United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division
VEDA M. ODLE, Plaintiff,
UMWA 1974 PENSION PLAN, ET AL., Defendants.
Richard F. Hawkins, III, The Hawkins Law Firm, PC, Richmond,
Virginia, for Plaintiff
Jessee, Abingdon, Virginia, and Carolyn Dutrow, Associate
General Counsel, and Christina B. Porras, Associate Counsel,
UMWA Health & Retirement Funds, Washington, D.C., for
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Jones United States District Judge
action arising under the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. §§
1001-1461, the plaintiff challenges the amount of the
survivor's annuity awarded to her under the provisions of
the United Mine Workers of America 1974 Pension Plan
(“1974 Pension Plan”). The court has subject-matter
jurisdiction pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e)(1).
case was referred to the magistrate judge pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The magistrate judge thereafter
filed her Report and Recommendation (“Report”)
recommending that the case be remanded to the Trustees for
further consideration. Both the plaintiff and the Trustees
filed timely objections to the Report, which are now before
me for de novo determination. After careful consideration of
the objections, I will reject the magistrate judge's
recommendation and affirm the Trustees' decision.
facts and relevant administrative proceedings are contained
in the administrative record provided by the Trustees, which
will be cited as “R.”
1974 Pension Plan is an industry-wide defined benefit pension
plan for eligible mine workers and their survivors and is
governed by ERISA. Benefits under the Plan are based on a
mine worker's years of creditable service awarded for
classified employment. Foremen and supervisors are not
considered as classified employees.
Veda M. Odle's husband, Raymond L. Odle, Jr., worked in
the coal mining industry from approximately 1973 to 2002 in
both classified and non-classified positions. After her
husband's death in 2010, the Trustees awarded Mrs.
Pre-Retirement Survivor's Annuity based on 15.25 years of
classified service by Mr. Odle from 1973 through
1988. Mrs. Odle contended that her husband was
due additional credit and sought an administrative appeal
hearing from the Trustees. She argued that Mr. Odle had
classified employment with Dale Coal Company, Inc.
(“Dale Coal”) from 1988 through 1994. R. at 24.
to the appeals hearing, the Trustees' hearing officer
conducted a pre-hearing conference with Mrs. Odle, after
which Mrs. Odle was sent a written Summary of Pre-Hearing
Conference (“Summary”), which set forth the
Trustees' reasoning for not awarding credit for 1988
through 1994. The Summary showed that Mr. Odle had worked in
a classified position from August of 1988 to February of
1989, but that thereafter the time sheet records reported him
as a “foreman, ” and that he was paid a salary,
without deduction for union dues, all indicating that he was
not working in a classified position. R. at 24.
appeals hearing was held before a hearing officer on March
30, 2011, at which Mrs. Odle represented herself. She
submitted a number of documents in support of her claim, all
which were considered by the hearing officer. On January 23,
2012, a lengthy and detailed written decision was rendered by
the hearing officer in which Mrs. Odle was awarded an
additional one-quarter year of credited service for 1984 (for
a total of 15.5 years) but denied the remaining years she had
Odle requested a second review of the Trustees' decision.
She was granted such a review and on February 15, 2013, was
provided blank forms for co-worker statements for her to use
“to help identify Mr. Odle's employment
status.” R. at 75.
October 18, 2013, the Trustees again upheld its denial and
sent a letter to Mrs. Odle stating the following:
Please be advised that no further consideration can be given
to this case unless you submit new evidence relating to the
facts in dispute. Substantive evidence, such as official
company records, would be required in order for an
administrative review of the case to take place.
R. at 78.
Odle then requested a third review of the decision and a
hearing, at which she desired to present former co-workers of
her husband to testify about the nature of his job duties
with Dale Coal for the periods in question. A hearing was
held where four former co-workers were interviewed together,
at their insistence. The co-worker's statements presented