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Preville v. Pepsico Hourly Emples. Ret. Plan

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 22, 2014

JAMES PREVILLE, Plaintiff,
v.
PEPSICO HOURLY EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT PLAN, Defendant

For James Preville, Plaintiff: Greg M. Liepshutz, PRO HAC VICE, Levine, Benjamin, Southfield, MI.

For Pepsico Hourly Employees Retirement Plan, Defendant: Marc Brett Schlesinger, Vedder Price P.C. (NY), New York, NY; Richard J Pautler, PRO HAC VICE, Thompson Coburn LLP, St. Louis, MO.

Page 409

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Paul G. Gardeph, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Janies Preville, a former employee of The Pepsi Bottling Group, filed this action against the Pepsico Hourly Employees Retirement Plan pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (" ERISA" ), as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., challenging Defendants' denial of his claim for early disability retirement benefits. Defendant contends that Plaintiff is not entitled to such benefits because his application was untimely.

The parties have cross-moved for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, Defendant's motion will be granted and Preville's motion will be denied.

BACKGROUND

I. PLAINTIFF'S DISABILITY CLAIMS

The following facts are undisputed.[1] Between 1979 and his retirement on June 12, 2008, Preville was employed by PepsiCo, Inc. or one of its subsidiaries. (Joint Stipulation of Facts (" Joint Stip." ) (Dkt. No. 24) ¶ Affidavit of Chad Ryan in Support of Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (" Ryan Aff" ) (Dkt. No. 26), Ex. A: Administrative Record (" AR" ) at 1) At the time of his retirement, Preville was a participant in the Pepsi Bottling Group Long-Term Disability Plan (the " LTD Plan" ). (Joint Stip. (Dkt. No. 24) ¶ 2) The plan administrator for the LTD Plan determined that Preville was totally disabled and therefore entitled to long-term disability benefits under the LTD plan beginning on January 13, 2009. (Id. ¶ 3)

In 2009, Preville was also a participant in the PBG Hourly Pension Plan (the " Pension Plan" ). (Id. ¶ 4) On June 17, 2009, Fidelity -- on behalf of the plan administrator

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for the Pension Plan -- sent a letter to Preville informing him that he might be eligible for an Immediate Disability pension benefit:

This letter is to inform you that according to our records you are currently on a Long Term Disability (LTD) leave of absence and may be eligible for specified pension benefits.
The PBG Hourly Pension Plan offers two options. If eligible, you may commence Immediate Disability benefits with a benefit commencement date retroactive to the first of the month following the date your LTD leave began.... If you are interested in finding out if you are eligible for an Immediate Disability benefit, you must contact PBG Savings and Retirement Center at Fidelity within 30 days of the date of this letter.
You may also have the option to defer your Disability pension benefits until you are at least early retirement eligible....
If you have any questions, call the PBG Savings and Retirement Center at Fidelity. . . .

( Ryan Aff. (Dkt. No. 26), Ex. A: AR at 10 (" June 17, 2009 Fidelity Ltr." ) (emphasis added)) Preville received Fidelity's letter on June 22, 2009, but did not contact Fidelity within thirty days. (Joint Stip. (Dkt. No. 24) ¶ ¶ 6, 9)

In July 2009, the Social Security Administration (" SSA" ) denied Preville's claim for disability benefits. (Id. ¶ 7) On July 23, 2010, however, the SSA reversed itself and approved Preville's claim retroactive to July 12, 2008. (Id. ¶ 9) In October 2011, Preville -- for the first time -- filed a claim for the Immediate Disability Pension. See id. ¶ 9; Ryan Aff. (Dkt. No. 26), Ex. A: AR at 15 (Oct. 6, 2011 Preville Ltr). The plan administrator denied the claim on December 20, 2011, and an administrative appeal and this Complaint followed. (Joint Stip. (Dkt. No. 24) ¶ ¶ 10-12)

II. RELEVANT PROVISIONS OF THE PENSION PLAN

Under the Pension Plan, an active eligible employee with ten years of credited service who becomes totally and permanently disabled may elect to receive an Immediate Disability Pension. Subsection 4.6(a) of the Pension Plan provides, in pertinent part:

(a) General Rule: A Participant who, while actively employed, becomes Totally and Permanently Disabled after the Participant completes ten or more Years of Service is eligible for a Disability Pension pursuant to subsection (b) or (c) of this section, as described in subsection (d) or, where applicable, as elected in subsection (e)....[2]

( Defendant's Local Rule 56.1 Statement of Uncontested Facts (" Def. R. 56.1 Stmt." ) (Dkt. No. 30) if 5 (quoting AR at 4))

Subsection 4.6(e) authorizes the Plan Administrator to extend the deadline by which some Pension Plan participants may elect an Immediate Disability Pension:

(e) Election Available to Certain Employees: Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection (d) [" Timing Rule" ], [certain qualifying] Employees ... can irrevocably elect to receive the Immediate Disability Pension described in subsection (b). This irrevocable election must be made in the six month period following the onset of the Participant's Total and

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Permanent Disability, unless the period for such an election is extended in accordance with such rules as the Plan ...

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