identification of the Plan, definition of the benefit, the formula for
calculating the alternate payee's benefit, as well as other areas." Id.
Having satisfied ERISA's exhaustion requirement, Smith has now moved to
reopen her case. As I noted during the January 5, 2001 hearing, I
interpret Smith's action to be one for civil enforcement pursuant to
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Actions brought under this section are
equitable in nature, and do not provide for a right to a jury trial. See
Pane v. RCA Corp., 868 F.2d 631, 636 (3d Cir. 1989). Once again in this
action, both parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
I shall review de novo the plan administrator's decision that the
Smiths' PSA does not constitute a QDRO. See Samaroo v. Samaroo,
193 F.3d 185, 189 (3d Cir. 1999). This Court has federal question
jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and
1132(e)(1). I have considered the submissions of the parties and decided
these cross-motions for summary judgment on the papers without oral
argument, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78.
II. THE LEGAL STANDARD GOVERNING MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
The legal standard governing summary judgment is well-settled. Summary
judgment is proper only "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
the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (West 2002); see also Anderson v. Consol. Rail Corp.
("Conrail"), 297 F.3d 242, 247 (3d Cir. 2002). An issue is genuine "if
the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for
the nonmoving party." Conrail, 297 F.3d at 247 (citing Anderson v.
Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986)). A fact is material if it
bears on an essential element of the plaintiff's claim. Abraham v. Raso,
183 F.3d 279, 287 (3d Cir. 1999) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248-251).
Thus, to survive a motion for summary judgment, the party contesting the
motion must demonstrate a dispute over facts that might affect the
outcome of the suit. Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633
(3d Cir. 1995) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. at 250-52).
Summary judgment is proper "if after adequate time for discovery and
upon motion, a party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the
existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that
party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Conrail, 297 F.3d at 247
(citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). "When a
motion for summary judgment is made and supported . . . an adverse party
may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's
pleadings, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise
provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is
a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e).*fn2 "If the adverse
party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be
entered against the adverse party." Id.
Here, neither party has asserted the existence of any genuine issue of
material fact which would preclude summary judgment. Thus, this case is
ripe for summary judgment on the questions of law presented.
A. QUALIFIED DOMESTIC RELATIONS ORDERS UNDER ERISA
The parties agree that the plan at issue, the DuPont Pension and
Retirement Plan ("Plan" or "DuPont Plan"), is governed by ERISA. When
ERISA is silent on an issue, courts have applied federal common law to
fill in the gaps. See Zienowicz v. Metro. Life Ins. Co.,
204 F. Supp.2d 339, 344 (D.N.J. 2002) (citing Heasley v. Beiden &
Blake Corp., 2 F.3d 1249, 1257 (3d Cir. 1993)). Additionally, in applying
federal common law, this Court may draw from analogous New Jersey state
law. See id.
As a general rule under ERISA, pension plan benefits are neither
assignable nor alienable. See 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(1) (West 2002). A
narrow exception to this anti-alienation provision, however, see
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(A) and 1144(b)(7), permits the assignment or
alienation of benefits under a State-issued "qualified domestic relations
order" ("QDRO") Id. The QDRO is one of the few exceptions to ERISA's
broad preemption of state laws which relate to employment benefit plans.
See 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). "[A] state law relates to an ERISA plan if
it has a connection with or reference to such a plan." Egelhoff v.
Egelhoff, 532 U.S. 141, 147 (2001). In the absence of a valid QDRO, a
plan violates ERISA if it pays anyone other than the participant or his or
her designated beneficiary.
QDRO's were enacted as part of the Retirement Equity Act ("REA"), an
amendment to ERISA that took effect on January 1, 1985. Pub.L. No. 98-397
§ 303(d), 98 Stat. 1426 (1984). The REA was designed to give effect
to divorce decrees and related State-court orders that pertained to
ERISA-regulated plans. See Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Bigelow, 283 F.3d 436,
441 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Boggs v. Boggs, 520 U.S. 833, 847 (1997)).
"The QDRO provisions protect those persons who, often as a result of
divorce, might not receive the benefits they otherwise would have had
available during their retirement as a means of income." Boggs, 520 U.S.
at 854; see also Gendreau v. Gendreau, 122 F.3d 815, 817 (9th Cir. 1997)
("QDRO exception was enacted to protect the financial security of
A "domestic relations order" is any judgment, decree, or order made
pursuant to a State domestic relations law that relates to the provision
of child support, alimony payments, or marital property rights to a
spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent of a participant.
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(B)(ii). A domestic relations order must
clearly specify the following four items in order to be considered
(1) the name and the last known mailing address (if
any) of the participant and the name and mailing
address of each alternate payee covered by the order;
(2) the amount or percentage of the participant's benefits
to be paid by the plan to each such alternate payee, or
the manner in which such amount or percentage is to be
(3) the number of payments or period to which such order
(4) each plan to which such order applies.
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(C)(i)-(iv) (West 2002). Furthermore, a QDRO
must not require a plan to provide any type or form
of benefit, or any
option, not otherwise provided under the plan, must not require the plan
to provide increased benefits, and must not interfere with required
payments under a previously approved QDRO. See
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(D).
