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02/21/96 WALTER PETERS v. SUNDSTRAND CORPORATION

February 21, 1996

WALTER PETERS, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
SUNDSTRAND CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the Circuit Court of Winnebago County. No. 93--MR--271, Honorable Gerald F. Grubb, Judge, Presiding.

The Honorable Justice Geiger delivered the opinion of the court: Colwell, J., concurs. Justice Bowman, concurring in part and dissenting in part:

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Geiger

The Honorable Justice GEIGER delivered the opinion of the court:

The plaintiff, Walter Peters, brought a declaratory Judgment action against the defendant, Sundstrand Corporation (Sundstrand), seeking a declaration that he, as a former Sundstrand employee, was entitled to certain benefits under the Sundstrand Corporation Retirement Plan. The trial court granted Sundstrand's motion to dismiss, and the plaintiff timely appealed. For the following reasons, we reverse and remand.

The following facts are taken from the record. The plaintiff, born on July 10, 1947, worked for Sundstrand from July 25, 1977, until his termination on September 22, 1992. Thus, at the time of his termination, the plaintiff was 45 years old and had worked at Sundstrand for 15 years.

In 1984, Sundstrand furnished the plaintiff with a summary plan description (the 1984 SPD) of the January 1, 1977, Sundstrand Corporation Retirement Plan (the Plan). The first page of the 1984 SPD, under a section labelled "Retirement Benefits in Brief," stated:

"Normal Retirement

An employee who retires on his normal retirement date and has ten or more years of service will be eligible for a normal retirement benefit ***.

Early Retirement

If an employee leaves the Company after he has attained age 55 but prior to his attainment of age 65 and has ten or more years of service he will be eligible for an early retirement benefit. The early retirement benefit is determined in the same manner as a normal retirement benefit. However, if payments begin before the employee attains age 62 they will be reduced according to a schedule of reductions.

Vested Retirement

If an employee leaves the Company after completing ten or more years of service, but prior to attaining age 55, at age 65 he will be eligible to receive a monthly retirement benefit ***. The employee may choose to begin receiving the benefit as early as age 55 but the amount will be reduced actuarially because the benefit will be paid for a longer period of time."

Pages 4-6 of the 1984 SPD described in greater detail the eligibility requirements for early retirement benefits and vested retirement benefits. In a section labelled "Early Retirement," the 1984 SPD stated:

"To qualify for an early retirement benefit an employee at the time of retirement must be at least age 55 and have ten or more years of service. The monthly early retirement benefit will be determined in the same manner as a normal retirement benefit based upon the employee's years of participation and monthly 'final average earnings' at the time of his termination of employment."

The section also provided a "schedule of reductions," listing the percentage reduction of benefits to an employee electing to have payments commence after age 55 but prior to age 62.

Immediately following the "Early Retirement" section of the 1984 SPD came a section designated as "Vested Rights," which provided:

"If an employee leaves Sundstrand after completing ten or more years of service and is not eligible for any other benefit under the Plan he will be eligible to receive a vested retirement benefit. *** The employee may choose to receive his vested retirement benefit as early as age 55. If the employee elects to receive the benefit prior to age 65, it will be determined in the same manner as if it were to commence at his age 65 except that it will be reduced actuarially for early payment of the benefit."

Unlike the "Early Retirement" section, the "Vested Rights" section contained no schedule of the actuarial reduction of ...


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