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Rivera v. Sheet Metalworkers' National Pension Fund

September 21, 2010

RUBEN E. RIVERA, AS EXECUTOR FOR THE ESTATE OF RUBEN E. RIVERA, SR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
SHEET METALWORKERS' NATIONAL PENSION FUND, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

This is a claim for benefits under § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sheet Metal Workers' National Pension Fund ("the Fund") wrongfully withheld benefits from him upon the death of his father, Ruben Rivera, Sr., who was a participant in a pension plan administered by the Fund. Defendant moves for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, Defendant's motion for summary judgment is granted.

BACKGROUND

Ruben E. Rivera, Sr., Plaintiff's father, was employed in the Sheet Metal Industry from July 1968 to May 30, 2003 (Defendant's 56.1 Statement of Undisputed Facts ("Def. Facts") at 5)*fn1 . Defendant Sheet Metal Workers' National Pension Fund is a multiemployer benefit fund within the meaning of § 3 of ERISA. (Def. Facts at 2.) The Fund was established for the purpose of providing pension and related benefits to employees of employers in the Sheet Metal Industry who have collective bargaining agreements with affiliated unions of the Sheet Metal Workers' International Union. (Id.) The Fund is administered by a Board of Trustees composed of equal numbers of representatives from Union and management. (Id.)

Ruben Rivera, Sr., was a participant of the Pension Fund. On May 6, 2003, Rivera, Sr. sent a letter to the Fund requesting retirement under the plan. (Def. Facts at 5.) On May 7, 2003, the Fund sent Rivera, Sr. a letter acknowledging his request for retirement. (LeBlanc Decl. Ex. D.) The letter requested the following information from Rivera, Sr.: proof of age, his current spouse's date of birth, his last day of work, a beneficiary form and disability forms. (Id.) On June 6, 2003, a Pension Processor for the Fund, Rachel Hayden, sent Rivera, Sr. a letter informing him that he qualified for a pension. (LeBlanc Decl. Ex. E.) The letter enclosed the following forms: 1) Election of Pension Benefits; 2) Retirement Declaration -- Terms and Conditions; 3) Signature Page; 4) Federal Tax Withholding Election Form; 5) Direct Deposit Authorization; 6) Notarized Husband/Wife Rejection Form; 7) Voluntary Dues Deduction Card; 8) Information about the Pension Fund's Supplemental Medicare Insurance Subsidy. (Id.)

On or about June 14, 2003, Rivera, Sr. returned the Election of Pension Option Form, the Rejection Form for Husband and Wife Pension, and a Designation of Primary Beneficiaries Form. (LeBlanc Decl. Ex. F, G, H.)

The Election of Pension Option Form included the following instructions:

You must select a pension option before we can begin payments. Listed below are your pension options, stating both the terms and amount of each pension. In the event of your death, if any guarantees have not been met, the remaining payments would be payable to your designated beneficiary(ies). Please read and understand each option carefully, and decide which one is the best for you.

By signing below, you are indicating that you understand that you will initially receive a pension in the amount indicated below, and this amount may be adjusted as additional information is received. .

IMPORTANT! THE PENSION OPTION YOU SELECT CANNOT BE CHANGED ONCE WE ISSUE YOUR FIRST CHECK! (LeBlanc Decl. Ex. F.) (emphasis in original)

The form provided four benefit options. (Id.) The first, on page one, was "55/30 -- 60 Certain Payment Option," which provided a monthly payment to Rivera, Sr. of $3,870. (Id.) The second option for Rivera, Sr., on page two, was the "55/30 -- 120 Certain Payments Option," which provided a monthly payment of $3,755. (Id.) Rivera, Sr. drew a large "X" over the "55/30 -- 120 Certain Payments Option". (Id.) The third benefit option, on page two, for Rivera, Sr. was the "55/30 -- Level Income Option Until Age 62," which provided a monthly payment of $4,737, which dropped to $3,421 after the age of 62. (Id.) Rivera, Sr. signed his name immediately below this description, in the place provided for a signature, and wrote the date June 12, 2003, next to his signature. (Id.) The fourth benefit option for Rivera, Sr., on page two, was the "55/30 -- Level Income Option Until Age 65," which provided a monthly payment of $4,643. Rivera, Sr. drew a large "X" over the "55/30 -- Level Income Option Until Age 65." (Id.)

Rivera, Sr. only signed his name under one option, the "55/30 -- Level Income Option Until Age 62" option. (Id.) The Election of Pension Benefit Form provided the following description for the "55/30 -- Level Income Option Until Age 62":

I will receive the monthly benefit payment until I reach age 62 at which time I shall receive the monthly benefit payment listed after age 62. In the event of my death, there are no further benefits payable from the plan. *Completed Husband/Wife Rejection Form Required. (Id.)

Rivera, Sr. signed his name immediately below this description in the space provided. (Id.)

Rivera, Sr. also returned a "Rejection Form for Husband and Wife Pension." (LeBlanc Decl. Ex. G.) On that form, Rivera checked a box next to the statement "I hereby swear that I am not legally married as of my effective date of pension." (Id.) Next to the statement "I hereby state that I designate as my Primary Beneficiary," Rivera, Sr. wrote, "See attached list of (4) primary beneficiaries." (Id.) At the bottom of the "Rejection Form for Husband and Wife Pension," Rivera, Sr. signed his name and wrote the date June 14, 2003. (Id.) Rivera, Sr.'s signature was notarized that same day by Notary Public of the State of New York Anne C. Mingacci. (Id.)

Rivera, Sr. also returned a filled out "Designation of Primary Beneficiaries." (LeBlanc Decl. Ex. H.) On this form, Rivera, Sr. listed Minette Drew, Desiree Rivera, Ruben E. Rivera, Jr., and Christopher M. Rivera. (Id.) Rivera, Sr. signed the "Designation of Primary Beneficiaries," and his signature was witnessed by Evangelia Vandoulakis and notarized by the Notary Public of the State of New York Anne C. Mingacci. (Id.)

On June 24, 2003, the Fund sent Rivera, Sr. a check in the amount of $8,542. (Def. Facts at 9.) This amount represented the net amount, after taxes, of $9,474, which was equal to two months of pension payments under the "55/30 -- Level Income Option Until Age 62" form of benefit, which provided monthly payments in the amount of $4,737. (Id.) The Fund paid Rivera, Sr. a gross pension benefit of $4,737 for the months of August, September, ...


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