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Setzer v. Michelin Retirement Plan

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

April 14, 2015

Richard H. Setzer, Plaintiff,
v.
Michelin Retirement Plan, Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER FINDINGS OF FACT AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW

MARY G. LEWIS, District Judge.

In this matter, Plaintiff Richard H. Setzer ("Setzer") seeks a determination as to whether the Michelin Pension and Benefits Appeals Board ("Appeals Board") abused its discretion by denying his benefit claim in which he requested that he be allowed to change the Joint and Survivor (50%) form of pension benefit payment elected under the Michelin Retirement Plan ("Plan") after his retirement and the Annuity Commencement Date.

The Plan is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq. (ECF Nos. 23 & 23-2.) Under Plan terms, the Appeals Board has the discretion, among other things, to interpret the Plan in its sole discretion, to determine the amount of benefits which shall be payable to any person in accordance with the provisions of the Plan, and to provide a review in the event a claim for benefits is denied. (ECF Nos. 23 at ¶ 3 & 23-2.)

On July 29, 2013, the parties filed their Joint Stipulation pursuant to the Court's Specialized Case Management Order for ERISA benefits cases. (ECF No. 9). The parties agree the Court may dispose of this matter consistent with the Joint Stipulation and memoranda in support of judgment. (ECF No. 23 at ¶ 8). The parties have stipulated that Setzer has exhausted his administrative remedies as to his benefit claim under the Plan. (ECF No. 23 at ¶ 2.)

The parties filed their respective cross-memoranda in support of judgment on July 29, 2013 and July 30, 2013. (ECF Nos. 24 & 25). On August 16, 2013, the Plan filed its responsive memorandum in opposition to Setzer's memorandum in support of judgment. (ECF No. 29.) Setzer did not file a response in opposition to the Plan's memorandum in support of judgment. All memoranda rely on the administrative record filed on July 29, 2013 as Exhibit 1 to the parties Joint Stipulation. (ECF No. 23-1.)

DECISION OF THE COURT

After reviewing the administrative record, the parties' Joint Stipulation, and parties' memoranda, the Court enters the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law pursuant to Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. To the extent that any findings of fact represent conclusions of law, or vice-versa, they shall be so regarded. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds the Appeals Board did not abuse its discretion in denying Setzer's benefit claim.

I. FINDINGS OF FACTS

A. Setzer's Retirement From Michelin North America, Inc.

Setzer was employed by Michelin North America, Inc. ("Michelin"). His last day of work was November 30, 2004. (AR 30.)[1] Setzer retired effective December 1, 2004. (AR 38, 40.) At the time of his retirement, Setzer was married to Jessica Setzer ("Jessica"). (AR 31.)

B. Michelin Retirement Plan

1. Setzer's Participation and Receipt of the Plan Pension Benefit

As an employee of Michelin, Setzer was a participant in the Plan. (AR 39.) The Plan is a defined benefit pension plan that is subject to and governed by ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. (Plan at 52-53.)[2] At the time of his retirement, Setzer had a vested Plan benefit. (AR 38-39.)

Setzer began receiving a monthly Plan pension benefit effective December 1, 2004. (AR 40.) Setzer elected to receive a Joint and Survivor Annuity form of payment of his Plan benefit. (AR 30.) By electing this form of payment, Setzer elected "to receive a reduced monthly pension payable during [his] life." ( Id. ) After his death, 50% of his reduced pension will be continued to (and during the life of) his wife, Jessica, if she survives Setzer. ( Id. ) (The survivor pension benefit payable to Jessica will be referred to as the "Surviving Spouse Benefits" herein.)

2. Plan Terms

Under Plan terms, at the time of his retirement, Setzer was a "Married Participant" meaning he was "lawfully married on the earlier of his... Annuity Commencement Date." (Plan at 63.) As applicable to this matter, the "Annuity Commencement Date" means "the first day of the first month for which an amount of Pension is payable to... [a] Participant or Beneficiary as an annuity...." (Plan at 55.) Setzer's Annuity Commencement Date was December 1, 2004.

The Plan specifically addresses the form of payment to a Married Participant. (See AR 79-80.) Plan Section 6.2 states:

Solely with respect to Married Participants, unless an optional mode of retirement Pension as provided in Section 6.5 of the Plan is duly elected by a Participant or an election is made in accordance with Paragraph (E) of this Section, such Participant's retirement Pension, shall be payable as provided in Paragraphs (A), (B), (C) or (D) hereof.

(Plan at 79.) Paragraph (A) of Section 6.2 describes the Joint and Survivor 50% Annuity form of benefit ...


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