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Hall v. Kodak Retirement Income Plan

March 20, 2009

PEGGY A. HALL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KODAK RETIREMENT INCOME PLAN, KODAK RETIREMENT INCOME PLAN COMMITTEE, AND TRUSTEES OF THE KODAK RETIREMENT INCOME PLAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Telesca United States District Judge

DECISION and ORDER

INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff, Peggy A. Hall ("plaintiff") brings this action under the Kodak Retirement Income Plan pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") §502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. §1132(a)(1)(B) against defendants, Kodak Retirement Income Plan ("KRIP" and/or the "Plan"), Kodak Retirement Income Plan Committee ("KRIPCO" and/or the "Plan Administrator") and Trustees of the Kodak Retirement Income Plan (the "Trustees") (collectively "defendants"), alleging that her request for benefits under the Plan were improperly denied. Specifically, plaintiff, whose husband was a participant in KRIP during his employment at Kodak, seeks an award of the wrongfully denied benefits and a declaration of her rights pursuant to the Plan issued by the defendants to her late husband William Hall ("Mr. Hall").

Defendants move for summary judgment against the plaintiff on grounds alleging that there are no material facts in dispute, and accordingly plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be dismissed in its entirety as a matter of law. In support of their motion, defendants contend that the Plan Administrator properly interpreted the terms of KRIP and correctly determined that plaintiff is not entitled to benefits under KRIP. Plaintiff opposes defendants' motion and cross-moves for summary judgment. Plaintiff argues that the terms of the Plan require that participants receive written information regarding all of the retirement benefit payment options under the Plan and that failure to provide such disclosure mandates payment of certain benefits to plaintiff. Because evidence shows that Mr. Hall was not provided with the required information under the Plan, plaintiff asserts she is entitled to benefits under KRIP.

For the reasons set forth below, I grant defendant's motion for summary judgment, and deny plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Defendants previously filed a motion to dismiss requesting that the Court dismiss Count III of plaintiff's Amended Complaint. See Hall v. Kodak Retirement Income Plan, et al., 2008 WL 788577 (W.D.N.Y.2008) ("March 2008 Order").*fn1 The Court granted defendants' motion as set forth in its March 2008 Order.*fn2

Accordingly, the Court assumes familiarity with the procedural and factual background set forth in its prior decision in this matter. See March 2008 Order. Thus, the Court will only address the most pertinent information as it relates to this summary judgment motion. The following facts are undisputed except where characterized otherwise.*fn3

A. Applicable Provisions of the Kodak Retirement Income Plan

Eastman Kodak Company ("Kodak") maintains a pension plan, known as the Kodak Retirement Income Plan ("KRIP" and/or the "Plan") for its eligible employees.*fn4 Pursuant to § 205 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1055, the Plan provides that the normal form of payment of pension benefits for participants who are unmarried is a Straight Life Annuity that is paid starting on the participants' "Annuity Starting Date."*fn5 A straight life annuity is an annuity that would continue for the retiree's life only, with no entitlement to survivor benefits by his or her surviving spouse or other beneficiary upon participant's death. On the other hand, the normal form of pension benefits for married participants is a qualified 50% joint and survivor annuity ("QJSA" and/or "Contingent Annuitant Annuity"). A QJSA entitles a surviving spouse to receive 50% of the participant's annuity to be paid as a lifetime benefit after the participant's death. However, KRIP allows participants to elect to receive benefits, otherwise payable in the normal form, in an optional form, subject to certain plan limitations and within the election time period specified in the Plan. For instance, a married participant can elect not to take his benefits in the form of a QJSA provided that the participant's spouse as of the Annuity Starting Date consents in writing to such an election. KRIP also permits participants to elect Optional Contingent Annuitant Annuity benefits, wherein a participant may elect a benefit payment scheme different from the straight life annuity and the QJSA. All of the Plan provisions are explained in detail to plan participants by way of a summary plan description ("SPD").*fn6

B. Election of Benefits by Mr. Hall

Mr. Hall was a participant in the Plan during his employment at Kodak. In the early 1990s, Kodak offered a special retirement program entitled the Kodak Resource Redeployment and Retirement Plan ("KRRR Plan"). Mr. Hall retired from Kodak effective June 1, 1992 at the age of 56. At the time of his retirement, Mr. Hall was married to Marlene Hall. Instead of receiving his retirement benefits in the normal form of a QJSA, Mr. Hall elected to receive his retirement benefits in the form of a straight life annuity. As was mandated by KRIP and by ERISA, Mr. Hall submitted his election of this optional form of benefits in writing in the required form. The form submitted by Mr. Hall contained the notarized written consent of Marlene Hall.

