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Hess v. Wojcik-Hess

January 26, 2010

ERIC R. HESS, AS EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF ROBERT C. HESS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KAREN J. WOJCIK-HESS AND GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Eric R. Hess brought this action as executor of the estate of Robert C. Hess alleging breach of contract and unjust enrichment by defendant Karen J. Wojcik-Hess, and seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against both Karen and defendant General Electric Co. (GE).*fn1 (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1:2.) Karen brought a counterclaim against Eric, alleging that the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)*fn2 preempts Eric's state-law claims. (Dkt. No. 23.) Karen also filed a claim against GE to recover the remaining funds held by GE for Robert. (Id.) Pending are (1) Karen's motion to dismiss Eric's claims; (2) Karen's motion for summary judgment on her claim against GE; (3) Karen's motion for summary judgment on her counterclaim against Eric; and (4) Eric's cross-motion for summary judgment on his state-law claims. For the reasons that follow, Karen's motions for summary judgment are granted insofar as Karen is entitled to the proceeds contained in Robert's savings and pension accounts administered by GE. Karen's motion to dismiss Eric's remaining state-law claims is denied. Consequently, the court denies Eric's cross-motion for summary judgment and remands his remaining state-law claims to the New York State Supreme Court, Schenectady County.

II. Background

Defendant Karen Wojcik-Hess and decedent Robert Hess married on October 9, 1993. (See Pl. Ex. K, Karen Dep. at 4, Dkt. No. 38:12.) In September 2003, Karen and Robert permanently separated. (See id. at 39.) On June 16, 2006, Robert and Karen executed a separation agreement, which was notarized and filed with the Schenectady County Clerk's Office on June 22, 2006. (See Pl. Ex. J, Dkt. No. 38:11.)

Under the agreement, Karen acknowledged Robert's retirement savings and pension under a plan administered by GE, and "waive[d] any claim or interest which [she] may have in [Robert's] retirement savings and pension plan." (Id. at 8.) Like Robert, Karen accepted the agreement "in full settlement and satisfaction of any and all claims and rights against [Robert], his estate, his heirs or personal representatives" under the laws of New York or any other jurisdiction. (See id. at 10-11.) This release included, among other things, claims to "any and all pension, profit sharing, stock options, Keogh, IRA accounts, and testamentary substitutes... or any same or similar item...."*fn3 (Id.) Karen received $40,000.00 as "her share of the equitable distribution of the parties marital assets." (Id. at 8; see also Pl. Ex. K, Karen Dep. at 93, Dkt. No. 38:12.) Additionally, Robert promised to maintain Karen on his GE medical insurance plan until they divorced, and pursuant to that promise, Robert agreed not to file for divorce for three and one-half years after executing the separation agreement. (See Pl. Ex. J at 5, Dkt. No. 38:11.) To preserve the agreement's future effect, the parties agreed to "execute and deliver any and all further instruments and assurances and perform any acts that the other party may reasonabl[y] request...." (Id. at 15.)

Robert died on July 23, 2007. (See Pl. Ex. M, Dkt. No. 38:14.) During his employment with GE, and as of December 2008, Robert accrued approximately $176,140.74 in a GE Savings and Security Program Account (S&SP) and $247,959.06 in a GE Personal Pension Account (PPA). (See Pl. Ex. L., Dkt. No. 38:13.) In September 2007, GE disbursed $193,731.83 of the PPA to Karen. (See id.; see also GE Answer ¶ 11, Dkt. No. 11; Karen Answer ¶ 11, Dkt. No. 15.)

On July 11, 2008, plaintiff Eric Hess, as executor of Robert's Estate,*fn4 brought an action in New York State Supreme Court, Schenectady County, alleging that Karen breached the July 16, 2006 separation agreement with Robert by receiving payments from Robert's GE PPA and failing to surrender any claims to the funds contained in Robert's GE S&SP. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1:2.) Eric also alleged that by retaining the pension payments Karen was unjustly enriched. (See id.) In conjunction, Eric sought to enjoin and restrain GE from transferring to Karen any remaining proceeds contained in Robert's GE savings and pension accounts, and to enjoin and restrain Karen from transferring or disposing of the proceeds already received from Robert's GE PPA. (See id.) Additionally, Eric sought attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to Article XIV of the separation agreement, which entitles either party to attorneys' fees upon bringing a successful action for enforcement of the agreement. (See id.; see also Pl. Ex. J at 8, Dkt. No. 38:11.)

On July 22, 2008, GE removed the action to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York based on federal question jurisdiction, alleging that the action is governed by ERISA.*fn5 (Dkt. No. 1.) Following removal, Karen counterclaimed Eric, contending that ERISA controls and therefore preempts Eric's claims for breach of contract and unjust enrichment. (Dkt. No. 23.) Karen additionally filed a counterclaim against GE, seeking disbursement of all funds remaining in Robert's GE savings and pension accounts. (Id.)

On May 29, 2009, Karen moved to dismiss Eric's claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Dkt. No. 33.) Karen also moved for summary judgment on her counterclaims against Eric and GE. (See id.) In response, Eric filed a cross-motion for summary judgment on his state-law claims. (Dkt. No. 37.)

III. Standards of Review

The standards for dismissal pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) and for summary judgment under FED. R. CIV. P. 56 are well established, and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standards, the court refers the parties to its previous opinions in Dixon v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, No. 1:08-CV-502, 2008 WL 4238708, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 8, 2008) (Rule 12(b)(6)); and Bain v. Town of Argyle,499 F. Supp.2d 192, 194-95 (N.D.N.Y. 2007) (Rule 56).

IV. ...


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