performance problems. Indeed, Hunsaker states in his March 29, 1999 letter
to plaintiff that because of plaintiff's unsatisfactory performance,
"there is no other alternative but to . . . terminate you from the
Eastman Kodak Company." Dkt. #8, Ex. 25. As a result, it was wholly
unnecessary for anyone to inquire whether there was a reduction in force
that impacted plaintiff. It is clear from the record that no such
reduction in force played any part in plaintiff's termination in 1999.
In the same vein, plaintiff's counsel's general statements at oral
argument, that plaintiff had been denied the opportunity for discovery
regarding possible downsizing does not preclude the granting of
defendants' motion. Notwithstanding the Court's patience in granting
plaintiff a number of extensions and affording him over seven months to
respond to defendants' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff never
requested discovery pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 56(f). See Paddington
Partners v. Bouchard, 34 F.3d 1132, 1137-1138 (2d Cir. 1994) (holding
that a reference to Rule 56(f) and to the need for discovery in
opposition to a motion for summary judgment is not an adequate substitute
for a Rule 56(f) affidavit, and "the failure to file an affidavit under
Rule 56(f) is itself sufficient grounds to reject a claim that the
opportunity for discovery was inadequate").*fn4 Indeed, it appears that
at this point, in light of Bjork's cross-motion for summary judgment, he
has abandoned his prior discovery requests, apparently content with the
information he has submitted to the Court. Furthermore, when pressed at
oral argument plaintiff did not offer any specifics regarding how any
such discovery is reasonably expected to create a genuine issue of
material fact, a seemingly insurmountable hurdle given that a district
court's review in this context is limited to the administrative record.
See Miller v. United Welfare Fund, 72 F.3d 1066, 1071 (2d Cir. 1995);
Boesel v. Chase Manhattan Bank, N.A., 62 F. Supp.2d 1015, 1031
(W.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 208 F.3d 202 (2d Cir. 2000); Fitch v. Chase Manhattan
Bank, N.A., 64 F. Supp.2d 212, 224 (W.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 208 F.3d 202 (2d
Cir. 2000); see also Yeager v. Reliance Standard Life Ins. Co.,
88 F.3d 376, 381 (6th Cir. 1996).
Plaintiff also asserts that a conflict of interest is raised by virtue
of the fact that the Plan is funded by Kodak and the plan administrator
is a Kodak employee. In support, plaintiff cites Bruch, 489 U.S. at 115,
in which the Supreme Court stated that "if a benefit plan gives
discretion to an administrator or fiduciary who is operating under a
conflict of interest, that conflict must be weighed as a `facto[r] in
whether there is an abuse of discretion.'" (internal citation
omitted). Although plaintiff's responding brief is not clear on this
point, plaintiff appears to argue that, because Cromp is a Kodak
employee, a more strict review of the denial of benefits is mandated.
While it is true that the existence of such an alleged conflict may
become a factor in determining whether there is an abuse of discretion,
it does not change the standard of review. Pagan v. NYNEX Pension Plan,
52 F.3d at 442*fn5; see also Sullivan v. LTV Aerospace & Defense Co.,
82 F.3d 1251, 1259 (2d Cir. 1996) (holding that a reasonable
interpretation of a plan will stand unless the participants can show not
only that a potential conflict of interest exists, but also that the
conflict affected the reasonableness of the administrator's decision, and
that such burden of proof rests with the plaintiffs); see also Whitney
v. Empire Blue Cross & Blue Shield, 106 F.3d 475, 477 (2d Cir. 1997).
Other than conclusory statements that the decision to deny plaintiff's
benefits was tainted by an inherent conflict of interest, plaintiff does
not adduce any facts or evidence tending to establish the existence of a
conflict or how a conflict, if it existed, affected the reasonableness of
the plan administrator's determination. See Durr v. Metropolitan Life
Ins. Co., 15 F. Supp.2d 205, 210 (D. Conn. 1998).
Bjork's contention that he was placed in his last position as part of a
covert attempt to avoid paying him TAP benefits is based on nothing more
than utter speculation. Plaintiff has offered no evidence to support his
conspiratorial theory. First, it was Kodak, plaintiff's employer, that
offered him the key account manager position in 1997; neither Cromp nor
the Plan had any connection with that decision. In addition, given that
plaintiff was employed at-will, if Kodak truly harbored such a devious
motivation, it could have saved more money by terminating him in 1997 and
paying the termination allowance benefit, rather than placing him in
another position with the same salary he had previously earned.
On the record that was before the plan administrator, I believe that
the conclusion that Bjork was ineligible for TAP benefits was not
arbitrary or capricious. In light of the evidence supporting Cromp's
determination, I do not believe that "there has been a clear error of
judgment" on Cromp's part, Jordan, 46 F.3d at 1271, or that the decision
was "without reason, unsupported by substantial evidence or erroneous as
a matter of law." Pagan, 52 F.3d at 442; see also Polizzano v. NYNEX
Sickness & Accident Disability Benefit Plan, 189 F.3d 461 (2d Cir. 1999)
(holding, in unpublished opinion, that the Court "cannot reweigh the
evidence so long as substantial evidence supports the plan
administrator's determination"); Wojciechowski v. Metropolitan Life Ins.
Co., 75 F. Supp.2d at 262; Martin v. E.I. Dupont De Nemours & Co.,
999 F. Supp. 416 (W.D.N.Y. 1998). In short, I agree with the plan
administrator's determination, but, even if I did not, the conclusion of
the plan administrator is certainly a reasonable one in light of the
language involved and certainly is neither arbitrary nor capricious.
Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Dkt. #6) is granted, and
plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment
(Dkt. #16) is denied. The
complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED.