United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS WITH PREJUDICE RE:
DKT. NO. 14
H. KOH United States District Judge
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. 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
The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement
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.
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.”
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. §
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).
Plaintiff's Requests for T&P Benefits
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. ¶
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.
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.
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.
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 ...