Shut Up And Eat Your Catfood, Gramps

The whole notion about pensions belonging to pensioners just died screaming today as the Supremes got a hold of it and took it out back to Roberts Court the hell out of it.

The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that a chemical company may be able to cut the health benefits of its retired workers, unanimously reversing an appeals court ruling that said the benefits had vested for life.

“Courts should not construe ambiguous writings to create lifetime promises,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court, adding that “retiree health care benefits are not a form of deferred compensation.”

The Supreme Court returned the case to the appeals court, telling it to use ordinary principles of contract interpretation to determine whether the collective bargaining agreement at issue had granted free lifetime health care.

The appeals court erred, Justice Thomas wrote, “by placing a thumb on the scale in favor of vested retiree benefits in all collective bargaining agreements.”

The case concerned a union contract at the Point Pleasant Polyester Plant in Apple Grove, W.Va. Like many other collective bargaining agreements, it did not directly say whether health benefits for retirees would vest for life.

So yes, the Supreme Court apparently has no real problem with screwing over ordinary Americans over a technicality in the wording *cough King v Burwell cough*.

When the case, M&G Polymers USA v. Tackett, No. 13-1010, was argued at the Supreme Court in November, several justices seemed puzzled that the contract had not nailed down such an important point.

“Both sides knew it was left unaddressed, so, you know, whoever loses deserves to lose for casting this upon us when it could have been said very clearly in the contract,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “Such an important feature. So I hope we’ll get it right, but, you know, I can’t feel bad about it.”

The appeals court, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled for the retirees in 2013, relying on its own 1983 decision, which put a thumb on the scale in favor of vesting.

But hey, Scalia can’t feel bad about pretty much anything, because his heart was replaced with a rock some time ago.  Notorious RBG at least tried to provide some guidance.

In a concurrence, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made the case that the retirees could prevail under the new, stricter standard.

“No rule requires ‘clear and express’ language in order to show that parties intended health care benefits to vest,” she wrote.

She urged the appeals court to consider other factors. One signal that the health benefits had vested, she said, was that the retirees had vested pensions. The contract tied health benefits to those “receiving a monthly pension,” she said.

So, maybe there’s some hope for this in the future as Thomas tossed this case back to the Sixth Circuit here in Cincy to try again, but since Kennedy didn’t sign on to RBG’s concurrence (Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor did) that future would look to be a 5-4 decision in favor against the retirees.

Pass the cat food, Gramps.

83 replies
  1. 1
    chopper says:

    Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the court

    oh, we’re boned.

  2. 2
    chopper says:

    Thomas tossed this case back to the Sixth Circuit here in Cincy to try again

    oh, we’re boned.

  3. 3
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    Now hold on just a dang minute. This was a unanimous decision. That doesn’t usually happen unless there was something–and maybe more than just one thing–wrong with the lower court’s decision. Don’t be too quick to pile on the conservative justices.

  4. 4
    Violet says:

    Who has retiree benefits at all? Pension? Health insurance? It’s like dinosaurs.

  5. 5
    srv says:

    I think BJ should offer up one of our lawyers as a sacrifice, to keep the tumbrels well oiled.

    burns or eemom?

  6. 6
    NCSteve says:

    The opinion was unanimous, it was a run of the mill contract interpretation case where the court below had failed to apply run of the mill contract interpretation rules, it was remanded to give the court below a second shot at reaching the same result within those rules, “technicality” is a word people who aren’t lawyers use to mean “holding mandated by clear command of existing law that created a result I didn’t like,” and the sky remains firmly affixed in the heavens.

    Well, that last point might seem a bit iffy if you’ve watched the Weather Channel today, but the rest of it is still true.

  7. 7
    Scott S. says:

    On the other hand, one can’t say that the owners and management of M&G Polymers USA and their attorneys have a contract stipulating that their disgruntled employees can’t chainsaw them in their beds. Perhaps that would be a fair arrangement for all.

