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JORDAN v. FEDERAL EXPRESS CORP.

January 18, 1996

CAPT. JOHN PAUL JORDAN, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION, Administrator, FIXED PENSION PLAN FOR SEABOARD WORLD AIRLINE PILOTS, FLYING TIGER LINE, INC. VARIABLE ANNUITY PENSION PLAN FOR PILOTS, FEDERAL EXPRESS CORPORATION EMPLOYEES' PENSION PLAN, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LEE

 January 18, 1996

 Before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and for Injunctive, Declaratory and Monetary Relief (Document No. 13) and Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 16). The parties have submitted comprehensive memoranda, affidavits, and extensive documentary material in support of their motions.

 Background

 Capt. John Paul Jordan, plaintiff, was employed continuously as an airline pilot from May 1965 until his disability retirement in 1989. His career began with Seaboard World Airlines, Inc. ("Seaboard") where, in the 1960s, he became a participant in its Fixed Pension Plan for Seaboard World Airline Pilots (the "Seaboard Plan"), a defendant. Following Seaboard's acquisition by and merger with Flying Tiger Line, Inc. ("Flying Tiger"), plaintiff also became a participant in the Flying Tiger Line, Inc. Variable Annuity Pension Plan for Pilots ("Flying Tiger Plan"), also a defendant. *fn1"

 Sometime after July 1989, defendant Federal Express Corporation ("Fed Ex") acquired Flying Tiger, and the defendant Federal Express Corporation Employees' Pension Plan ("Fed Ex Plan") became the administrator for both the Seaboard Plan (which merged into the Fed Ex Plan) and the Flying Tiger Plan (which remained a separate and distinct plan, although administered by the Fed Ex Plan).

 In 1988, Capt. Jordan was on long-term sick leave from Flying Tiger which informed him by letter of October 12, 1988, that after he exhausted his sick leave and vacation pay, he "may be eligible to go on disability retirement." Letter of Nadine Harding, Manager Crew Administration, to Capt. Jordan, October 12, 1988, Exhibit A, Statement of Material Facts as to Which Plaintiff Contends There is No Genuine Issue (Document No. 15). By said letter, Flying Tiger also informed plaintiff that to become eligible for disability retirement benefits, he would have to document "a disqualifying medical condition which precludes the issuance of an FAA medical certificate" and outlined the process for applying for disability retirement, including that plaintiff submit a written request at least 60 days prior to his last "date on the payroll." Id. Benefits would "commence the first day of the month following satisfaction of the three items listed above [i.e., written, signed request; documentation from plaintiff's FAA medical examiner; and supporting medical documentation] and the exhaustion of sick leave and vacation." Id.

 On March 14, 1989, plaintiff sent his "written request to activate the process of disability retirement approximately (60) days before the expiration of my long term sick leave." Id., Exhibit B, Plaintiff's letter to Gloria Dickey, Employee Benefits Office, March 14, 1989. Plaintiff's letter enclosed an F.A.A. letter of a "pending status subject to additional review" which, however, was not an official FAA medical disqualification, and he requested "initiation of the disability retirement process in the event that I am subsequently denied a medical certificate. I will keep you informed of this matter." Id. On June 3, 1989, plaintiff sent the Flying Tiger Plan a letter from his "FAA medical examiner . . . as per the specifications of item (2) of [Ms. Harding's] letter of October 12, 1988" and a letter from his attending physician addressing item (3). Defendants' Supplemental Appendix (Document No. 23), App. No. 24, Plaintiff's letter to Ms. Harding, June 3, 1989. On June 5, 1989, the Flying Tiger Plan responded to Capt. Jordan's request for "Disability Retirement effective June 1, 1989." Id., Exhibit C, letter of Maria Baduria, Benefits Administrator, June 5, 1989. Said letter attached, inter alia, an Option Election Form and a Spousal Consent Form, and provided certain information to plaintiff regarding his options, including the following: Monthly Benefit Payable from the Fixed and Variable Plans Straight Life Option $ 6,769.29 $ 75.26 Joint and Survivor 50% $ 6,109.08 $ 71.55 Joint and Survivor 100% $ 5,576.79 $ 63.12

 Id.

 Additionally, the Flying Tiger Plan advised plaintiff that if he opted for the Straight Life Option payable to him for his life only, he must select that option on the form provided and he and his wife, Linda E. Jordan, would have to execute and return the Spousal Consent Form along with proofs of age. Ms. Baduria's letter further stated that under the provisions of the Flying Tiger Plan, "Disability Retirement would commence the first day of the month following or coincident with approval of disability, exhaustion of all sick pay and vacation, receipt of your FAA Letter of Denial and your request for disability benefits." Id. Plaintiff also was given a telephone number to contact if he had any questions. Id.

 Plaintiff returned the "necessary paperwork" by letter dated July 26, 1989, attaching his election of options and spousal consent forms executed on July 24, 1989, selecting the "Joint and Survivor 50% Option" (the "Option"). Id., Exhibit D, Plaintiff's letter to Ms. Harding. On August 22, 1989, the Fed Ex Plan approved plaintiff's disability retirement and directed its insurance carrier to commence payments immediately, retroactive to June 1, 1989. Id., Exhibit E, letter of Ms. Baduria to Union Mutual Life Insurance Company, August 22, 1989. Plaintiff received his first disability retirement check for June, July and August 1989, from the insurance company by letter of September 5, 1989. Id., Exhibit F, letter of Ms. Wendy Berry to plaintiff, September 5, 1989.

