Unpublished Disposition, 867 F.2d 613 (9th Cir. 1976)Annotate this Case
United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.
Before CANBY and WILLIAM A. NORRIS, Circuit Judges, and JUDITH N. KEEP* , District Judge.
"Eligibility decisions by the trustees of an employee benefit plan will not be reversed by the courts unless they are arbitrary, capricious, made in bad faith, not supported by substantial evidence, or erroneous on a question of law." Malhiot v. Southern California Retail Clerks Union, 735 F.2d 1133, 1135 (9th Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1189 (1985).
In the instant case, the trustees for the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust Fund ("Trustees") used the Social Security Administration's permanent disability onset date to determine whether appellant Harold Dexter was a member of the class in Music v. Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust Fund and entitled to additional benefits under the terms of the settlement in that case. Because the SSA had determined that January 1, 1976 was the onset date for Dexter's permanent disability and the Music class was restricted to those pensioners disabled prior to January 1, 1976, the Trustees denied Dexter's claim for benefits as a Music class member. Dexter challenges the Trustees' decision that his permanent disability commenced on the date set by the SSA as arbitrary and capricious and not supported by substantial evidence. Dexter claims that the evidence he submitted to the Trustees established that his permanent disability in fact occurred prior to January 1, 1976.
We do not agree that the Trustees acted in an arbitrary or capricious manner in denying Dexter's claim to benefits as a member of the Music class. First, it was neither arbitrary nor capricious for the Trustees to give substantial weight to the SSA's determination of the onset date of Dexter's disability. "This court has recognized that trustees must have broad discretion in fashioning eligibility requirements for pensions." Music v. Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Trust Fund, 712 F.2d 413, 418 (9th Cir. 1983). Given the administrative costs that would be imposed on a pension trust fund if it were required to determine the onset of a permanent disability without reference to the SSA's fact-findings, we believe that it is reasonable for the fund to give substantial weight to the findings of the SSA.
Second, without deciding whether the Trustees were required to consider additional evidence submitted by a claimant who challenges the SSA onset date, we find that Dexter did not submit any evidence to the Trustees that would contradict the onset date established by the SSA. The letter written by Dr. Shanks and submitted to the Trustees is not substantial evidence that the disability occurred prior to January 1, 1976, as Dexter claims. Dr. Shanks' statement that his patient could not return to work as of September 1975 is not conclusive evidence that Dexter was permanently disabled as of that date. Nor is it even substantial evidence that Dr. Shanks believed Dexter was permanently disabled because of a spinal injury prior to 1976. We find that Dr. Shanks' statement could reasonably be interpreted to mean that it was the doctor's opinion that Dexter had suffered a complete temporary disability for several months, which was then followed by a permanently disabling back injury. The Trustees acted neither arbitrarily nor capriciously when they concluded that Dr. Shanks' statement was insufficient evidence that Dexter became permanently disabled prior to the date established by the SSA.
Finally, Dexter did not submit any other evidence to the Trustees to support his claim that his disability commenced prior to January 1, 1976. Thus, there is no support in the record for his claim that the Trustees' reliance on the SSA date was not supported by substantial evidence.
Accordingly, we AFFIRM the district court's decision denying class status to Dexter.