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Dolores Johnson v. Uja Federation of New York

March 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Korman, J.:


Dolores Johnson has been employed for various periods, beginning in 1977, by the Jewish Child Care Association, Inc. ("JCCA"), a participant in the Retirement Plan for Employees of United Jewish Appeal-Federation of Jewish Philanthropies of New York, Inc. and Affiliated Agencies and Institutions (the "Plan"). On November 12, 2010, Johnson filed a complaint against the UJA Federation of New York ("UJA") in New York State Supreme Court asserting that she is entitled to more benefits, as a participant, under the Plan sponsored by the defendant. Johnson's complaint seeks pension credits for her service during the following periods: (1) 1977 to 1981; (2) July 1987 to September 1989; (3) January 1994 to 1995; and (4) July 7, 1995 to June 30, 1996. See Compl. On December 7, 2010, asserting preemption by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), the defendant removed the case to this court. After completion of discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment.


A.Local Rule 56.1

Defendant argues that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be dismissed for failure to submit a statement of undisputed facts pursuant to Local Civil Rule 56.1. Def.'s Opp. Br. 2. Under this provision, a moving party must annex to its notice of motion for summary judgment, a "short and concise statement, in numbered paragraphs, of the material facts as to which the moving party contends there is no genuine issue to be tried. Failure to submit such a statement may constitute grounds for denial of the motion." Local Rule 56.1(a). Despite plaintiff's counsel's failure to abide by this rule, this defect is not fatal in this case because (1) plaintiff annexed an Affidavit of Facts to her summary judgment brief, (2) the defendant submitted a clear and concise Rule 56.1 statement with its motion for summary judgment,*fn1 (3) this case is not factually complicated, and (4) the facts are easily discerned from the administrative record, which is relatively short. Thus, in the interest of expedition and finality, I overlook this omission and rule on the motions after conducting an "assiduous review" of the record. See Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 73 (2d Cir. 2001) (holding that "while a court is not required to consider what the parties fail to point out in their Local Rule 56.1 statements, it may in its discretion opt to conduct an assiduous review of the record even where one of the parties has failed to file such a statement") (internal quotation omitted).

B.Undisputed Facts

1. The Plan

The Plan, which provides retirement benefits to eligible employees, was amended and restated effective October 1, 1989 to provide different plan provisions for non-union (Part A) and union employees (Part B). See Hirschhorn Decl. Ex. A, at D00273-74; Ex. B, at D00409. Under the October 1, 1989 amendment, non-union employees were no longer required to contribute to the Plan as a condition of participation and benefit service crediting. Id. Employees are eligible to participate in the Plan after one year of service. Id. at Ex. A § 3.1; Ex. B § 3.1. Participants' pension benefits are calculated based upon a formula consisting of years of credited service and final average earnings. Id. Ex. A § 5; Ex. B § 5.

The Board of Directors, which is responsible for administering the Plan, delegated to the Pension Subcommittee the responsibility for interpreting the Plan's provisions. Id. Ex. A §§ 14.1 & 14.2; Ex. B §§ 14.1 & 14.2. "The determination of the Pension Subcommittee, which shall be made by such Subcommittee in its sole discretion based upon the Plan documents, as to any question of interpretation shall be final, binding and conclusive on all interested persons including, but not by way of limitation, Employees, Participants, their Beneficiaries, heirs, distributees and personal representatives and any other person claiming an interest in the Plan." Id. at Ex. A § 14.2; Ex. B § 14.2.

The Plan establishes a two-level procedure to handle claims for benefits. Id. Ex. A at § 14.6; Ex. B § 14.6. All initial claims for benefits are submitted to an individual designated by the Pension Subcommittee (the "Initial Claims Reviewer") to review claims for benefits. Id. If the Initial Claims Reviewer partially or wholly denies a claim, he must provide written notice to the claimant, which includes "the specific reason(s) for the denial, specific reference to pertinent Plan provisions on which denial is based, a description of any additional material or information necessary for the claimant to perfect the claim and an explanation of why such material or information is necessary, and appropriate information as to the steps necessary to be taken if the claimant wishes to submit the claim for further review." Id.

The claimant may request the Pension Subcommittee review any denials by filing a written request within 60 days after receiving the Initial Claims Reviewer's written decision. Id. After holding any hearings necessary or conducting any independent investigation necessary to render its decision, the Pension Subcommittee provides a written decision, including "specific reasons" in the event of a denial. Id. The Plan specifies that all decisions -- of the Initial Claims Reviewer, when no review is requested, and of the Pension Subcommittee, when a review is requested, "shall be final, binding and conclusive on all interested persons as to participation and benefit eligibility, the Participant's amount of Compensation and as to any other matter of fact or interpretation relating to the Plan. All decisions on claims shall be made by the Pension Subcommittee in its sole discretion based on the Plan documents and shall be final and binding on all Participants, Beneficiaries and other persons and entities." Id.

2. Plaintiff's Employment History

Johnson's initial period of employment with the JCCA began in 1977 and ended in 1981. Hirschhorn Decl. Exs. G & H. The JCCA rehired Johnson in a non-union position on July 12, 1987. Id. Although there was initially a dispute on the exact date of her termination during this period of employment, the parties now agree that this period of employment terminated in January 1995. Id.; Hirschhorn Decl. Ex. N. Johnson resumed employment with the JCCA in July 1995 and remained until June 1996. Id. ...

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