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RIORDAN v. COMMONWEALTH EDISON CO.

December 24, 1996

ROSEMARY RIORDAN, Plaintiff, -vs- COMMONWEALTH EDISON COMPANY, an Illinois Corporation, Defendant.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: LINDBERG

 Plaintiff Rosemary Riordan (Rosemary) brings this action against defendant Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) to recover benefits she claims she is due under the terms of an employee benefit plan ComEd offers its employees. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment.

 I. BACKGROUND

 The material facts in the case are undisputed. Rosemary married James Riordan (James) in April 1956. James had been working for defendant ComEd since 1953. The company offered life insurance coverage through Aetna Life Insurance Co. (Aetna) under policy number T-506002. The plan qualifies as a welfare benefit plan under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. ComEd is a plan administrator under § 1001(16)(A)(i) of ERISA.

 The Riordans had four children between December 1958 and December 1969. In June 1977, the couple separated. A judgment for legal separation was issued in the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1981. It stated that James was to maintain life insurance for the benefit of his minor children and to maintain Rosemary on all policies under which she was then a beneficiary. Pursuant to the order, Robert Stauder, ComEd's benefits supervisor, typed the term "irrevocable" on the policy's beneficiary designation form, which James signed designating plaintiff as his beneficiary. According to company practice, this limited an employee's otherwise unrestricted right under the policy to change his beneficiary unless a subsequent court order mandated otherwise.

 In October 1982, ComEd began offering employees insurance coverage under a new Aetna policy, # GL-506002, which included the following provision:

 
An employee...may designate a beneficiary, and from time to time change his designation of beneficiary, by written request filed at the headquarters of the Policyholder or at the Home Office of the Insurance Company.

 The policy contains no provision pertaining to irrevocable beneficiaries. ComEd, in summary plan descriptions, stated that the participant "may change (the) beneficiary designation at any time by submitting a new Beneficiary Designation card." In 1982, when ComEd changed policies, the company sent James a letter explaining his benefits under the new policy and confirming its understanding that a "divorce decree" obligated James to designate Rosemary as the beneficiary for $ 50,000 of life insurance. James updated his beneficiary form under the new policy, again naming Rosemary as an irrevocable beneficiary for $ 50,000.

 On November 24, 1986, a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage between James and Rosemary was entered in the Circuit Court of Cook County. The order directed James to:

 
maintain no less than $ 50,000 worth of life insurance on his life and he shall maintain the minor child, James, as irrevocable beneficiary thereon...until the child reaches his majority or is otherwise emancipated.

 The order does not specify a particular benefit plan or policy on which this insurance was to be maintained. It does not state that James was to maintain any existing life insurance in Rosemary's name, as the previous order had. ComEd sent James a letter in January 1987, apparently in response to a request for clarification from him, that stated:

 James never changed the beneficiary to his youngest child, James Edward, although plaintiff stated that at the time of their divorce, her ex-husband indicated that he would keep the $ 50,000 in her name until their son was of age. James Edward turned 18 on December 10, 1987. The elder James remarried in May 1988 and in June of that year named his new wife, Irene, as his sole beneficiary under the life insurance policy with Aetna. In January 1992, James died without having changed his beneficiary again. Irene Riordan received benefits under the policy from Aetna in February 1992.

 In approximately June 1994, Beverlee Viggiano, the Riordans' oldest child, found a copy of the designation form from October 1982 that named plaintiff as an irrevocable beneficiary. Claiming that she is entitled to the $ 50,000 listed on the designation form, Rosemary brought this action in the Circuit Court of Cook County. Defendant removed it to federal court, asserting jurisdiction under ERISA, and moved to dismiss, claiming that ERISA preempted plaintiff's state law action. Plaintiff responded that her claim was not brought under state law and that to withstand a motion to dismiss, she need not specify a particular legal theory or statute. Although ComEd argued that the complaint did not make specific allegations regarding the ERISA plan and defendant's duties under it, the court denied the motion to dismiss because plaintiff had not explicitly relied on state law in her complaint and the allegations therein adequately informed defendant of the nature of the event plaintiff sued on. Daniels v. USS Agri-Chemicals, 965 F.2d 376, 381 (7th Cir. 1992). Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 8, plaintiff had sufficiently pled a § 1132(a)(1)(B) cause of action because she had simply alleged that ...


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