  8. 8
    Steve in the ATL says:

    @srv: All other things being equal, sacrifice the dookie

  9. 9
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    Fuck the proles…young proles, middle aged proles, old proles.

    These assholes are BEGGING to take tumbrel rides.

  10. 10
    Tommy says:

    My grandfather had a pension. Not sure I know anybody since him that had one. Grandfather came back from WWII and ended up working 35+ years for Snap-on. In his later years they took care of him. Seems like a basic thing for a company to do.

  11. 11
    burnspbesq says:

    Supremes got this one right. Sixth Circuit applied the wrong standard. Sixth Circuit can easily reach the same result by applying the correct standard. Justice Ginsburg handed the Sixth Circuit a roadmap to get to the right result.

    Nobody got boned today. Process matters.

  12. 12
    burnspbesq says:


    Fuck off.

  13. 13
    opiejeanne says:

    @burnspbesq: Thanks for the clarification.

  14. 14
    Another Holocene Human says:

    The stupid pension laws we have today that let companies walk away from their pensions after MOTUs suck all the cash out are the real problem here, not courts fucking unions over for sucking at being lawyers, which of course is kind of the whole problem with the grievance in exchange for not striking system that we instituted mid century. Oh, unions were never supposed to have to be lawyers, being unlearned laborers and all that but guess what, if you’re not a lawyer, lawyers who are the arbitrators will punish you. Our labor law is a one-way ratchet. Labor can never win, they can only lose.

  15. 15
    Iowa Old Lady says:

    @Violet: Union members

  16. 16
    blueskies says:

    @burnspbesq: Burns it is, then. ;)

    Though, instead of lawyers (hey, I’m married to one), I think we should closely revisit pensions provided to SC Justices. Goose, gander, etc.

  17. 17
    goblue72 says:

    @srv: @opiejeanne: Oh look, the guy so full of himself he feels the need to put “esq” in an online nym.

  18. 18
    chopper says:


    yeah, but your parents are rich. well off. money. good money. dad bought a house across the street for his books. lots of books.

    your dad taught at the war college. taught a lot. he’s rich.

  19. 19
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    @burnspbesq: Yeah, the Ginsburg concurrence was a beauty. Short, to the point, and explicitly directive with a soupcon of snark for flavor.

  20. 20
    elmo says:

    I don’t get the outrage. If the Court was refusing to apply the usual rules of contract interpretation to a CBA, in order to protect the employer, that would be one thing. But it seems to me that the Court here is saying, “A CBA is a contract. Interpret it according to standard contract rules.” And that’s bad?

    I can’t sign on to a progressive sensibility that wants to cut down all the laws in England to go after the Devil, no matter how much I might sympathize with elderly pensioners.

  21. 21
    Another Holocene Human says:

    Unions also made big errors being very focused on their own locals and own companies and not organizing industry wide and creating their own pensions and getting control over some aspects of hiring so that workers could move from job to job.

    They should have bargained to have companies make contributions into a fund they controlled (but operated by third party trustees to keep union officers out of the till).

    But once upon a time companies wanted to retain employees and would have considered making it easy for employees to leave to be bad. When that changed maybe they should have bargained for transfers, as UAW did with GM, but it’s been too little too late. Look at what happened with Hostess. MOTUs sucked that place dry. Too bad, employees, you’re fucked. How is that shit legal? It favors parasitism.

  22. 22
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @burnspbesq: Of course that’s the whole point of reading the whole decision, with a legal education. Here’s hoping the 6th Cir panel reads RBGs instructions.

    FWIW, I’ll volunteer to be the sacrifice. Though I’m not a Duke fan (or alumna).

  23. 23
    The Ancient Randonneur says:

    So the GOP leadership said this:

    “Look, things are getting better. But the point is, who is benefiting from this? This has been a top of the income recovery. The so-called 1 percent that the president is always talking about have done quite well,” McConnell said. “But middle and lower income Americans are about $3,000-a-year worse off than they were when he came into office.”

