plan (“the Board”), and the NFL Player Supplemental Disability Plan, (collectively, “Defendants”) to obtain additional disability benefits.[1] Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint. Having considered the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the record in this case, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         1. The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan

         The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (“the Plan”) is an employee benefit plan providing retirement, disability, and related benefits to eligible professional football players. ECF No. 1 ¶ 2 (“Compl.”). According to the Complaint, the Plan is an “employee benefit plan” within the meaning of Section 3(3) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(3), and a pension benefit plan under Section 3(2) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2). Id. The Board is the Plan's named fiduciary and plan administrator, id. ¶ 3, and the Board has discretionary authority to interpret the Plan and determine all claims for benefits, ECF No. 14-1, Ex. A § 8.2.[2]

         The Plan provides four categories for total and permanent disability benefits (“T&P benefits”), and two are relevant here: Active Football benefits and Football Degenerative benefits. Id. § 5.1. A player is eligible for Active Football benefits “if the disability(ies) results from League football activities, arises while the Player is an Active Player, and causes the Player to be totally and permanently disabled ‘shortly after' the disability(ies) arises.” Id. § 5.1(a). In turn, the Plan defines “shortly after” as a situation where “[a] Player . . . becomes totally and permanently disabled no later than six months after a disability(ies) first arises . . . as that phrase is used in subsections (a) and (b) above [in defining benefits].” Id. § 5.1(f). A total and permanent disability does not occur “shortly after” if “a Player . . . becomes totally and permanently disabled more than 12 months after a disability(ies) first arises.” Id. “In cases falling within this six- to twelve-month period, the Retirement Board or the Disability Initial Claims Committee will have the right and duty to determine whether the ‘shortly after' standard is satisfied.” Id.

         In regards to Football Degenerative benefits, a player is eligible if “the disability(ies) arises out of League football activities, and results in total and permanent disability before fifteen years after the end of the Player's last Credited Season.” Id. § 5.1(c).

         Finally, the Plan contains a reclassification provision that allows limited reclassification of prior T&P benefits from one category to another. The reclassification provision permits reclassification if a “Player shows by evidence found by the Retirement Board . . . to be clear and convincing that, because of changed circumstances, the Player satisfies the conditions of eligibility for a benefit under a different category of total and permanent disability benefits.” Id. § 5.5(b).

         2. Plaintiff's Requests for T&P Benefits

         Delvin Williams (“Plaintiff”) is a former professional football player who played in the NFL from 1974-1981. Compl. ¶ 1, 8. By virtue of his employment in the NFL, Plaintiff was a participant in the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan (“the Plan”) and earned vested rights to benefits under the Plan. Id. ¶ 9.

         In December 1980, Plaintiff sustained a season-ending severe neck injury. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff retired from the NFL in 1981, and as a result of his football-related injuries, Plaintiff was and is permanently disabled and unable to work. Id. ¶¶ 8, 15. At some time in the 1980's, Plaintiff pursued a claim for disability benefits under the Plan, but his claim was denied. Id. ¶¶ 29, 31.

         The Plan was amended “in or around 1995, ” and Plaintiff again applied for T&P benefits. Id. ¶¶ 44, 49-50. This time around, the Board awarded Plaintiff Football Degenerative benefits but deferred a decision on the proper effective date for those benefits. Id. ¶¶ 50, 55. The 1995 Plan Document stated that T&P benefits would be paid “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.” ECF No. 14- 1, Ex. B § 5.1.

         Plaintiff requested a July 1, 1993 effective date and produced evidence that allegedly demonstrated that Plaintiff was totally and permanently disabled before July 1, 1993. Id. ¶¶ 55, 56. Plaintiff's request for retroactive benefits to July 1993 was denied, however, because the Board found that the evidence did not show that Plaintiff became totally and permanently disabled earlier than July 1995. Id. ¶ 56.

         In 1998, Plaintiff sued to overturn the Board's decision denying his request for a retroactive effective date. Id. ¶ 57; Williams v. Ret. Bd. of the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Ret. Plan, et al., Case No. 98-CV-21071, ECF No. 94 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 28, 2001); see ECF No. 14-1, Ex. C (“September 28, 2001 Order”). In the 1998 litigation, Plaintiff alleged, in part, that the Board abused its discretion by relying on Plaintiff's employment history and by disregarding medical evidence that demonstrated Plaintiff was totally and permanently disabled. September 28, 2001 Order at 4. The district court agreed with Plaintiff and granted partial summary judgment in Plaintiff's favor, id. at 6-7, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, Williams ...


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.