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Weber v. AVX Pension Plan for Bargaining Unit and Hourly Employees

September 26, 2009

RICHARD P. WEBER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
AVX PENSION PLAN FOR BARGAINING UNIT AND HOURLY EMPLOYEES ("THE PLAN"); PENSION PLAN COMMITTEE, AS ADMINISTRATOR OF AVX PENSION PLAN FOR BARGAINING UNIT AND HOURLY EMPLOYEES ("THE ADMINISTRATOR"), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Judge

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Richard P. Weber commenced this action on September 19, 2007, alleging claims for the wrongful denial of benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), common law breach of contract, equitable estoppel, and reformation. Defendants moved for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 Plaintiff opposed Defendants' Motion.*fn2 Defendants subsequently moved to Strike the Affidavit of Catherine Atwell, filed in opposition to the summary judgment motion.

(Docket No. 20.*fn3 ) For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' Motion to Strike is granted in part and denied in part, and its Motion for Summary Judgment is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

The following material facts are undisputed and taken from the parties' declarations, exhibits and respective Local Rule 56.1 statements of facts.*fn4 Plaintiff Richard P. Weber was formerly employed by Olean Advanced Products ("Olean"), a division of AVX Corporation ("AVX"). (Defs. Statement, ¶ 1.*fn5 ) Plaintiff began his employment with Olean in 1996. (Weber Aff., Docket No. 17, Ex. A, ¶¶ 2-3.) He was born on August 27, 1946. (Id., ¶ 2.)

Through his employment with Olean, Plaintiff was a participant in the AVX Pension Plan for Bargaining Unit and Hourly Employees ("Plan"). (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 2.) AVX is the sponsor of the Plan. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 2.) The Plan constitutes an employee benefit plan as defined under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2). (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 2.)

Under the Plan, disabled employees may collect disability benefits. Section 11.B sets forth the procedure to collect benefits, and states:

Eligibility and Terms of Payment

Each Participant whose active service ceases on account of disability shall receive a disability benefit at Normal Retirement Date, or at the time he becomes eligible for early retirement, provided that he meets the following requirements on the date he became disabled:

1. He was actively employed by the Employer

2. He had accrued at lease 5 years of Credited Service. (Docket No. 10, Ex. C, Attachment A, p. 24; Defs.' Statement, ¶ 10.)

Section 2.14 of the Plan defines "Normal Retirement Date," as "the later of age sixty-five (65) or the fifth (5th) anniversary of the date an Employee commenced participation in the Plan." (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 11) (emphasis added). Additionally, section 5.A permits early retirement at the age of sixty-two (62), provided that the employee is fully vested in the Plan. (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 11.) Benefits payable to an employee who takes an early retirement, however, are reduced by five percent "for each year the Participant's Retirement Date precedes his Normal Retirement Date." (Defs.' Statement, ¶ 11.)

The Plan also establishes a Pension Plan Committee ("Committee"), which serves as the Plan's Administrator. Under the Plan, the Committee has the following responsibilities:

The Committee shall perform all such duties as are necessary to operate, administer, and manage the Plan in accordance with the terms thereof, including but not limited to the following:

1. To determine all questions relating to a Participant's coverage under the Plan.

3. To compute and authorize the payment of retirement income and other benefit payments to eligible Participants and beneficiaries.

4. To interpret and construe the provisions of the Plan. . . . (Pension Plan, Docket No. 10, Ex. C., Attach. A, pp. 27-28.)

The contents of the Plan are summarized in a Summary Plan Description ("SPD"). In relevant part, the SPD contains a section entitled "HOW YOUR BENEFITS ARE PAID." (SPD, Docket No. 10, Ex. C., Attach. B, p. 6.) This section states, in relevant part, that:

Your disability benefit will be calculated in the same manner as your normal retirement benefit based on your credited service on the date of your disability. To qualify for a Disability Benefit you must:

* Have five or more Years of Service, and

* Are totally and permanently disabled. (Id.)

Lastly, there is a section in the SPD entitled, "Time of Distributions." There, the SPD states that, "Generally, benefits begin on your Normal, Early or Postponed Retirement Date (whichever applies)." (Id., p. 7.) These are the only options for the commencement of distributions.

Plaintiff retired from Olean on October 1, 2006, after his doctor determined that he was totally and permanently disabled. (Weber Affidavit, ¶¶ 4,7.) On October 1, 2006, Plaintiff was 60 years old.

In a letter dated September 21, 2006, Michele Benjamin, Olean's Human Resources Assistant, informed Plaintiff that, as of October 1, 2006, Plaintiff would have accrued "a benefit with nonforfeitable 100% rights [sic] under the AVX Pension Plan. . . ." (Docket No. 10, Ex. A, Ex. B.) The letter further stated that Plaintiff would be entitled to receive his yearly pension in the ...


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