    Trying to blame the President for income inequality? hahahahahahahahahahahahahhaha

    Oh,the campaign ads from Democrats are already being written.

  24. 24
    Tommy says:

    @Iowa Old Lady: Amen to that. The only three people I know that have good retirement benefits are union members. I don’t think that is an accident.

  25. 25
    Mike J says:

    Hard cases make bad law.

  26. 26
    elmo says:

    @Another Holocene Human:

    Jeez, I feel out of place here today. It’s been my experience that unions are actually fully capable of hiring lawyers. Some of them are actually pretty knowledgeable, with skills even.

    The idea of the poor downtrodden shop steward, sitting at an arbitration hearing in his greasy coveralls, surrounded by Company hired guns in pinstripes and wingtips – romantic, maybe, but about as realistic as Soviet propaganda posters.

  27. 27
    Tommy says:

    @chopper: Well that grandfather was my mom’s. Not a rich man. You can have family members that are rich and those that are not.

  28. 28
    burnspbesq says:


    Oh look, the guy so full of himself that he needs to remind us that he went to a second-rate public university.

    Did it ever occur to you, douchebag, that there might be more than one P.B. Burns in the universe, and that a reference to career might provide a simple answer to the need to establish a unique email address?

    And yes, I am proud of what I do. So GFY with a copy of the Internal Revenue Code.

  29. 29
    Spinwheel says:

    So more irresponsible clickbait written by someone who has no idea what the fuck they are talking about.

    I can’t imagine why Buzzfeed hasn’t hired you yet.

  30. 30
    Howard Beale IV says:

    @srv: @goblue72: Well, burnsie may still yet have to eat a bag of salted dicks and cough up a fiver to max over whether or not Betray-us skates the espionage charge (C.f. Dunning-Kreuger effect)

  31. 31
    burnspbesq says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q):

    FWIW, I’ll volunteer to be the sacrifice.

    I nominate Orly Taitz. What a fucking embarrassment she is.

  32. 32
    Spinwheel says:

    Can one of BJ’s actual lawyers please tell Zandar how full of shit he is on this?

  33. 33
    burnspbesq says:


    Why don’t you take a crack at it? We could all use a good laugh.

  34. 34
    Tripod says:


    What about getting my two minute hate on?

  35. 35
    Quaker in a Basement says:

    So yes, the Supreme Court apparently has no real problem with screwing over ordinary Americans over a technicality in the wording *cough King v Burwell cough*.

    Oh, stop. King v Burwell isn’t about a contract, and M&G v Tackett isn’t about a “technicality in wording.” The court’s decision here is about the rules the appeals court used to reach its decision, so you really should try a little harder if you want to draw that comparison.

  36. 36
    Keith G says:

    So wait….Now we are being told that Gramps won’t have to pop the top on a can of Whiskas?

    I guess baseless outrage is what’s really being served.

  37. 37
    Chopper says:



    He went to a public university!

    what an asshole!

  38. 38
    Chopper says:


    Not a rich man. I live in Illinois. My parents are rich. I’m a liberal.

  39. 39
    kc says:


  40. 40
    a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q) says:

    @burnspbesq: She’d be ideal, but I don’t think she posts here. I’ll have to do. Unless, of course, someone else wants it more. Then we can arm wrestle.

    @Chopper: I’m a far left liberal.

  41. 41
    Spinwheel says:

    It seems Zandar is the one who has some explaining to do.

    I wouldn’t hold your breath however.

  42. 42
    BillinGlendaleCA says:


    I thought I heard once that some actual lawyers went to public universities. Public law schools, even

    How about Kirsten Gillibrand? She must be second rate since she graduated from a public law school.

  43. 43
    Pogonip says:

    @Tommy: My dad had 3, one from the Army, one from a factory, and one from Civil Service. Wall Street must be very unhappy.

