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RICE v. ROCHESTER LABORERS' ANNUITY FUND

June 13, 1995

CARRIE RICE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE ROCHESTER LABORERS' ANNUITY FUND, ROBERT BROWN AND SHIRLEY J. JENKINS, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID G. LARIMER

 Plaintiff, Carrie Rice ("Rice"), commenced this action against defendants, Rochester Laborers' Annuity Fund ("the Fund"), Robert Brown, a member of the Fund's board of trustees, and Shirley Jenkins ("Jenkins"), administrative manager of the Fund, pursuant to various provisions of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., ("ERISA").

 In essence, plaintiff claims that defendants improperly paid her husband, Harold Rice, Jr., a plan participant in the Fund, a lump sum payment of his interest in the Fund without first obtaining her written consent, as required by 29 U.S.C. § 1055(c)(2), waiving her qualified joint and survivor annuity form of benefit. Although Rice and her husband have been separated, they remain legally married. It is not disputed that on December 11, 1991, the Fund tendered a check to Harold Rice for $ 9,370.16, the full value of his account at that time.

 Rice seeks a declaration of her rights under the plan pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a) and for attorney's fees pursuant to § 1132(g).

 The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. For the reasons that follow, plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is granted, her request for attorney's fees is granted and defendants' motion for summary judgment is denied.

 FACTS

 Harold Rice had been a member of the Rochester Laborers' Union for some years and had participated in the union's pension plan for about eight years. Under the benefit provisions of the Fund, Harold Rice was entitled to receive a lifetime annuity and upon his death, his spouse was entitled to receive a survivor annuity equal to fifty percent of his benefits. Harold Rice also had the option of receiving at any time, in a lump sum, the full value of his account, but only if he received his spouse's written consent to such a distribution.

 Plaintiff and Harold Rice remain legally married although they have been estranged for about six years. Although the record is not entirely clear on this point, the parties were apparently engaged in divorce proceedings at the time of the incidents in question.

 The facts leading up to this dispute began on or about October 9, 1991, when plaintiff's attorney sent a letter to the Rochester Laborers' Welfare Fund advising it, in substance, that he feared Harold Rice might seek to defraud his wife by submitting a forged signature to the Fund to obtain a lump sum benefit in derogation of plaintiff's rights. Specifically, the attorney advised the Welfare Fund that he represented the wife of Harold Rice, Jr., "a member of your Union and a participant in the Union Pension Plan." The attorney advised that he believed Harold Rice would attempt to obtain a lump sum payment "sometime in November of 1991 or thereafter . . ." The attorney requested that any spousal consent form be sent to the attorney's attention in order to prevent the possibility of Harold Rice defrauding his client and the Fund.

 Defendants do not deny receiving the letter dated October 9, 1991, from plaintiff's attorney. In fact, defendant Jenkins, in her affidavit, admits that the letter "has been brought to my attention." Moreover, in their answer to plaintiff's complaint, defendants admitted that plaintiff's attorney sent the letter dated October 19, 1991, "to the Rochester Laborers' Welfare Fund rather than to the defendant Rochester Laborers' Annuity Fund."

 In spite of plaintiff's counsel letter, defendants never notified plaintiff or her attorney that the anticipated application had in fact been made. On November 11, 1991, twenty-two days after Harold Rice's request, the Fund tendered a check to him for $ 9,370.16, which was the full value of his account. It is not disputed that the check was tendered to Harold Rice without question and without any further clarification concerning his request or his wife's intent in the matter.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Amendment of Complaint Concerning Relief Requested.

 In her complaint, plaintiff described the action as an action "by a beneficiary for monetary relief arising out of the breach of fiduciary duties by Defendants under . . . 29 U.S.C. § 1055(c)(2) and 1044." (Complaint, P 1). In her ad damnum clause, plaintiff requested a money judgment for $ 4685.08 plus interest from December 11, 1991, attorney's fees "and such other and further relief as to the Court may seem just and proper."

 Plaintiff now recognizes that she is not entitled to recover a money judgment against the Fund since her rights as a beneficiary are conditional, that is, she must survive her husband before she is entitled to any benefits.

 Plaintiff now properly seeks a declaration and clarification of her rights under the Plan pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a) rather than a money judgment. Although such relief was not specifically demanded in the complaint, that complaint is broad enough under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8 to cover such relief. The Court is not limited to the relief requested in the complaint but may provide other relief if the evidence and law warrant it. Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(c); O'Hare v. General Marine Transport Corp., 740 F.2d 160, 171 (2d Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 1212, 84 L. Ed. 2d 329, 105 S. Ct. 1181 (1985).

 In addition, of course, the Court may allow amendment of the pleadings under Rule 15(a) at any time. Defendants do not oppose this alternative form of relief and in any event, they have shown no prejudice whatsoever by this modification of ...


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