 Section 7.3 of the Seaboard Plan and Section 6.3 of the Flying Tiger Plan each provide: "Subsequent to a Member's Retirement Date the election of this Option [i.e., the Joint and Survivor Option] cannot be rescinded nor can the designation of the joint annuitant be changed." Appendix to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Document No. 18), App. No. 1 (Seaboard Plan) and App. No. 22 (Flying Tiger Plan).

 The parties do not dispute that, prior to plaintiff's election designation, the Pension Plans' administrators did not specifically inform plaintiff or his spouse that his election of the Option was irrevocable or that his designation of the joint annuitant could not be changed thereafter. Moreover, defendants do not seriously dispute plaintiff's assertion that, at no time after the 1980 Flying Tiger acquisition of Seaboard and prior to his election of the Option and commencement of disability benefits, had the Pension Plans distributed to plaintiff any summary plan description or booklet which mentioned the irrevocability of election of options, nor do the parties dispute that plaintiff made no specific request for information regarding the revocability or irrevocability of his election designation.

 Plaintiff and Linda Jordan separated in late 1990 and divorced on October 30, 1991. Patricia A. Jordan (who is older than Linda and, thus, presumably no greater a "drain" on the pension funds, actuarially speaking) and plaintiff were wed on December 17, 1991. Under the terms of their property settlement, Linda Jordan agreed to relinquish all claims to plaintiff's retirement benefits under his retirement plans, including the joint and survivor annuity. (The property settlement has not been made part of the record.)

 In January 1992, Capt. Jordan notified the Fed Ex Plan to substitute Patricia A. Jordan for Linda E. Jordan as his joint annuitant, which request was denied, but he was advised he could submit a Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO") certified by the state court if he wished to extinguish Linda Jordan's interest in the joint and survivor annuity. Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, Ex. H, letter of Loren E. Jensen, Fed Ex Plan Manager, February 3, 1992.

 Defendants submit that representatives of the Pension Plans had informed plaintiff and his domestic relations attorney following his retirement but before he executed the QDRO, that his election of options and designation of beneficiaries was irrevocable and that perhaps it would be wise to leave Linda Jordan intact as his joint annuitant and negotiate with her for some other consideration viz a viz the property settlement. Affidavit of Shellie Weaver, Defendants' App. No. 9; Affidavit of Attorney David J. Kohloff, Defendants' App. No. 12. Plaintiff disputes the factual basis for and legal relevancy of these assertions.

 On May 20, 1993, the Federal Express Corporation Qualified Employee Benefits Committee (the "Committee"), the fiduciary for the Fed Ex Plan, rejected plaintiff's appeal and his contention that the failure of the predecessor Pension Plans to timely notify him of the irrevocability of his election of the Option and designation of joint annuitant rendered said election/designation voidable; on April 20, 1994, the Committee rejected plaintiff's request for reconsideration, but reiterated its offer to reinstate Linda Jordan as his joint annuitant, an offer which still stands. See Defendants' Memorandum in Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (Document no. 22), at 5. ("That option [to reinstate Linda Jordan as joint annuitant] remains available to Jordan today.").

 Plaintiff brought this action against Fed Ex, the Fed Ex Plan, the Seaboard Plan and the Flying Tiger Plan, seeking monetary damages and equitable relief under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. Plaintiff's first amended complaint asserts the following claims: Count I - under Section 205(c)(3) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1055(c)(3), Section 417(a)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, and implementing Treasury Regulations, the fiduciaries for the Flying Tiger Plan were required to give plaintiff written notification at least 90 days "prior to the commencement of benefits" of the terms and conditions of the joint and survivor annuity option, and their failure to do so 90 days before June 1, 1989, the date plaintiff argues his benefits commenced, rendered his election of that Option and designation of Linda E. Jordan as joint annuitant "revocable." First Amended Complaint, PP 12-13; Count II - the Pension Plans were required by ERISA and applicable regulations to notify plan participants and their beneficiaries, prior to their elections of options, that "the terms of the Pension Plans barred any post-retirement change in that election, including the designation of his joint annuitant, even in the event of a divorce decree/Qualified Domestic Relations Order," and that the failure of the Pension Plans to do so rendered his election/designation "revocable." First Amended Complaint, PP 14-16; Count III - the failure of the Pension Plans to provide plaintiff with a copy of any Summary Plan Description, as required by Section 104(b)(1) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(1), at any time before he made his election of options on July 24, 1989, rendered his election/designation "revocable." First Amended Complaint, PP 17-19; Count IV - by continuing to pay plaintiff the pension benefits pursuant to the Option he selected while extinguishing the rights of his joint annuitant (Linda) without permitting substitution of Patricia as the new joint annuitant, "the Pension Plans are unjustly enriching themselves at his expense." First Amended Complaint, PP 20-21.

 Plaintiff requests this Court direct defendants to install Patricia A. Jordan as his joint annuitant or, alternatively, increase his monthly pension benefits in the amount of $ 663.92 (the difference between monthly benefits under the Straight Life and Joint and Survivor 50% Options), direct defendants to reimburse him at the rate of $ 663.92 per month from May 8, 1991, order defendants to pay plaintiff's costs and attorneys' fees, and award such other relief as this Court deems appropriate.

 Summary Judgment Standards

 Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

 
[Summary Judgment] shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that ...

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