Mr. Hall began receiving a straight life monthly annuity from the Plan on his Annuity Starting Date of June 1, 1992. In 1993, after his retirement from Kodak and after he elected to receive his benefits in the form of a straight life annuity, Mr. Hall divorced Marlene Hall and in late 1994 married plaintiff. Under the terms of the KRIP, up until January 1, 2006,*fn7 Mr. Hall could have revoked his prior election to receive a straight life annuity when he married plaintiff, or any time thereafter until January 1, 2006 and elected to receive the 50% joint and survivor annuity plaintiff now requests. However, he never revoked his prior election as to the form of his retirement benefits. Accordingly, he continued to receive his monthly annuity payments calculated on a straight life annuity basis until his death in 2006.

Plaintiff claims that on May 11, 1992, Mr. Hall and plaintiff attended a meeting with a representative from Kodak to discuss Mr. Hall's retirement/pension benefits. During the meeting, plaintiff states that Mr. Hall was not presented with any option for appointing plaintiff as an Optional Contingent Annuitant under § 11.07 of the Plan despite the fact the she was present at the meeting.*fn8 In addition, plaintiff states that Mr. Hall was only presented with two options for receipt of pension benefits under KRIP, namely, the QJSA and the Straight Life Annuity. Defendants dispute plaintiff's allegations and contend that Mr. Hall signed an acknowledgment that he had received a Fact Sheet prior to making his election. See Affidavit of Michael Pribanich*fn9 ("Pribanich Aff."), ¶ 11. The Fact Sheet described four payment options*fn10 available to Mr. Hall. See id. In addition, plaintiff claims that the election form provided to Mr. Hall during th May 1992 meeting only made the Contingent Annuitant Annuity benefit available "if married." Defendants dispute this statement but contend that it is immaterial. The election form refers to a fact sheet that Mr. Hall acknowledged receiving describing all four payment options. The election form printed out by Kodak only showed the form of payment elected by Mr. Hall, and because he was married, the legally required QJSA. See Pribanich Aff., ¶ 12.

Moreover, plaintiff claims that Mr. Hall was not presented with any election forms or documents explaining any other options for payment of pension benefits under the Plan. Defendants contend that this statement is immaterial given that the information at issue was provided to Mr. Hall prior to the meeting and Mr. Hall signed an acknowledgment that he had received it. See Pribanich Aff., ¶ 14. Plaintiff also asserts that at the May 1992 meeting, neither Mr. Hall nor plaintiff inquired as to the possibility of naming plaintiff as an Optional Contingent Annuitant since they assumed the two options identified on the election form were the only options available under the KRIP. Defendants dispute this and contend that plaintiff has no basis for attesting as to what Mr. Hall assumed or why he chose not to make certain inquiries at the meeting. See Pribanich Aff., ¶ 15.*fn11 Also, as to what plaintiff had assumed at that time and why, is immaterial since the election of benefits decision was not hers. Id. Further, Mr. Hall acknowledged that he was informed of and could have elected the Optional Joint and Survivor Annuity, but did not do so. See id., ¶ 22.

Plaintiff claims that she first learned of Mr. Hall's election rights, where he could have designated her as a contingent annuitant beneficiary under KRIP, when she received a letter from Kodak's Benefit's Center after Mr. Hall's death. Plaintiff asserts that neither Mr. Hall nor plaintiff were ever specifically notified of those rights when they were married or thereafter, and KRIP never provided additional or revised election forms or paperwork to inform Mr. Hall or plaintiff of this right. Defendants dispute plaintiff's assertions and state that the statements as they apply to plaintiff are immaterial. With respect to Mr. Hall, he was provided with numerous SPD's explaining that he could change his form of payment after he retired, and in fact he signed an acknowledgment in 1992 that he received a Fact Sheet explaining that he could change his form of payment after he retired. See Pribanich Aff., ¶ 10; Affidavit of Jan Peckham*fn12 ("Peckham Aff."), ΒΆΒΆ 4-7, Exs. A-D. Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Hall did not receive the SPD for 1991. Defendants dispute this statement but contend that in the end it is immaterial. The 1991 ...


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