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Robbins v. New York State Electric and Gas Corp.

March 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Glenn T. Suddaby, United States District Judge


Currently before the Court in this employee benefits action filed by Lee Robbins ("Plaintiff") is a second motion for summary judgment filed by New York State Electric and Gas Corporation ("Defendant" or "NYSEG"). (Dkt. No. 34.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion is granted and Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed.


A. Plaintiff's Claims

Generally, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, after his employment was terminated on April 7, 2004, Defendant violated his rights, pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") and New York State Labor Law, by (1) "refus[ing] and or fail[ing] to provide [P]laintiff with a summary plan description," detailing information "regarding [Plaintiff's] retirement benefits, health insurance, or any information regarding the [employee benefit] plan," (2) failing "to provide health insurance to [P]laintiff upon his departure from employment from NYSEG," in violation of the company's employee benefits plan, (3) "fail[ing] to provide the notice [of termination]" within five days of the termination of his employment relationship with NYSEG, (4) "fail[ing] and refus[ing] to provide Plaintiff with notification of his right to continue [his medical and health insurance] coverage, and (5) "breach[ing] its [fiduciary] duties owed to Plaintiff... by failing to (a) pay insurance premiums on behalf of Plaintiff, or provide medical coverage as required by the Plan, (b) advise Plaintiff at the time of his discharge that it was not going to pay his insurance premiums or provide him with medical coverage, and (c) determine whether Plaintiff would have the ability to obtain continued health insurance coverage in accordance with the employee benefits plan upon his termination from NYSEG.*fn1 (See generally Dkt. No. 1 [Plf.'s Compl.].) Familiarity with the factual allegations supporting these claims in Plaintiff's Complaint is assumed in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for review by the parties. (Id.)

B. Material Facts

The following material facts are undisputed by the parties. (Compare Dkt. No. 34, Attachment 25 [Def.'s Rule 7.1 Statement] with Dkt. No. 36 [Plf.'s Rule 7.1 Response].)

Defendant is a public utility company that supplies electricity and natural gas in communities across upstate New York. Defendant's production and clerical employees are represented by the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union ("Union"). During the time in question, Plaintiff was a member of the Union.

Defendant's summary plan description for bargaining unit employees is the "Hourly Employees Benefits Handbook" (the "Handbook").*fn2 At the time the current action ensued, Plaintiff was (and apparently still is) in possession of the 2002 version of the Handbook.*fn3

Information about Defendant's cash balance benefit plan is set forth in pages 122 to 127 of the Handbook. More specifically, on page 125, the Handbook states "that the employee must file for benefits in writing at least 90 days before the date the employee wants to start receiving pension benefits."

In late November or early December 2003, Plaintiff made a verbal request for his pension calculation to his Union steward Jim Clynes. In response, Mr. Clynes gave Plaintiff an "800" number to call. However, Plaintiff never called that number.*fn4

Sometime in 2003, Plaintiff spoke to someone in Human Resources about the calculation of his benefits. However, Plaintiff never put his request for a calculation in writing in 2003.*fn5

On April 7, 2004, Plaintiff, who was employed by Defendant for nearly thirty-five (35) years, was terminated. In May of 2004, Plaintiff received a letter dated May 5, 2004, from Jay Shapiro, which confirmed his termination of employment with Defendant. Enclosed in the letter was a Termination Information Booklet for Union employees. The termination booklet contained information about healthcare coverage and the pension plan.*fn6

Around the same time, Plaintiff received another letter from Jay Shapiro, dated May 5, 2004, regarding his retirement benefits. This letter provided additional information about the cash balance option and the annuity options available to Plaintiff, and provided Plaintiff with the estimated dollar amounts for each option.*fn7 More specifically, the enrollment form for the retirement benefit plan showed the figure for Plaintiff for a straight life annuity of $1,168.92 per month, the figure for a ten-year period, certain and continuous annuity, of $1,143.20 per month, and the figure for a lump sum benefit payment at that time (May 2004) of $253,840.18.*fn8

The letter also contained the retirement benefit election form. Plaintiff reviewed pages 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the election form, signed the form on page 5, and dated his signature August 5, 2004. Plaintiff submitted the form to Defendant in mid-September of 2004. Under paragraph A, entitled "retirement benefit choice," Plaintiff drew a box around "cash balance" option and initialed that box.*fn9

Plaintiff elected to roll over 100% of his lump sum distribution into an IRA account. Plaintiff understood that, if he took the cash balance and was reinstated,*fn10 he would have to pay it back.

On June 2, 2004, Plaintiff signed his COBRA election forms,*fn11 which he received sometime after his termination. Plaintiff received COBRA medical coverage effective as of the date of his termination.

In late August 2004, Jay Shapiro called Plaintiff and said "he did not think a man of [his] age would want to take the cash balance," and therefore offered Plaintiff the option of retiring as of that date in August or early ...

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