  44. 44
    Chopper says:

    @a hip hop artist from Idaho (fka Bella Q):

    far left liberal. But I know some Jews. Good people. Some people don’t like them. I do. They’re Jews.

  45. 45
    brantl says:

    Scalia never had a heart, that would have been a story like “Man bites dog.”, evidence, or it never happened.

  46. 46
    SRW1 says:


    Hey, do we detect a shimmer of insight in the fact that you’re making this a request rather than attempting to do that tellin’ yourself?

  47. 47
    Sister Rail Gun of Warm Humanitarianism says:

    @efgoldman: There are such things as second-rate public universities.

  48. 48
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:


    Less emphasis on the “public” and more emphasis on the “second-rate”.

  49. 49
    Robert Paehlke says:

    The Supreme Court it seems continues to have a bare majority of murderous thugs.

  50. 50
    Corner Stone says:

    @Chopper: Is there a reason why people are mocking Tommy? I mean, it’s one thing to mock people who are jerks, but a someone who seems to be a decent sort, who isn’t out there picking fights for no reason, you’re mocking him? A little surprised at this level of mean girls-itis.

  51. 51
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:


    Would you have an issue with a medical doctor putting “dr” or “md” in their online nym? How about a professor using “dr” or “phd”? Would they be excessively full of themselves?

  52. 52
    Goblue72 says:

    @burnspbesq: I went to Michigan Law jackhole.

    That would be a member of the T-10. Where’d you get your JD? Oh right, University of Spoiled Children.

  53. 53
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:

    @Robert Paehlke:

    The Supreme Court it seems continues to have a bare majority of murderous thugs.

    IT WAS A UNANIMOUS DECISION. The lower court fucked up. It happens.

  54. 54
    Goblue72 says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: depends on how they act. Thing is, burns acts like a complete know it all douche on these threads, so it fits.

  55. 55
    gene108 says:


    My grandfather had a pension. Not sure I know anybody since him that had one. Grandfather came back from WWII and ended up working 35+ years for Snap-on. In his later years they took care of him. Seems like a basic thing for a company to do.

    The strange thing is, when I see all the attacks on teachers and teachers unions, I really wonder why no one makes this point: What’s wrong with a living wage, job security, benefits and a pension, so you can retire comfortably?

    I really do not understand why there’s not more push back on why the private sector cannot offer the same security and retirement security as he public sector.

    Seems like the sort of thing the middle class of the 1950’s and 1960’s was built upon.

  56. 56
    Corner Stone says:

    @Grumpy Code Monkey: You’re kind of a bad ass code monkey, neh?
    I don’t sport my credenzas because it’s the intertrons. Who freakin cares? I don’t look to the webnation to determine my legal options/opinions any more than I do for nutrition advice.

  57. 57
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Spinwheel: Oh, so the smear of dogshit on Zandar’s shoe is heard from.


  58. 58
    Goblue72 says:

    @gene108: we must tug our fore locks and give tax cuts to the rich

  59. 59
    Grumpy Code Monkey says:


    Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t.

    @Corner Stone

    Just plain ass. Made a decision on Thursday that blew up into a major fucking shitstorm on Friday and we’re still dealing with the fallout. The day I win the lottery I will get out of the industry so goddamned fast you’ll hear the air pop.

  60. 60
    catbirdman says:

    Not exactly second-rate, at least not for a public school:

    “The University of Michigan was the highest ranked public university in America, and the only public university nationally that earned a top-25 ranking in the QS World University Rankings for the 2014-15 year. In the rankings, which were released Monday night, U-M joined a dozen private schools across the country – including MIT, Yale, Harvard and Stanford – as the top domestic institutions, while the University of California Berkeley was the only other public school to join Michigan in the top 30.”

  61. 61
    Kay says:


    Who has retiree benefits at all? Pension? Health insurance? It’s like dinosaurs.

