The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gershon, United States District Judge
Plaintiff Gelsomina Serrapica brings this action against defendant Long-Term Disability Plan of the Chase Manhattan Bank and Certain Affiliated Companies ("Chase") pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132 et seq., asserting that Chase failed to provide her with notice of changes to her benefits plan and wrongfully denied her long-term disability benefits.Chase now moves for summary judgment, arguing (1) that the court lacks jurisdiction because Ms. Serrapica failed to exhaust her administrative remedies and (2) that, on the merits, Ms. Serrapica cannot establish any right to the relief she seeks because Ms. Serrapica was informed and aware that she needed to enroll in the long-term disability plan, yet failed to enroll. For the reasons discussed below, Chase's summary judgment motion is granted.
Unless otherwise stated, the following facts are undisputed.
Ms. Serrapica began her employment at Chase Manhattan Bank in 1966 and left in 1972 after she gave birth to a child. She resumed employment at Chase Manhattan Bank in October 1989 and worked as a file clerk, receptionist, and general assistant until January 2000. In January 2000, Ms. Serrapica began a short-term disability leave due to a medical condition. She received short-term disability benefits beginning at that time and never returned to work at Chase Manhattan Bank. Ms. Serrapica continued to receive short-term disability benefits until June 30, 2000, at which time Ms. Serrapica received a letter informing her that she was ineligible for long-term disability benefits. Chase maintains that Ms. Serrapica is ineligible for long-term disability benefits because she failed to enroll in Chase's voluntary long-term disability benefits plan.
From the time that Ms. Serrapica resumed her employment at Chase in 1989 until the end of 1996, Chase employees were automatically enrolled in the Heritage Chase Long Term Disability Plan at no cost to the employees. However, after a merger between Chase and Chemical Bank in 1997, Chase developed a voluntary long term disability plan that required employees to affirmatively enroll and pay premiums before collecting any benefits. Chase sent out various benefits enrollment documents to its employees informing them of the change in benefits and alerting them of the need to enroll if they wished to receive benefits.
Ms. Serrapica testified in her deposition that she understood that she had to affirmatively enroll in the long term disability plan in order to receive long term benefits starting in 1997 and that, if she did not take steps to enroll in the new long term disability plan, that she would not be eligible for long term disability coverage.*fn1 Chase's computer records, however, reflect that Ms. Serrapica did not enroll in the long term disability plan in 1997. Similarly, Chase's computer records indicate that Ms. Serrapica did not enroll in the long term disability plan in 1998, 1999, or 2000. Based on these computer records, Chase sends enrollment confirmation statements to its employees.
In her deposition, Ms. Serrapica claimed that the confirmation statements that she received from Chase indicated that she was in fact enrolled in the long term disability plan. Furthermore, Ms. Serrapica stated that her payroll indicated deductions to cover the cost of long term disability insurance. Although Ms. Serrapica asserted in her deposition that she had received documents confirming her enrollment, she has not produced any of these documents or letters. Moreover, Ms. Serrapica's payroll records do not indicate any deductions for long term disability coverage.
Chase's Summary Plan Description, in a section entitled "Appealing Claims," outlines the procedure for appealing claims: "you can write to the plan administrator, care of the Benefits Appeal Committee, if your denial for benefits is based on issuesother than those directly related to determining whether you've incurred a disability or the amount or duration of benefits." Although the Summary Plan Description clearly outlined the appeals procedure, it is unclear whether Chase notified Ms. Serrapica of her right to appeal in the letter denying her long term benefits, and Ms. Serrapica claims that she was never informed of her right to appeal the decision to deny benefits.*fn2
After Ms. Serrapica was denied long term disability benefits in July 2000, Ms. Serrapica's legal counsel wrote several letters to Chase's Employee Relations Department and one letter to a Senior Vice President of JP Morgan Chase. Pl. Ex. 1-5. However, there is no evidence that Ms. Serrapica appealed to the plan administrator or Benefits Appeal Committee as required by the Summary Plan Description.
A. Summary Judgment Standard
Motions for summary judgment are granted if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Lipton v. Nature Co., 71 F.3d 464, 469 (2d Cir. 1995). The moving party must demonstrate the absence of any material factual issue genuinely in dispute. Id. The court must view the inferences to be drawn from the facts in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). However, the non-moving party may not "rely on mere speculation or ...