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Lehn v. GE Pension Plan

July 31, 2008

RONALD J. LEHN, DECLARATION OF TRUST JULY 25, 2002, MARY BETH PONSETTI, SUCCESSOR TRUSTEE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GE PENSION PLAN, GE SAVINGS AND SECURITY PROGRAM, GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY, AND THE ESTATE OF LISA LEHN, DELIA GARCIA, GUARDIAN, AND KAREN RIVELAND, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael M. Mihm United States District Judge

ORDER

This matter is now before the Court on Motions to Dismiss by GE Pension Plan, GE Savings and Security Program, General Electric Company (hereinafter referred to collectively as the "GE Defendants"), the Estate of Lisa Lehn, Delia Garcia ("Garcia"), and Karen Riveland ("Riveland"). For the reasons set forth below, the GE Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [#30] is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The Motion to Dismiss by the Estate of Lisa Lehn and Garcia [#24] is GRANTED, and Riveland's Motion to Dismiss [#47] is GRANTED. Given the rulings contained in the Motions to Dismiss, the Motion to Strike [#49] is effectively MOOT.

BACKGROUND

Defendants GE Pension Plan and GE Savings and Security Program (the "Plan") is a benefit plan organized under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2).*fn1 Defendant General Electric Company ("GE") operates a facility in Peru, Illinois.

Decedent, Ronald J. Lehn ("Lehn"), was employed by GE at the Peru facility. Lehn had two children from a prior marriage, Samuel Lehn ("Samuel") and Sarah Lehn ("Sarah"). At the time of his death, he was married to Lisa Lehn.

Lehn's retirement account with the GE Plan exceeded $1 million. Given his desire to make certain bequests upon his death, he hired an attorney and engaged in estate planning. On July 25, 2002, Lehn signed a Declaration of Trust to implement his estate plan. Following payment of expenses and taxes, the Trust directed the trustee to pay 40% of the principal to his spouse, Lisa Lehn, 25% of the principal to Samuel, 25% of the principal to Sarah, and 10% of the principal to his siblings and parents.

Lehn then contacted employees at GE to obtain a beneficiary designation form. He presented a signed Designation of Beneficiary form to GE employees designating the trustee under the Declaration of Trust dated July 25, 2002, as the recipient of 100% of his benefits under the Plan. Lehn was advised that it was necessary for he and his spouse to obtain and present their notarized signatures on a Consent Form confirming the Waiver of Rights to Benefits to be paid to the Trustee under the Designation of Beneficiary form.

Lehn died on November 8, 2005. The trustee under the Trust made a request for payment of benefits due under the Plan. The Plan refused to pay the benefits to the trustee because Karen Riveland, the GE employee who notarized the signatures of the Lehns on the Consent Form, indicated that Lisa Lehn had not signed the form in her presence. On October 29, 2007, the $1,118,283.39 in Lehn's GE Savings & Security Program account was paid to the Estate of Lisa Lehn, who had been adjudicated disabled. Garcia, the Guardian of the Estate of Lisa Lehn, has demanded that the amounts in Lehn's GE Pension Plan account also be paid to the Estate of Lisa Lehn.

The Trustee brought this action seeking to recover the amount of benefits allegedly due to the Trust under Lehn's Beneficiary Designation form. The Trustee further asserts state law claims against GE and Riveland under the Illinois Notary Public Act. Defendants have moved to dismiss this action. The motions are fully briefed, and this Order follows.

LEGAL STANDARD

Courts have traditionally held that a complaint should not be dismissed unless it appears from the pleadings that the plaintiff could prove no set of facts in support of her claim which would entitle her to relief. See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957); Gould v. Artisoft, Inc., 1 F.3d 544, 548 (7th Cir. 1993). Rather, a complaint should be construed broadly and liberally in conformity with the mandate in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(f). More recently, the Supreme Court has phrased this standard as requiring a showing sufficient "to raise a right to relief beyond a speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007).

For purposes of a motion to dismiss, the complaint is construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff; its well-pleaded factual allegations are taken as true, and all reasonably-drawn inferences are drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69 (1984); Lanigan v. Village of East Hazel Crest, 110 F.3d 467 (7th Cir. 1997); M.C.M. Partners, Inc. V. Andrews-Bartlett & Assoc., Inc., 62 F.3d 967, 969 (7th Cir. 1995); Early v. Bankers Life & Cas. Co., 959 F.2d 75 (7th Cir. 1992).

DISCUSSION

I. GE Defendants' Motion ...


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