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Joseph Beauchamp v. Retirement Plan and Trust For Employees of Local 827 International

March 28, 2011

JOSEPH BEAUCHAMP, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RETIREMENT PLAN AND TRUST FOR EMPLOYEES OF LOCAL 827 INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF ELECTRICAL WORKERS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Cooper, District Judge

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Plaintiff, Joseph Beauchamp, brings this action against defendant, Retirement Plan and Trust for Employees of Local 827 International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers ("Defendant"), seeking benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § ("Section") 1132(a)(1)(B). (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.) Defendant now moves for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. (Dkt. entry no. 14). Plaintiff cross-moves for summary judgment. (Dkt. entry no. 15.)

The Court heard oral argument on the motion and cross motion on March 16, 2011. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will (1) grant Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and (2) deny Plaintiff's cross motion for summary judgment.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff worked for New Jersey Bell Telephone (later Bell Atlantic, now Verizon and referred to herein as "Verizon") from June 29, 1964, to December 1992, retiring at age 50. (Dkt. entry no. 14, Def. Stmt. Material Facts at ¶¶ 1-2, 5; dkt. entry no. 15, Pl. Br. at 6.) He later retired from his union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 827 ("Local 827"), in 1995. (Def. Stmt. Material Facts at ¶ 12.)

Plaintiff is entitled to separate pension benefits from Verizon and Local 827. He took advantage of Verizon's "30 and Out" policy to retire from Verizon in 1992, by means of a five-year "window provision" which counted his 28.5 years of service as 33.5 years of service for purposes of the Verizon pension benefit. (Id. at ¶ 7; Pl. Br. at 6-7.) Verizon's "30 and Out" policy allowed employees having at least 30 years of service to retire at any age before reaching age 65 without being monetarily penalized for early retirement. (Def. Stmt. Material Facts at ¶ 6; Dkt. entry no. 14, Charme Aff., Ex. 1, Beauchamp Dep. at 31:16-33:1.) Plaintiff elected to take his Verizon benefit in the form of a lump sum payment of $196,856.02, in lieu of a $1,387.24 monthly pension. (Charme Aff., Ex. 3, Bell Atl. Pension Plan Manual Pension Calculation Summary Sheet; Beauchamp Dep. at 70:12-17.)

The Retirement Plan and Trust for Employees of Local 827 (the "Plan") provides that any retirement benefit under the Plan must be reduced by, in effect, the Verizon pension benefit, insofar as it requires that Defendant subtract from the base benefit calculation "any pension benefit payable . . . as a result of any period of employment with New Jersey Bell Telephone Company while covered under the Bell System Pension[,] disregarding any additional years of service which may be credited . . . under a pension window provision set forth in the Bell System Retirement Plan." (Charme Aff., Ex. 4, Plan at § 5.2(a)(iv).) The term "pension window provision" is not defined in the Plan, but there is no dispute that the term refers to the five-year window provision utilized by Plaintiff in order to retire under "30 and Out" after 28.5 years of actual service.

Defendant effected the Plan's requirement that it "disregard[] . . . additional years of service . . . credited . . . under [the] window provision" by adjusting Plaintiff's $1,387.24 Verizon monthly pension benefit to disregard the five years of service credited under the window provision using the following calculation: $1,387.24 x (28.5/33.5) = $1,180.19. (Def. Stmt. Material Facts ¶ 15; Charme Aff., Ex. 5, Retirement Plan for Employees of Local 827 I.B.E.W. Pension Application Information Worksheet.) Thus, in determining Plaintiff's benefit under the Plan, Defendant offset Plaintiff's base Plan benefit of $1,992.89 by the adjusted Verizon benefit of $1,180.19, for a total monthly Plan pension of $812.70. (Id.)*fn1

Plaintiff appealed Defendant's decision to use $1,180.19 as the offset amount, claiming that the proper offset amount should be $832.03. That figure appeared in a document provided by Verizon to Plaintiff before he actually retired from Verizon, estimating, inter alia, what his Verizon pension benefit would be when taking into account a "reduction for early retirement." (Charme Aff., Ex. 8, Verizon Associate Pension Calculation Estimate.) Defendant denied the appeal. (Charme Aff., Ex. 7, 11-29-07 Letter; Ex. 9, 9-22-08 Letter.) Plaintiff then brought this action claiming he "has not been issued the proper monthly pension" by Defendant. (Compl. at ¶ 11.) Specifically, he believes that under the Plan's pension formula, he should be receiving $1,160.85 per month, but he is actually receiving $804.57 per month, such that he "is being shorted $356.28 per month." (Pl. Br. at 21.) Plaintiff argues that Defendant "incorrectly characterized his retirement as early, and added in the years he was given by Verizon when he retired." (Id.) He now seeks review of the Plan pension benefit calculation, retrospective and prospective relief with interest, and contends that the trustees of Defendant violated their fiduciary duties to Plaintiff.

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standards

A. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard for a motion for summary judgment is well-settled and will be briefly summarized here. Rule 56 provides that summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In making this determination, the Court must "view[] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[] all inferences in that party's favor." United States ex rel. Josenske v. ...


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