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Christian v. Honeywell Retirement Benefit Plan

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 19, 2013

LYNN K. CHRISTIAN Plaintiff,
v.
HONEYWELL RETIREMENT BENEFIT PLAN, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.

INTRODUCTION

On July 17, 2013, Lynn K. Christian (Plaintiff) filed a declaratory judgment action against Honeywell Retirement Benefit Plan (Defendant) pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) ("ERISA"), seeking survivor retirement benefits under the plan ("Plan") of her late husband, Howard F. Christian. [ECF 1].

On September 19, 2013, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (Rule) 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [ECF 6]. In the motion to dismiss, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claim is time-barred. Thereafter, the parties filed numerous responses and replies. [ECF 7, 8, 9, and 10].

For the reasons set forth herein, Defendant's motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

When considering Defendant's motion to dismiss, the related pleading and responses, this Court accepts as true all facts alleged in Plaintiff's complaint, which are summarized as follows:[1]

Plaintiff and Mr. Christian were married at the time of his death. Mr. Christian had been employed at Honeywell International Inc., or an affiliated company, from August 1, 1956, until his retirement on December 31, 1986, at the age of 56. During his employment, Mr. Christian had been a participant in the company's employment pension benefit plan and had listed Plaintiff as the joint annuitant/beneficiary in the Application for Benefits and the primary beneficiary in the Application for Continuance of Honeywell Group Medical and Life Insurance Coverage.
Upon retirement, the couple moved to Florida and Mr. Christian began receiving monthly retirement benefits from Defendant starting January 1987, which were deposited directly into his bank account in Florida. Mr. Christian died on June 26, 2004. Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, Mr. Christian's retirement benefit was paid in the form of a single life annuity with level income with Social Security starting at age 65 pursuant to a signed "Waiver of Joint and Surviving Spouse Annuity" ("Waiver") form.[2] This Waiver purportedly was signed by Plaintiff at the time of Mr. Christian's retirement and notarized on December 1, 1986, in Pennsylvania by Mr. Christian's secretary.
On July 2, 2004, Plaintiff contacted the Plan's administrator to report her husband's death and to inquire about any survivor's benefits and life insurance. Following numerous conversations with the Plan's representative, Plaintiff was advised that her husband's retirement benefits ceased upon his death, and that no future payments would be made. She was also advised that Defendant would seek reimbursement of a benefit payment erroneously issued for the month of July 2004.
Eight years later, in June 2012, Plaintiff discovered a copy of the signed Waiver in a file containing her late husband's papers and became aware, for the first time, of the existence of the Waiver and her consent to waive the right to a joint and survivor annuity. Plaintiff disputes that she consented to the Waiver, and argues that she could not have been present when her late husband's secretary notarized the document on December 1, 1986, because she was in Florida, in the process of purchasing real estate. Plaintiff further asserts that she was unaware that in the absence of her expressed consent, her husband's retirement benefit should have continued payable as a joint and survivor annuity. She claims that the Plan's representative never advised her of the existence of the signed Waiver.
In July 2012, Plaintiff submitted a claim for joint and survivor annuity, pursuant to the Plan's claims procedures. The claim was denied on October 18, 2012, and on November 7, 2012, Plaintiff administratively appealed the decision. On January 22, 2013, the decision was confirmed.
On July 17, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant action ...

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