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Ludwig v. Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity

September 18, 2009

DOREEN LUDWIG
v.
CARPENTERS HEALTH & WELFARE FUND OF PHILADELPHIA & VICINITY, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

The plaintiff, a former spouse of a vested participant in various benefits plans, claims that the defendants, the benefits plans themselves,*fn1 denied the plaintiff health coverage and her assigned share of her former husband's benefits and acted in bad faith during and after her divorce proceedings. After learning of the plaintiff's divorce several months after it became final, the plans notified the plaintiff that she was not entitled to continued medical coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act ("COBRA") because the plans were not given timely notice of the divorce. They further informed her that payments from her husband's pension and savings funds awarded to her in the divorce decree would be honored, but not at this time, because her husband had not yet qualified for a disbursement. The plaintiff sued the plans, alleging violations of various federal civil rights statutes and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). The defendants have moved for summary judgment. The Court will grant the defendants' motion.

I. Summary Judgment Record*fn2

The plaintiff is the former spouse of Chester Stepien. Mr. Stepien is a participant in the three plans here at issue (collectively, the "Funds"): the Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity (the "Welfare Fund"); the Carpenters Pension and Annuity Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity (the "Pension Fund"); and the Carpenters Savings Fund of Philadelphia & Vicinity (the "Savings Fund"). Each of the Funds is an "employee pension benefit plan" within the meaning of ERISA. Defs.' M. for Summ. J. ("Defs.' M.") 2. Mr. Stepien is a member of Local Union 1906 and has never been an employee of the Funds. Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 14; Declaration of Piotr Tonia ¶ 16 ("Tonia Decl."), attached as Ex. A to Defs.' M.

The plaintiff and Mr. Stepien were divorced on November 6, 2006, according to a divorce decree entered by the Honorable Scott D. Keller in the Court of Common Pleas, Berks County, Pennsylvania. Declaration of Mary Hackett Ex. MH-6 ("Hackett Decl.") attached as Ex. B to Defs.' M. The decree awarded the plaintiff both money and certain benefits, stated in relevant part as follows:

Said sum [of $132,505.22] shall be paid to Plaintiff within sixty [60] days of the entry of this Decree in the following manner:

a. $75,000.00 in cash; and

b. $11,500.00 from Defendant's Carpenter's (Dreyfus) savings fund; and

c. $45,730.22 from Defendant's Carpenter's Fund Annuity.

For the period that health insurance coverage is available to Plaintiff through Defendant's employment under the provisions of C.O.B.R.A, Plaintiff and Defendant shall equally share the costs of the premiums for such insurance.

At the end of the period of eligibility under C.O.B.R.A., Plaintiff shall be solely responsible for the cost of her own health insurance.

Id. at A2, C1-2.

On March 27, 2007, the plaintiff and Mr. Stepien appeared once again before Judge Keller for an unspecified reason. Pl.'s Compl. ¶¶ 33-34. At this proceeding, Mr. Stepien's attorney stated to the court that a union member, identified by the plaintiff in her complaint as "John Doe," told Mr. Stepien that the union would extend COBRA benefits to the plaintiff. Id. at 34.

The defendants were never a party to the divorce proceedings nor the proceedings in March 2007. Hackett Decl. ¶ 16. They did, however, in response to a letter of request from Mr. Stepien's attorney, submit during the divorce proceedings fund information that was used to value Mr. Stepien's assets.

Id. Although the plaintiff claims that the Funds were aware of the divorce proceedings between the plaintiff and Mr. Stepien from as early as March 2005, it is undisputed that the Funds were informed of the plaintiff's final divorce in April 2007, and they received written notice of the divorce in June 2007. Tonia Decl. ΒΆΒΆ 11-12; Deposition of Doreen Ludwig 11-13 ("Ludwig Dep."), attached as Ex. JS-1 to ...


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