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Zangara v. International Painters and Allied Trades Industry Pension Fund

March 31, 2010

RALPH S. ZANGARA, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
INTERNATIONAL PAINTERS AND ALLIED TRADES INDUSTRY PENSION FUND, DEFENDANT.



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

DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Ralph S. Zangara, Sr. commenced this action by filing a complaint alleging violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., and the Full Faith and Credit Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738. Presently before this Court are the parties' Motions for Summary Judgment.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is denied and Defendant's motion is granted.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

Plaintiff is a participant in the International Painters and Allied Trades Industry Pension Fund ("Fund"), which is an employee pension benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA. (Complaint, Docket No. 1, ¶¶ 2, 3.) On July 26, 1995, Plaintiff submitted an application to the Fund for his pension benefits. (Meyers Declaration, Docket No. 24, ¶ 5.) At that time, Plaintiff was fully vested in his pension. (Defendant's Rule 56 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Defendant's Statement"), Docket No. 16, ¶ 1.) In his application for benefits, Plaintiff indicated that his date of retirement would be September 1, 1995, and he elected to receive his pension benefits in the form of a "Husband-and-Wife Pension," with his spouse as his designated beneficiary. (Defendant's Amended Exhibit B, Docket No. 24, pp. 6-7 of 131.)*fn2

The Fund provided Plaintiff with a Summary Plan Description ("SPD") upon his application for retirement, which described the benefit payment options available, including the Husband-and-Wife Pension. (Stepien Response Affirmation, Docket No. 22, ¶ 3.) On page 11 of the SPD, each plan participant is notified that if he or she is married at the time of retirement, pension benefits will automatically be payable in the form of a 50% Husband-and-Wife Pension, unless the participant and his or her spouse reject that option in a notarized writing. (Stepien Resp. Affirm., Ex. A, p. 20 of 75.) The SPD describes the Husband-and-Wife Pension as providing a reduced monthly benefit for the lifetime of the plan participant; after the death of the participant, the participant's surviving spouse will receive a monthly benefit equal to 50% of the amount that the participant had been receiving. (Id.) The SPD further explains that the reason for the participant's reduced monthly benefit is to protect the participant's surviving spouse for his or her lifetime. (Id.)

On page 12 of the SPD, the plan participant is informed that once he or she begins receiving payments under the Husband-and-Wife Pension option, the reduced benefits he or she is receiving will not be increased in the event of a divorce. (Id. at p. 21 of 75.) The surviving spouse (i.e., the ex-spouse) would "still receive the spousal benefits, subject to any Qualified Domestic Relations Orders which create rights to a pension for a former spouse or other payee." (Id.)

The plan participant is notified again on page 12 that "the Husband-and-Wife Pension will take effect automatically unless you and your spouse reject it in writing and you have the rejection and consent notarized." (Id.) The SPD states that the participant and his or her spouse may jointly submit such rejection at any time within the 90-day period before the pension effective date. (Id.) The SPD also states that in order for the rejection to be valid, the waiver and consent must also be filed after the participant has received a detailed explanation of the payment options available. (Id.) The SPD informs the plan participant on page 12 that spousal consent for rejection of the Husband-and-Wife Pension option is not needed if the participant can provide the plan Trustees with satisfactory evidence that: (1) the participant has no spouse; (2) the participant's spouse cannot be located; (3) the participant and his or her spouse are legally separated; or (4) the participant has been abandoned by his or her spouse. (Id.)

Page 16 of the SPD identifies the "pension effective date," for purposes of rejection of the Husband-and-Wife Pension, as the first day of the first month following the later of:

(1) the date on which the participant's application is received, provided that the participant has satisfied all of the eligibility requirements of the plan and terminated his or her employment; or (2) 30 days after the participant has received information regarding the available benefit options, provided that his or her employment has been terminated. (Id. at p. 25 of 75.)

As stated in the introductory page of the SPD, the SPD is only a summary. (Id. at p. 7 of 75.) The pension plan itself is governed by the pension plan document (the "Plan"). (Id. at p. 7 of 75.) In the event of a conflict between the SPD and the Plan, the Plan prevails. (Id.)

The Plan largely mirrors the SPD concerning the Husband-and-Wife Pension option, including the waiver procedures. For instance, section 5.02(c) of the Plan provides that after pension payments begin, a Husband-and-Wife Pension may not be revoked nor the participant's benefits increased by reason of a subsequent divorce. (Id. at p. 53 of 75.) Section 5.02(d)(1) provides that the Husband-and-Wife Pension may only be waived if the Plan participant files a written waiver, and the participant's spouse provides written and notarized consent to the waiver. (Id.) Section 5.02(d)(2)(D) provides that a participant who is abandoned by his or her spouse may submit a waiver without consent from the spouse, but only where such abandonment is confirmed by a court order. (Id.)

More importantly, Section 5.02(d)(3) reaffirms the requirement that, in order for a waiver of the Husband-and-Wife Pension to be timely, two conditions must be fulfilled: (1) the request for waiver and any required consent must be filed with the Trustees within the 90-day period before the Annuity Starting Date; and (2) the waiver, and any required consent, must be filed after the participant's receipt of a detailed explanation of the available benefit payment options and their financial impact, which is to be provided no more than 90 days nor fewer than 30 days prior to the Annuity Starting Date. (Id.) Section 1.03(a) defines the Annuity Starting Date as the first day of the first calendar month starting after the participant has fulfilled all of the conditions for entitlement to benefits and after the later of: (1) submission by the participant of a completed application for benefits; or (2) 30 days after the participant is advised of the available benefit payment options. (Id. at p. 36 of 75.)

Plaintiff confirmed his choice of the Husband-and-Wife Pension in an election form dated September 29, 1995. (Id. at p. 8 of 131.) The form indicated that the reduced monthly payment amount that Plaintiff would receive for his life would be ...


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