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United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
December 19, 1986, Argued ; August 31, 1987, Filed
[*136] OPINION OF THE COURT
BECKER, Circuit Judge
Three classes of former salaried employees of the Plastics Division of defendant Firestone [**2] Tire & Rubber Co ("Firestone") allege that the administrator of Firestone's pension and welfare plans improperly denied them various benefits allegedly due under those plans. The "rub" is that the plan administrator is Firestone itself -- which is also the sole source of funding for the plan at issue in Count I. To evaluate plaintiffs' claims we must address important questions about the scope of judicial review of decisions by pension plan administrators on plan participants' claims for benefits.
Proceeding individually, the named plaintiffs also contend that the plan administrator did not respond properly to their requests for information. In Count VII of their complaint, these plaintiffs invoke the statutory remedy for that wrong provided in § 502(c) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c), and ask the court to order defendants to pay each named plaintiff damages of $ 100 per day.
After concluding that the plan administrator's decision to deny benefits should be reviewed under the deferential arbitrary and capricious standard, the district court granted summary judgment for defendants on all of the counts now before us. 640 F. Supp. 519. We affirm [**3] that decision with respect to Counts III and V, but reverse with respect to Counts I and VII.
With regard to Count I, we hold that the decision by Firestone to deny benefits under the Termination Pay plan should be reviewed de novo by the court and that there should be deference to neither the plan administrator's nor the participants' construction of plan terminology. We accordingly remand so that the district court can decide the proper construction of the relevant plan language.
With regard to Count VII, we hold that ] an individual has standing to request damages pursuant to § 502(c) of ERISA even is he is no longer an employee and is not entitled to any benefits other than those he has already received when he requested information under that provision. Section 502(c) confers wide discretion on the district court, however, to determine how much the claimant should receive in damages. We remand Count VII to permit the district court to exercise that discretion.
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828 F.2d 134 *; 1987 U.S. App. LEXIS 11669 **; 8 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 2373
Bruch, Richard, Chubb, John R. and Schade, Albert and Schollenberger, Richard and Smith, Ronald R. and Smolinski, Leonard A. In Their Individual Capacities and as Representatives of the Class of Former, Salaried, Non-Union Employees of the Firestone Plastics Division Which Was Sold to the Hooker Chemical Division of the Occidental Petroleum Corporation, Appellants v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Company and Firestone Tire & Rubber Company Retirement Plan For Salaried Employees and Firestone Tire & Rubber Company Stock Purchase and Savings Plan, Appellees
Prior History: [**1] On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 82-3286.
benefits, employees, district court, arbitrary and capricious, deferred, partial termination, Termination, plan administrator, courts, early retirement, cases, vested, decisions, claimant, plaintiffs', pension, plans, impartiality, parties, severance pay, principles, rights, Retirement, fiduciary, Counts, entitled to benefits, pension plan, eligibility, equitable, regular
Civil Procedure, Justiciability, Standing, General Overview, Pensions & Benefits Law, Civil Litigation, Causes of Action, Failures to Respond, ERISA, Standing, Business & Corporate Compliance, Disclosure, Notice & Reporting, Benefits Information, Summary Judgment, Appellate Review, ERISA Pension Plan Qualification Requirements, Participation & Vesting, Benefit Accrual Requirements, Contracts Law, Contract Interpretation, Governments, Fiduciaries, Fiduciaries, Fiduciary Responsibilities, Fiduciary Responsibilities, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Estate, Gift & Trust Law, Private Trusts Characteristics, Trustees, Trusts, Estoppel, Equitable Estoppel, Plan Termination, Tax Law, Retirement Plans, Qualified Retirement Plans, Mergers, Rollovers & Vesting, Pensions & Benefits Law, Plan Termination, Tax Accounting, Qualified Retirement Plans, Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), ERISA, Employee Benefit Plans, Child & Spouse Benefit Rules, Qualified Domestic Relations Orders