The opinion of the court was delivered by: EMMET SULLIVAN, District Judge
This is an action to recover benefits allegedly due under a
pension plan, pursuant to the Employment Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461 (ERISA). Pending
before the Court is defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
and defendant Metropolitan Life Retirement Plan for United States
Employees' motion for summary judgment. Upon consideration of
defendants' motion, the opposition thereto and the reply in
support thereof, the relevant statutory and case law, and for the
reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS defendants' Motion
for Summary Judgment.
As early as 1949, Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
("MetLife") provided a pension plan (the "Plan") for its
employees. Under the Plan, employees who had reached their thirty-fifth birthday and had worked for MetLife for at least
five years were eligible for benefits. The normal retirement age
was sixty-five for men and sixty for women. However, employees
were eligible for early retirement ten years before the normal
requirement, with the Company's approval, or five years before
the normal retirement date if they had contributed to the Plan
for at least fifteen years immediately preceding their departure
If an employee chose to terminate their employment with MetLife
before meeting the age and years of service requirements for
retirement under the Plan, they could either opt to receive a
one-time cash surrender value of their vested annuity or retain a
deferred vested annuity that began to mete out monthly payments
once the employee turned sixty five. On a discretionary basis,
the company would periodically award ad hoc increases to its
retirement benefits to account for cost of living adjustments and
changed conditions. MetLife provided one such ad hoc benefit
increase to its retirees in 1996. In a letter dated May 1996,
MetLife writes to "Retirees in the United States Who Retired
Prior to January 1, 1993":
I am pleased to announce that MetLife will increase
pension benefits for all retirees under the Company's
retirement plan prior to January 1, 1993 with at
least five years of MetLife service. Def. Ex. A23. In addition, in November 1992, MetLife notified
"retired MetLife Associates and Spouses" that the Company would
provide a special one-time pension payment to "all employees who
retired prior to January 1, 1988." Def. Ex. A22.
Plaintiff Robert Brubaker, a former employee of MetLife between
1953 and 1961, argues that he is entitled to both the 1996 ad
hoc increase and the 1992 one-time payment. Upon terminating his
employment with MetLife, Brubaker went to work for a MetLife
competitor and indeed retired from that competitor after thirty
five years of service to that company. When Brubaker left
MetLife, he opted to retain a vested benefit as a deferred
In April 2000, Plaintiff Brubaker wrote to MetLife seeking the
1992 one-time pension payment and the 1996 ad hoc pension
increase. MetLife denied Brubaker's administrative claim on the
grounds that he was not considered a retiree based upon his
status as a deferred vested annuitant.
Plaintiff Margaret Hayes was added to this lawsuit in March
2001. As the widow of a former MetLife employee, she alleges that
her then-living husband was also entitled to the 1992 one-time
payment, even though he did not fulfill the normal requirements
of retirement when he terminated his employment with MetLife
after thirty years. Like Plaintiff Brubaker, Mr. Hayes chose to vest his benefits in a deferred annuity. Neither Mr.
Hayes nor Mrs. Hayes filed an administrative claim.
Plaintiffs claim that MetLife promised the benefits to its
retirees and, even though plaintiffs did not retire from MetLife,
because plaintiffs are nonetheless retired and because the Plan
itself does not define the terms "retiree", "retired employee" or
"retired," plaintiffs believe they qualify for the benefit
increases. Plaintiffs also argue that the Plan is an ambiguous
contract, which, read in light of extrinsic evidence, would lead
to the conclusion that deferred vested annuitants who are retired
are entitled to the one-time payment and the ad hoc increases
just as retirees who have met the formal retirement requirements
of the 1949 Plan.
Defendants now move for summary judgment on the grounds that
the parties have conducted discovery and plaintiffs cannot
establish any genuine issue of material fact in dispute.
Defendants argue that Plan documents, including a 1991 Summary
Plan Description, are clear that retired employees are only those
persons who have retired from MetLife with a currently payable
pension benefit under the Plan. Defendants thus maintain that
plaintiffs are not entitled to the benefit increases because, as
deferred vested annuitants, they are not considered retirees. II. DISCUSSION
Pending before this Court is a motion for summary judgment.
Summary judgment is granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 only
when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving
party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986).
When deciding a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the
evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party,
according the benefit of all reasonable inferences to that party.
See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255,
106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986). Thus, the Court will grant summary judgment only
if the ...