broad reading in finding that the plaintiffs had standing,
neither holding persuades me that plaintiff was a beneficiary
as of the date of his Kodak visit. In Sladek, the benefit plan
itself designated plaintiff, the deceased participant's spouse,
as survivor annuitant, unless the participant elected to
receive full pension benefits. Although it stressed ERISA's
policy of protecting participants' families, the court based
its holding that plaintiff had standing to sue on its finding
that absent her husband's election, she would have been a
beneficiary designated by the plan. See 880 F.2d at 978. Here,
the exact opposite is true. Plaintiff would not be entitled to
receive benefits unless his father were to elect to designate
him as a contingent annuitant.
Vogel, too, is distinguishable. That case involved a
participant's family's suit to recover health benefits which
were denied to the participant in violation of ERISA. The
court, again laying much emphasis on Congress' stated intent to
protect plan participants and their dependents through passage
of ERISA, found that plaintiff had standing. See 728 F. Supp. at
1220. In my view, a plan participant's family is much more
likely a "beneficiary" of health benefits than of pension
benefits, since it is often they who must otherwise incur the
costs of health care for the participant. Where pension
benefits are involved, however, the true beneficiary, unless he
chooses otherwise, is the participant himself.
Although I am cognizant of Congress' intent to ensure broad
protection for participants and their families, I nevertheless
find that plaintiff, as of his initial visit to Kodak, did not
qualify as a "beneficiary" of his father's pension plan, and he
therefore was entitled to no disclosure. Insofar as plaintiff's
father could have designated anyone, related or otherwise, to
receive benefits, until he did so plaintiff stood no closer to
"beneficiary" status than any other person.
Plaintiff maintains that, because his father told him to
obtain benefit information from Kodak, he should be considered
his father's agent as of the end of February, 1988. Therefore,
asserts plaintiff, any duties owed to his father as a plan
participant were then owed as well to plaintiff as his father's
Although he cites several cases purporting to stand for the
proposition that an agency need not be expressed in writing to
be effective, plaintiff's reliance is misplaced. Kodak was well
within its rights in February of 1988 to refuse to disclose the
details of Keys' pension benefit entitlement until plaintiff
could produce satisfactory proof of his status as Keys' agent.
It is a well established principle that one who deals with an
agent does so at his peril, and must make a reasonable inquiry
into the scope of the agent's authority. See Karavos Compania
Naviera, S.A. v. Atlantica Export Corp., 588 F.2d 1 (2d Cir.
1978); Property Advisory Group, Inc. v. Bevona, 718 F. Supp. 209,
213 (S.D.N.Y. 1989); Collision Plan Unlimited, Inc. v.
Bankers Trust Co., 63 N.Y.2d 827, 482 N.Y.S.2d 252,
472 N.E.2d 28 (1984). A party seeking to rely on an agent's apparent
authority must not fail to heed warnings or inconsistent
circumstances surrounding the asserted authority. See Bevona,
718 F. Supp. at 213.
On the facts before me, Kodak was aware, at the time of
plaintiff's initial visit, of facts and circumstances casting
doubt upon the scope of plaintiff's actual authority.
Uncontradicted evidence submitted by defendants shows that
Kodak had on file the names and addresses of several other
members of Keys' family, any of whom might have been a
potential beneficiary of Albert Keys' pension benefits.
Moreover, Kodak was aware that Keys had designated plaintiff's
brother as co-beneficiary of his life insurance policy. Kodak
also knew that Keys had never, in his long years of service,
designated any contingent annuitant to receive benefits.
The duty of reasonable inquiry inures to the benefit of the
third party dealing with an agent, as well as the principal on
whose behalf the agent purports to act. Not only was Kodak not
remiss in refusing to discuss important and confidential
benefit information with someone claiming, but unable to prove,
actual authority to act on Keys' behalf, the company was
prudent in refusing to do so. Kodak had a responsibility
to its employees not to disclose private information without
proper authorization. Especially in Keys' grave medical
condition, Kodak had to be wary of those who could take
advantage of him.
Under the circumstances of this case, Kodak was not obligated
to disclose confidential employee information until it received
proper evidence that plaintiff was in fact authorized to act
for its employee.*fn2
Because I find as a matter of law that at the time plaintiff
first requested information from Kodak, defendants owed
plaintiff no statutory duty under § 1022, I find it unnecessary
to determine whether issues of fact remain concerning the
adequacy of the summary description. Nevertheless, it seems
clear that the information contained in the summary
description, "You and Kodak," adequately advised plaintiff of
the employee's right to elect a contingent annuitant as well as
the proviso that this election would not be effective for 180
At page 109 of the summary, under the heading "Retirement,
Survivor Income Benefits", it states that there are several
benefit options which can provide income "for your spouse, or
any other person you designate." Under the section, "Payment of
Benefits", at page 112, it clearly states that the optional
form of payment to a spouse or other designated person "becomes
effective 180 days after the company receives [the] written
Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted and the
complaint is dismissed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.