The purpose behind these requirements "is to reduce the expense of
ERISA plans by sparing plan administrators the grief they experience when
because of uncertainty concerning the identity of the beneficiary they
pay the wrong person, or arguably the wrong person, and are sued by a
rival claimant." Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Wheaton, 42 F.3d 1080, 1084 (7th
Cir. 1994) (Posner, C.J.). A divorce decree that meets the requirements
contained in 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d) provides all the necessary
information to determine the identity of a beneficiary without creating
unreasonable administrative burdens for the plan administrator. See
Carland v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 935 F.2d 1114, 1120 (10th Cir. 1991).
WHETHER THE PSA SATISFIES THE REQUIREMENTS OF
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(C)
DuPont contends that Barbara and Mark Smith's PSA is not a "qualified"
domestic relations order because it does not adequately specify the type
of benefit available to either party, the amount or percentage of the
benefit to be paid, the manner in which the payment is to be determined,
the number of payments, or the time period such payments are to be made,
as required by 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(C). See Cauthen Aff. ¶¶
14-17. According to DuPont, if the PSA had been submitted to the Plan
during Mark Smith's lifetime, the Plan would have returned it to the
parties' attorneys for clarification and amendment. Id. ¶ 18.
Barbara and Mark Smith's Final Judgment of Divorce, see Cauthen Aff.,
Ex. C, ¶ 2, which incorporates the PSA by reference, clearly
constitutes a domestic relations order. This is because it was: (1)
issued pursuant to New Jersey state domestic relations law, and (2)
relates to the parties' marital property rights. See
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(B)(ii). Whether a domestic relations order
qualifies as a QDRO depends on the language of the order itself; the
subjective intentions of the parties are not controlling. See Hawkins v.
Comm'r of Internal Revenue, 86 F.3d 982, 989-90 (10th Cir. 1996).
The Smiths' Judgment of Divorce and PSA do not track the language of
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d), which is no surprise. These documents were not
prepared with the maintenance of ERISA benefits in mind as their primary
purpose.*fn3 The question is whether these documents, nonetheless,
adequately provide the information required under the statute to qualify
as a QDRO. Again, this required information includes: (1) the names and
last known mailing addresses of the plan participant and the alternate
payee, see 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(C)(i); (2) the amount or percentage
of benefits to be paid, and manner of payment, id. §
1056(d)(3)(C)(ii); (3) the number or period of payments, id. §
1056(d)(3)(C)(iii); and (4) identification of the plan, or plans, to
which the order applies, id. § 1056(d)(3)(C)(iv).
1. Names and Last Known Mailing Addresses
The Smiths' PSA, executed in May 1990, indicates the last known
addresses of both Mark Smith, the plan participant, and Barbara Smith,
the alternate payee, in its opening paragraph:
THIS AGREEMENT made between BARBARA SMITH, residing at
14 Gillison Avenue, Penns Grove, Salem County, New
Jersey . . . and MARK SMITH, residing at the White Oaks
Motel, Carneys Point, Salem County, New Jersey . . .
PSA, Cauthen Aff., Ex. C. Thus, the PSA clearly satisfies the name and
address requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(C)(i).
Amount or Percentage of Benefits and Manner of Payment
The PSA also adequately specifies the percentage and manner in which
benefits are to be paid: "Husband . . . does hereby irrevocably assign to
Wife the sum of 50% of his said pension." PSA, Art. V. In addition, the
PSA provides that "[i]f, a death benefit is paid in lieu of the pension
then a minimum of 50% of that death benefit shall be paid to wife." Id.
The language of the Smiths' PSA is similar to the language of a PSA that
was qualified as a QDRO in Ross v. Ross, 308 N.J. Super. 132, 154,
705 A.2d 784, 795 (App.Div. 1998). The Ross PSA granted the plaintiff the
right to one-half of her spouse's pension benefits while he was alive, as
well as "the survivor annuity of the pension plans, as per the provisions
of the plans." Id.
DuPont argues that the PSA's "minimum of 50%" death benefit language is
vague, and I agree. Smith, however, seeks no more than fifty percent of
her ex-husband's death benefit, see Pl.'s Reply Br. at 9, n. 1, and,
therefore, I need not address this issue at length. To the extent the PSA
is vague in terms of the percentage of benefits available to her, Smith
agrees that it should be strictly construed against her.
The PSA itself does not explicitly specify the manner in which Barbara
Smith's spousal benefit is to be calculated, but DuPont need look no
further than the underlying document, its own voluminous Pension and
Retirement Plan, to determine the appropriate formula. Section V of the
DuPont Plan provides, inter alia, coverage to the spouses of former
If the former employee had not attained earliest
benefit commencement age, monthly payments will be
made to the spouse equal to 50% of the former
employee's pension calculated under paragraph B of
this Section as though he had applied for benefits at
earliest benefit age and reduced as provided in
subparagraphs (3) and (4) below . . .
Id. § V(C)(2)(d) (emphasis added). Subparagraph (3) of the Plan
contains a table detailing the reduced amount of coverage available
"after termination of employment but before commencement of pension
payments." DuPont Plan § V(C)(3). Thus, the PSA indeed satisfies the
requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(C)(ii) because the formula for
determining benefits is readily ascertainable.