    A lot of retirees have them. I see this divide in my practice and it scares me a little, because in some ways we’re still living off “a middle class” and the thing about those people, secure retired people, is they pass those assets off to the next generation. Sometimes indirectly, by contributing something like a bachelor’s degree with no debt to the next generation, but sometimes directly, by passing on a paid-off piece of property or 10 or 20 thousand well-timed dollars to the next generation to buy a house. They don’t pass along a ton of assets, working class (but secure after a lifetime) but younger people don’t need a ton of assets handed down. They just need a boost to get started.

    I worry about when that’s depleted. What happens when a big chuck of people aren’t in a position to give even a small amount of help to “stake” the next generation that is supposed to be “middle class”?

    It’s a weirdly clear divide in my law practice, the “solid” working class and the much less secure (slightly younger) “working class”. It’s glaring. I wonder what happens when the last of the “secure” working class are gone. In some ways we’re still reaping the benefits of that. I think it gets worse when that residual benefit is depleted.

  62. 62
    Kay says:


    What’s wrong with a living wage, job security, benefits and a pension, so you can retire comfortably?

    I wish it was just “so you can retire comfortably”. Middle class wages and benefits ripple- they benefit the next generation. They create the conditions for kids and young people to be the next generation middle class and upper class.

    If we have fewer middle class people then that means their kids aren’t growing up middle class either and that will compound the problem.

  63. 63
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @Kay: People have been talking for the whole of my adult life about labour market flexibility and nobody was going to have one job until retirement, but instead bounce from job to job every five years and career to career every ten years.

    And I’ve always wanted to scream, “Our economy depends on people buying houses on the 25-30 yr amortization. How are we supposed to do that if we’re unemployed once per five years?”

    To date, no answer.

  64. 64
    chopper says:

    @Corner Stone:

    mean girls-itis.

    oh, you always make me lol.

  65. 65
    Corner Stone says:

    @chopper: Sorry to hear you’re such an outstanding asshole that you can’t even tolerate someone who has taken the time, on his own, to have deep and meaningful conversations with people across the spectrum of society.

  66. 66
    JR in WV says:

    People changing jobs should be changing in order to improve their position. Better benefits (read:PENSION) better pay, better working conditions, more interesting work.

    Not changing industry because the last industry went bankrupt as the wall street bandits stole everything but the spitoons!

    I have a pension, and savings in a 457 account (which is a 401K for public employees) now invested in an IRA that I manage, and soon, Social Security. I would be more well off if my 457 investments hadn’t sunk 60% the last 6 months I worked.

    My wife worked for the same corporate monster from 1976 or so until she was awarded disability around 2005 or ’06. So 30 years with the same company. Her union contract spelled out pension benefits too. And she had a 401, but the company limited her contribution, because they “were afraid some people would get carried away and save too much!” Yeh, right!

    Everyone should have a vested non-deniable sure thing pension when they reach retirement age OR become disabled. Everyone. And if someone steals monies from a pension plan, they should have to live under a bridge in Bahston.

    If the Right-Wing judges screw anyone out of an earned pension, they should have their knees removed. Under anesthesia, I’m not a sadist, but removed. Then they wouldn’t be able to enjoy that golf they prize so much. Or even bowling.

    Hard to stand in line for the painkillers, too.

    Only a heartless. morality-free monster would facilitate theft of a pension fund from workers. I’m talking associate lawyers, managers, janitors of the law firms, every one.

    Judges and Congressmen, too.

  67. 67
    Gin & Tonic says:

    @Corner Stone: If I’m recalling correctly, you’ve demonstrated your skills at parody pretty effectively in the past.

  68. 68
    chopper says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I love how much you pretend to care about others. It’s so Christmas.

  69. 69
    Corner Stone says:

    @Gin & Tonic: Yep, I always do so enjoy it when sanctimonious assholes get hoisted.
    We could also include crotchety old timer raven who decided I was somehow blog hitler for making fun of Cole that one time. But, meh. It works for me either way.

