United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division
Robert C. Stills, Plaintiff,
Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Prudential Retirement Insurance and Annuity Company, and Ansaldo STS USA, Inc., Defendants. Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, Third Party Plaintiff,
Amy Stills, Third Party Defendant.
F. Anderson, Jr., United States District Judge.
case arises from a dispute between Plaintiff Robert C. Stills
(“Plaintiff”) and Defendants Janney Montgomery
Scott LLC (“JMS”), Prudential Retirement
Insurance and Annuity Company (“Prudential”), and
Ansaldo STS USA, Inc. (“Ansaldo”) regarding a
401k distribution. In essence, Plaintiff is complaining about
his own mother, Amy Stills (“Stills” or
“Mother”), spending his money that she was
entrusted with while he was a minor. Plaintiff did not
include Stills as a Defendant, but she has since been brought
into the case by Defendant JMS.
alleges that Stills should never have been entrusted with his
money because she was not appointed by a court as his
guardian. Plaintiff claims that Defendants are responsible
for the losses he sustained, which occurred due to his own
mother’s conduct. For the purposes of this motion,
Plaintiff claims that Defendant Ansaldo is responsible for
his losses because it breached fiduciary duties imposed by
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA),
29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Defendant Ansaldo has
filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, or in the
alternative, a motion for summary judgment per Rule 56 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Ansaldo alleges that
Plaintiff cannot make a valid claim, and that it is therefore
entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
was the great nephew of the late Mary Eva Spence
(“Spence” or “Decedent”). Spence was
a long-time employee of Defendant Ansaldo and its
predecessor, and was also a participant in the Ansaldo STS
USA Retirement/Savings Plan (“Plan”). Ansaldo is
the Plan Sponsor and Plan Administrator or the Plan.
2013, Spence became ill and never returned to work at
Ansaldo. During her last illness, Stills, the mother of the
Plaintiff, took care of her. Like Spence, Stills was also a
long-time employee of Ansaldo. On approximately May 3, 2013,
Spence named Plaintiff as a 50% beneficiary with respect to
her interest in the Plan. Plaintiff’s minor sister, who
is not a party in this case, is the beneficiary of the
remaining 50% of Spence’s interest in the Plan. Spence
passed away on May 28, 2013.
the Plaintiff was a 16-year-old minor at the time of
Spence’s death, a question arose as to who should
receive his funds from the Plan. Paragraph 7.5(F) of the Plan
If, in the opinion of the Plan Administrator, a Participant
or Beneficiary entitled to a Plan distribution is not able to
care for his/her affairs because of a mental condition, a
physical condition, or by reason of age, at the direction of
the Plan Administrator, the Trustee will make the
distribution to the Participant’s or
Beneficiary’s guardian, conservator, trustee, custodian
(including under a Uniform Transfers or Gifts to Minors Act)
or to his/her attorney-in-fact or to other legal
representative, upon furnishing evidence of such status
satisfactory to the Plan Administrator and to the Trustee.
The Plan Administrator and the Trustee do not have any
liability with respect to payments so made and neither the
Plan administrator nor the Trustee has any duty to make
inquiry as to the competence of any person entitled to
receive payments under the Plan.
12, 2013, Prudential, pursuant to its role as the
Plan’s record keeper and an Administrative Services
Agreement, sent a letter addressed to “Guardian for
Robert C. Stills, Jr.” enclosing a Death Claim form. On
June 25, 2013, Prudential received a Death Claim form listing
the Plaintiff as the beneficiary. The form requested that
Prudential transfer the funds via a Non-Spouse Beneficiary
Direct Rollover to an Inherited Individual Retirement Account
at JMS. Stills’ signature on the document appeared on
the line for Beneficiary’s/Guardian’s Signature.
12, 2013, after receiving the Death Claim form, Prudential
sent Stills a letter stating:
We have received your request to settle the account of Mary
K. Spence from the above referenced plan. Unfortunately, we
cannot honor your request for the following reason(s):
• Please provide Guardianship documentation to prove you
are the minor beneficiary’s legal guardian.
• Please return this letter and the necessary
information as indicated above in the envelope provided or
fax it to 1-866-439-8602 . . .
receiving this letter, Stills contacted Haley Smith at
Ansaldo, who then faxed in copies of birth certificates and
Form SSA-1099 - Social Security Benefit Statement with
respect to Plaintiff and his minor sister. Plaintiff’s
birth certificate showed that Stills is the Plaintiff’s
mother, while the Social Security Benefit Statement showed
that Stills receives benefits for the Plaintiff.
23, 2013, Ansaldo received an email from Murray Carter
(“Carter”) with JMS, which outlined the issues
raised by Prudential with respect to the Plaintiff’s
guardianship. It is apparent from Carter’s email that
he cut and pasted out of an email from Mike Ruane with
Prudential and then inserted his own comments in bold or a
different typeface with respect to Prudential’s
questions. Carter’s email was addressed to Sandy Turley
(“Turley”) and Haley Smith (“Smith”),
both of whom worked for Ansaldo. The email provided:
Sandy and Haley,
I’m reaching out to you regarding the Mary Eva Spence
Estate. Ms. Spence had listed to Megan Stills and Robert
Stills as the beneficiaries to her 401(k) account as you may
know these are Amy Stills minor children. We are trying to
distribute the funds to each child so it can be deposited to
their Beneficiary’s IRA’s.
When the paperwork was returned to Prudential we were
informed that Guardianship papers were required. As such, Amy
produced birth certificates and Social Security statements to
show the relationship. However, see response of Prudential
from Mike Ruane:
Unfortunately, a birth certificate and Social security
statement are not Guardianship papers. This is not sufficient
proof of guardianship.
Again, the only way to receive Guardianship paperwork is by
going to the local Court/Family Court.
Without having Amy Stills go through the effort and expense
to do this Prudential ...