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BRUBAKER v. METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY

September 26, 2005.

ROBERT L. BRUBAKER, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, et al., Defendants.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

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. ยงยง 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.

I. BACKGROUND

  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 from MetLife.

  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 annuity.

  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

  A. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  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 ...


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