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Fanning v. Bell

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

February 11, 2015

MICHAEL R. FANNING, as Chief Executive Officer of the Central Pension Fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Participating Employers, Plaintiff,
v.
BELL, et al., Defendants

For MICHAEL R. FANNING, as Chief Executive Officer of the Central Pension Fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Participating Employers, Plaintiff: R. Richard Hopp, O'DONOGHUE & O'DONOGHUE LLP, Washington, DC.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

COLLEEN KOLLAR-KOTELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

Plaintiff, Michael R. Fanning, Chief Executive Officer of the Central Pension Fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Participating Employers (" Central Pension Fund" or " the Fund" ), filed this Rule 22 interpleader action to resolve a dispute between Defendants over the proper beneficiaries entitled to the Death Benefit payable from Plaintiff as a result of the death of James Harvey Bell (" Mr. Bell" or " decedent" ). Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the Central Pension Fund did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant Darlene Evelyn Bell's claim to the Death Benefit and awarding the Death Benefit to decedent's four grandchildren: James Austin Wayne Bell, J.C.B., C.I.W., and C.J.W. Upon consideration of the pleadings,[1] the relevant legal authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court finds that the Central Pension Fund did not abuse its discretion in its determination of the appropriate beneficiaries entitled to the Death Benefit. Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts as to which There is No Genuine Dispute. All of the Defendants have failed to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(1) and Local Civil Rule 7(h) and to provide a " statement of genuine issues setting forth all material facts as to which it is contended there exists a genuine issue necessary to be litigated." LCvR 7(h)(1). Although the Court could treat Plaintiff's statement of facts as conceded, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (where " a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact," the district court may " consider the fact undisputed for purposes of the motion" ), the Court will nevertheless rule on the merits of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment. Accordingly, the Court will cite to Plaintiff's Statement of Material Facts, but note if a Defendant disputes any of Plaintiff's factual allegations in his or her Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment.

A. Factual History

The Central Pension Fund of the International Union of Operating Engineers and Participating Employers is a defined benefit, multi-employer pension fund which provides retirement, death, and related benefits to individuals who have worked in the operating industry throughout the United States. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ ¶ 1, 4. James Harvey Bell was an active participant in the Central Pension Fund at the time of his death on April 24, 2012, at age 58. Id. ¶ ¶ 9, 11. Under Section 12.03 of the Central Pension Fund's Plan of Benefits (" the Plan" ), a Death Benefit is payable to Mr. Bell's designated Beneficiary in " an amount equal to all of the Participating Employers' contributions made to the Plan on decedent's behalf as of the date of death . . . ." Id. ¶ 24. The amount of the Participating Employers' contributions on the date of Mr. Bell's death was $63,216.36. Id. ¶ 25.

Under Section 12.03(b) of the Plan, the Death Benefit is payable to the decedent's " beneficiary." Plan of Benefits, Appx. 80, § 12.03(b). The term " beneficiary" is defined in the Plan of Benefits as

a person or other entity designated by a Participant in the manner provided by the Plan, or by the terms of the Plan itself, who is or may become entitled to receive a benefit under the Plan. The term " Beneficiary" shall also refer to any spouse, former spouse, child or other dependent of a Participant, who is recognized by a domestic relations order as having a right to receive all or a portion of the Participant's benefit . . . .

Id. at Appx. 67, § 1.06. In turn, Section 12.05 of the Plan provides that

[e]ach Participant may designate on a form furnished by the Board a Beneficiary to receive the death benefit as indicated in Section[] 12.03 . . . . In the event there is a death benefit payable . . . and there is no Beneficiary designated under this Section 12.05 then surviving, the death benefit shall be payable in a lump sum to the first of the following classes of successive beneficiaries then surviving: the Participant's (a) spouse; (b) children and legally adopted children; (c) parents; (d) brothers and sisters; (e) executors or administrators in a representative capacity.

Id. at Appx. 84-85, § 12.05. Importantly, if the decedent has a surviving " Qualified Spouse," [2] that spouse is entitled to a Qualified Preretirement Surviving Spouse Annuity, and the Death Benefit provided under Section 12.03 of the Plan " shall not be payable." Id. at Appx. 78, 81, § § 12.01, 12.03.

At the time of his death in 2012, Mr. Bell was not married. Pl.'s Stmt. ¶ 12. Mr. Bell was divorced from Darlene Evelyn Bell (" Ms. Bell" ) in 2002. Id. ¶ 21. On November 4, 2011, the Central Pension Fund received a Designation of Beneficiary form designating Diane M. Ballard, Mr. Bell's girlfriend, as Mr. Bell's beneficiary. Id. ¶ ¶ 14, 29. It is undisputed that this form was the first Designation of Beneficiary form received by the Central Pension Fund concerning Mr. Bell. Id. ¶ 30. On November 16, 2011, the Central Pension Fund received a second Designation of Beneficiary form signed by Selena Marie Wall (" Ms. Wall" ), Mr. Bell's daughter, designating Mr. Bell's four grandchildren as his Beneficiaries. Id. ¶ ¶ 16, 31, 32. ...


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