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Barbara Eckert Murray v. Ibew Local Union No. 98 Pension Plan

May 17, 2011

BARBARA ECKERT MURRAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
IBEW LOCAL UNION NO. 98 PENSION PLAN, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM

Currently pending before the Court is the Motion of Defendant IBEW Local Union No. 98 Pension Plan to Strike Exhibits and Allegations from Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The present case involves the claim of Plaintiff Barbara Eckert Murray, as the alleged surviving common law wife of Michael Murray, deceased, for a joint and survivor annuity from Defendant IBEW Local Union No. 98 Pension Plan (the "Plan"). Defendant denied benefits to Plaintiff on the ground that she had failed to sufficiently establish a common law marriage prior to January 1, 2005 (the day common law marriage was repealed in Pennsylvania), and Plaintiff, in turn, filed suit for benefits under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1055. On March 17, 2011, Defendant moved for summary judgment on the entirety of the Complaint, to which Plaintiff responded on March 28, 2011.

Following Plaintiff's filing of her Response, Defendant filed the present Motion to Strike Exhibits and Allegations from that Response. Defendant argues that Exhibits B, C, D, J, and K and paragraphs 1-8 and 9-10 of the Affidavit of Barbara Eckert Murray, all of which were attached to Plaintiff's Response, were not presented during the Plaintiff's administrative appeal of Defendant's claims decision to the Trustee of the Plan. Plaintiff responded to the Motion on April 16, 2011 and Defendant filed a Reply Brief on April 25, 2011.*fn1

II. DISCUSSION

It is well-established that on a motion for summary judgment in an ERISA case where the plaintiff claims that benefits were improperly denied, a reviewing court is generally limited to the facts known to the plan administrator at the time the decision was made. Kosiba v. Merck & Co., 384 F.3d 58, 67 n.5 (3d Cir. 2004). "Consequently, when, as here, a plaintiff alleges that a plan administrator, such as [IBEW], abused its discretion in deciding to terminate benefits, [the Court] generally limit[s] [its] review to the administrative record, that is, to the 'evidence that was before the administrator when [it] made the decision being reviewed.'" Sivalingam v. Unum Provident Corp., 735 F. Supp. 2d 189, 194 (E.D. Pa. 2010) (quoting Mitchell v. Eastman Kodak Co., 113 F.3d 433, 440 (3d Cir. 1997)); see also Johnson v. UMWA Health & Ret. Funds, 125 Fed. Appx. 400, 405 (3d Cir. 2005) ("This Court has made clear that the record for arbitrary and capricious review of ERISA benefits denial is the record made before the Plan administrator, which cannot be supplemented during the litigation.").*fn2

Defendant, in this case, asserts that several of the exhibits attached to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, filed on March 28, 2011, were not provided to Defendant prior to December 3, 2009 -- the date that the Defendant advised Plaintiff that her administrative appeal had been denied. Specifically, Defendant identifies the following problematic documents:

1. A lease dated 12/1/90, attached to Plaintiff's Response as Exhibit B;

2. Mr. Murray's 1996 and 1997 federal 1040 tax returns, and Mr. Murray's 1997 Pennsylvania 40EZ tax return, attached to Plaintiff's Response as Exhibit C;

3. Statements from the Philadelphia Telco Credit Union, PNC Bank, and TruMark Financial, attached to Plaintiff's Response as Exhibit D;

4. A Notice of Award dated April 18, 2010, and Potential Private Pension Benefit Information from the Social Security Administration, with letter from the Fund dated May 24, 2010, attached to Plaintiff's Response as Exhibit J;

5. United Labor Life Insurance Company Proof of Death form dated January 2, 2007, attached to Plaintiff's Response as Exhibit K.

In addition, Defendant notes that these same documents are referenced in paragraphs 2, 4, 6, and 9 of the Affidavit of Barbara Eckert Murray, attached to Plaintiff's Response as Exhibit A. Further, it claims that the Affidavit alleges facts in paragraphs 1-7 and 9-10, which were not provided to the Trustees before they ruled on the administrative appeal. Finally, statements 2-5 and 11-12 of Plaintiff's "Statement of Disputed Facts," constituting Part A of Plaintiff's Response, refers to the same alleged facts and/or documents that were purportedly not provided to the Trustees during the administrative appeal. Defendant now asserts that by attaching the Exhibits and making the allegations ...


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