  70. 70
    Corner Stone says:

    @chopper: Swing, and a miss.

  71. 71
    chopper says:

    @Corner Stone:

    I see what you did there. Hilarious!

  72. 72
    Corner Stone says:

    @chopper: Yeah, you’re kind of a weak foil. But, hey. Gotta go with what you got, sometimes. Them’s the bloggertrons.

  73. 73
    chopper says:

    @Corner Stone:

    What can I say, when you can’t be allowed around your kids you have to find some dude on the internet to fuck around with, amirite? I dunno, I don’t know what that feels like but it’s a thing isn’t it?

  74. 74
    Corner Stone says:


    What can I say, when you can’t be allowed around your kids you have to find some dude on the internet to fuck around with, amirite?

    I guess, if you say so. I’ll take your word as the expert on that. Sounds kind of sad, but then pretty much everything you post sounds that way.
    I hope whatever children you have unfortunately sired come through their shared experience ok.

  75. 75
    chopper says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Lol, swing and a miss.

  76. 76
    Corner Stone says:

    @chopper: Well, since my son and I spent two hours on the basketball court today after I picked him up from school, I can only guess that you have issues that need to be addressed.
    So, yeah proto-Cassidy. Another swing and a miss for you.

  77. 77
    mtiffany says:

    retiree health care benefits are not a form of deferred compensation.

    WTF? That is exactly what a fucking pension is. You forego X amount of dollars in your paycheck today in exchange for Y amount of dollars at a future date. That is exactly what deferred fucking compensation is.

    Since he can’t be beaten to death with his own intellectual dishonesty, may he DIAF. Slowly.

  78. 78
    chopper says:

    @Corner Stone:

    Two whole hours? Goddamn, son, you’re father of the year!

  79. 79
    Nicole says:


    I worry about when that’s depleted. What happens when a big chuck of people aren’t in a position to give even a small amount of help to “stake” the next generation that is supposed to be “middle class”?

    That reminds of something I read somewhere about the estate tax- that what is not made clear to people who find the idea of an estate tax on the ultra wealthy unfair (most of whom will never, ever have to worry about it) is that the cost of health care, especially at end of life, is basically an estate tax of 100% on the middle class. A couple of people close to me died at the end of last year and the only reason there was anything at all left for their survivors is that they dropped dead of sudden heart attacks at home. In their mid-60s.

  80. 80
    Corner Stone says:

    @chopper: I’m old. How long am I supposed to be dunking on him and yelling, “In yo face! In yo face!”
    Now we’re watching I, Robot. And let me just tell you, Fresh Prince is fucking buff as hell.

  81. 81
    Goblue72 says:

    @catbirdman: Thx. But not needing it. Burnsie for all his blowhardness got a JD sheepskin from the safety law school for rich kids who didn’t get into UCLA.

    UCLA, being MY safety. Burnsie doesn’t scare me. He’s a tax lawyer for chrissakes. I employ people like him. Actually – I dont. He’s a sole practitioner. My lawyers are all at firms in major markets.

  82. 82
    Corner Stone says:


    He’s a tax lawyer for chrissakes. I employ people like him. Actually – I dont. He’s a sole practitioner. My lawyers are all at firms in major markets.

    That’s the funny part. If he had any snap he’d be with a firm that does cross border work, in the bajillions.
    The fact that he’s a sole practitioner is pretty telling about how he views his worth as a tax lawyer.
    Yeah, yeah. Trading your quality of life and discretion for value add. Sure thing, counselor.

  83. 83
    elboku says:

    I appreciate the sentiment but contract law is a fairly well established area of the law. And it is black letter law that you can’t assume a non-addressed issue goes one way without clear proof. All the court is saying is that you can’t assume it is meant one way, there must be you know evidence. The ruling affirms basic contract law and gawd knows we do not need the court screwing that up.They screw up enough.

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