that the plaintiff would be eligible for the lump sum payment option after the specified retirement age. Defendant honored the previous administrator's representations, and they gave the plaintiff a lump sum payout on January 10, 1991.
It appears that the plaintiff was not convinced that he received all of the money to which he was entitled, both in the lump sum payment and in his monthly payments under the other pension plans. Plaintiff wrote to defendant on three occasions to request information regarding the pensions and his participation in them.
Plaintiff's counsel wrote to the defendant on two occasions requesting similar information.
In the first two letters from the plaintiff, prior to the defendant's determination that the plaintiff was not eligible for the lump sum payment, the plaintiff requested general information, such as annuity values and the amount of monthly payments. The plaintiff's and his counsel's subsequent letters, dated around the time when the plaintiff indicated that he was unsatisfied with his lump sum payment, became more detailed in their requests.
The defendant responded to the plaintiff's initial requests on October 20, 1989 and November 1, 1989. The defendant also wrote the defendant several times, apparently in response to both oral and written discussions and requests. The defendant provided the plaintiff with copies of his pension plans, a statement of the amounts of money to which he was entitled (per month and lump sum); and a statement of the options which were available to the plaintiff. On September 24, 1991, the plaintiff's counsel wrote a letter to the defendant requesting much information. The defendant responded on January 24, 1992, and it refused to provide any further information. The letter also stated that if the plaintiff felt that he did not receive money to which he was entitled, he could file a formal claim with the Pension Plan.
On May 19, 1992, the plaintiff made a formal claim for: 1) pension benefits under the FTL Pension Plan for Flight Engineers, which merged with the FedEx Employees' Pension Plan; 2) unpaid interest and/or enhanced value for the lump sum payment of the FTL Variable Annuity Pension Plan for Pilots; and 3) unpaid interest and benefits for the FTL Fixed Pension Plan for Pilots. On June 18, 1992, FedEx denied all three of the claims. First, FedEx claimed that the plaintiff was receiving benefits from the FTL Pension Plan for Flight Engineers through the FedEx Employees' Pension Plan; and second, FedEx stated that if it were to honor the plaintiff's request and revalue the pension plan from two months after the plaintiff's retirement, he would actually receive less than what he received in the lump sum payment. The plaintiff appealed these decisions, and the appeal was denied. Plaintiff filed this suit soon thereafter.
Plaintiff alleges that defendant violated sections 104, 105 and 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1024, 1025 and 1132, by failing to provide pension information within 30 days after a written request has been made. This is the only count in the complaint, and he requests relief by way of the statutory penalty of $ 100.00 per day until the information is received. 29 U.S.C. § 1032(c). Plaintiff also requests attorney's fees under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). Both plaintiff and defendant have requested summary judgment in their favor, and they have stipulated to all of the material facts of the case.
Under sections 104 and 105 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1024 and 1025, a pension plan participant or beneficiary may request certain information from the pension plan administrator.
Under section 502 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132, an administrator who fails to provide this information within 30 days to a participant or beneficiary who makes a written request is subject to a $ 100.00 per day penalty awarded at the discretion of the court.
Additionally, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(A) provides that a participant or beneficiary who fails to receive information to which he is entitled within 30 days after a written request may bring a civil action in a district court for the $ 100 per day penalty. The main question presented in this particular action is what documents is the defendant obligated to provide to the plaintiff under the statute?
A. Arguments and Analysis:
The ERISA statutes do not specify what particular documents an administrator must provide upon written request, and courts have had to divine Congressional intent when faced with these types of cases. Plaintiff argues that his requests are protected by the statutes because they were intended to determine what his interests were so that he could protect them. Plaintiff cites Barrowclough v. Kidder, Peabody & Co., Inc., 752 F.2d 923 (3d Cir. 1985) and Bruch v. Firestone Tire and Rubber Co., 828 F.2d 134 (3d Cir. 1987), aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 489 U.S. 101, 109 S. Ct. 948, 103 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1989), for the proposition that the Congressional intent in enacting 29 U.S.C §§ 1024, 1025 and 1132 was to provide pension plan participants and beneficiaries a mechanism to determine what their interests are and how best to protect them.
In Barrowclough, the plaintiff, a management-level employee, was discharged for mishandling customer accounts. Upon his discharge, the plaintiff agreed to reimburse the company for any losses that he caused the customers. The plaintiff had contributed to a company pension plan that was neither funded nor secured by the employer. Approximately three days after his discharge, and again two weeks later, the plaintiff wrote the company requesting an accounting of his pension plan contributions. The company responded by stating that any funds that were in the account would be applied to the plaintiff's obligation to reimburse the company, and whatever funds were remaining in the account would be insufficient to cover this obligation. The plaintiff wrote the company twice more, approximately two and four months after the discharge, and he filed suit six months after the discharge seeking, among other things, the penalty for failure to timely respond to a written request for information.
In finding that the plaintiff's requests for an accounting were protected by the statute, the Third Circuit stated that "the legislative history shows that the drafters of ERISA believed that individualized reporting and disclosure would play an important role in effectuating ERISA's goals. . . . The accounting provision, which is broadly applicable, must be construed so as to protect the employees' interests." 752 F.2d at 934 (citations omitted). While the court did not specifically describe what information must be contained in the accounting, it did cite the House Conference Report:
Upon the request of a plan participant or beneficiary, a plan administrator is to furnish on the basis of the latest information available the total benefits accrued and the nonforfeitable pension benefit rights, if any, which have accrued. No more than one request may be made by any participant or beneficiary for this information during any one 12 month period.
Id. at 933 (citing H.Conf.Rep. No. 1280, 93d Cong., 2d Sess. 259, reprinted in 1974 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad.News 5038, 5042).
The Third Circuit was similarly vague in describing the specifics in reporting requirements in Firestone. In Firestone, three classes of formerly salaried employees of defendant Firestone sued to receive pension benefits after their division had been sold to another company, and they also requested the $ 100 per day penalty for failure to provide adequate information. One of the issues in that case was whether the plaintiffs were entitled to request information because there was a question of whether they were pension plan participants or beneficiaries after the sale of the division. In holding that the plaintiffs were entitled to information, the court stated:
ERISA's legislative history makes clear that Congress intended the information-producing provisions to enable claimants to make their own decisions on how best to enforce their rights. See S.Rep. 93-127, 93d Cong. 1st Sess. at 27 (ERISA's reporting and disclosure requirements imposed so "that individual participants and beneficiaries will be armed with enough information to enforce their own rights"). That function can be performed only if all people with potential rights can obtain information.