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Marker v. Northrop Grumman Space & Missions Systems Corp. Salaried Pension Plan

October 4, 2006

RENEE MARKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN SPACE & MISSIONS SYSTEMS CORPORATION SALARIED PENSION PLAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge George M. Marovich

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Renee Marker ("Marker") filed a claim against defendant Northrop Grumman Space & Missions Systems Corporation Salaried Pension Plan (the "Plan") seeking benefits under the Plan pursuant to § 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).

The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the Court denies defendant's motion for summary judgment and grants plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

The parties agree on all of the material facts and have filed a joint statement of uncontested material facts. Accordingly, the following facts are undisputed.

Plaintiff Marker was once married to the late Robert Marker, who was a participant in the defendant Plan by virtue of his employment with TRW (a company acquired by Northrop Grumman Corporation) and/or Northrup Grumman Corporation from 1967 to 1987. When Robert Marker turned 55 in 1994, he had a vested right to a pension benefit under the Plan. Robert Marker's right allowed him to elect either to wait and begin receiving benefits when he turned 65 (in November 2004) or to take a reduced benefit anytime after he reached the age of 55.

Marker married Robert Marker in 1992, and the two divorced in 2001. On June 20, 2001, the Circuit Court of Kane County entered a Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage, which provided, in relevant part:

TRW Pension Plan: The parties agree that [Mr. Marker] will at the time the TRW pension benefits can be exercised (December 2004), elect the 100% Joint and Survivor Annuity Option with the understanding [Mr. Marker] will receive 100% of the pension payments until he expires, and [Marker] the remaining benefits until she expires as provided by the TRW Plan. (Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage).

Marker's Request for Benefits and the Plan's Denial

Robert Marker died on January 22, 2003. Soon after, Marker sought benefits under the Plan. On March 3, 2003, Marker's counsel submitted to the Plan a draft domestic relations order ("DRO") in an apparent attempt to get the Plan's approval of it as a Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO") before submission to the Kane County Circuit Court Judge. Marker's letter to the Plan did not mention Robert Marker's death.

The Plan responded on March 14, 2003. (The March 14, 2003 letter suggests the Plan may have responded earlier, but no evidence of a prior response has been submitted to the Court.) The March 14, 2003 letter stated:

It has recently been brought to my attention by the TRW Benefits Service Center that Mr. Robert Marker died on January 22, 2003 (a fact which was not mentioned in your March 3, 2003 letter). If I had known this fact when I reviewed your draft QDRO, I would have responded differently.

I have reviewed the portion of the Markers' Marital Settlement Agreement, date June 20, 2001, providing Renee Marker's sole right under this provision is to be designated as the joint annuitant with respect to the annuity to be provided to Mr. Marker when he elects to take that annuity. No mention whatsoever is made of any right to be considered as his spouse for purpose of a pre-retirement survivor annuity. Given the fact that Mr. Marker died before he elected to commence payment of his benefit, there is no benefit that will be payable to him. As such, any right Ms. Marker may have had under the Marital Settlement was extinguished with his death.

Given that Ms. Marker currently has no rights under the TRW Salaried Pension Plan, it is not necessary for you to prepare a revised QDRO. Any QDRO that you might provide will be rejected as unacceptable under ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code. (Plan's March 14, 2003 Letter). For reasons that are not clear in the record, the Plan sent Marker another letter three days later, on March 17, 2003. That letter stated, in relevant part:

After researching your request concerning receiving pension benefit's [sic], on behalf of Mr. Robert Marker, this is what we have found: Under the terms of the applicable TRW Salaried Pension, Life insurance and Health and Life plans no survivor benefit is payable.

The Marker Marital Settlement Agreement has been reviewed, and it has been determined, due to the provisions of that document, that you are not eligible for any pension payments, as the ex-spouse of Mr. Marker. The agreement provided that you be designated as the joint annuitant, at the time that Mr. Marker would have made a retirement election. Your agreement does not provide any pre-retirement survivor benefits. Because he died before commencing any benefits, you are therefore ineligible to receive any benefits. Please review the enclosed documents. (Plan's March 17, 2003 Letter).

The Circuit Court of Kane County subsequently entered several domestic relations orders relating to Marker and the Plan. The parties have not submitted to this Court the orders the Circuit Court of Kane County entered on August 14, 2003 and October 24, 2003. Nor have the parties submitted to this Court the Plan's denials of Marker's requests for benefits based on the August 14 and October 24, 2003 court orders.

For reasons that are not clear, the Circuit Court of Kane County issued another domestic relations order on July 26, 2004 (the "Order"). The Order stated, in relevant part:

NOW, THEREFORE, in consideration of the foregoing, the court orders as follows:

1. It is intended that this Order constitute a "Qualified Domestic Relations Order" (hereinafter "QDRO") as defined in section 414(p) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended ("Code") and section 206(d)(3) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended ("ERISA"), so as to provide certain Plan benefits, as hereinafter specified, to an "Alternate Payee" (within the meaning of section 414(p)(8) of the Code and section 206(d)(3)(K) of ERISA). This Order shall be administered and interpreted in conformity with the provisions thereof which shall preempt any provisions of state law inconsistent therewith. The Court shall retain jurisdiction to amend this Order upon motion of any party, but solely for the purposes of establishing or maintaining its status as a QDRO. No amendment of this Order shall require the Plan to provide any type or form of benefit, or any option, not otherwise provided under the then applicable terms of the Plan.

2. This Order applies only to the TRW Salaried Pension Plan, a defined benefit pension plan qualified under section 401(a) of the Code and exempt from taxation under Section 501(a) of the Code. The Plan Administrator is Northrop Grumman Space & Mission Systems Corp., 1900 Richmond Road, Cleveland, Ohio 44124.

3. The Participant under the Plan is: Name: Robert R. Marker Address: 109 Lakeside Drive, Apt. 216

St. Charles, IL 60174

SSN: * * * Date of Birth: 11/27/39 The Alternate Payee under the Plan is: Name: Renee K. Marker ...


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