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Corbisiero v. Bank of America Corp.

March 16, 2010

CHARLES CORBISIERO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA CORPORATION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Samuel Der-Yeghiayan United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

SAMUEL DER-YEGHIAYAN, District Judge

This is a denial of benefits action brought by Plaintiff Charles Corbisiero (Corbisiero) in part under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Corbisiero brought the instant action contending that he was employed by LaSalle Bank Corporation (LaSalle) and was promised certain benefits while employed at LaSalle. Corbisiero contends that Defendant Bank of America Corporation (BOA) purchased LaSalle's parent company, terminated his employment, and improperly denied him benefits owed to him under a severance plan and two bonus plans.

Corbisiero included in his complaint ERISA wrongful denial of benefits claims (Count I), state law breach of contract claims (Count II), a claim for attorney's fees under the Illinois Attorneys Fees in Wage Actions Act, 705 ILCS 225/1 et seq. (Count III), an alternative claim under ERISA for the wrongful denial of benefits (Count IV), an equitable estoppel ERISA claim to stop denial of benefits (Count V), and a claim in the alternative under ERISA for equitable estoppel to stop denial of benefits (Count VI). Defendants moved to dismiss Counts II, III, V and VI. The court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts II and III. The court denied Defendants' motion to dismiss Counts V and VI. Counts I, IV, V, and VI thus remain alive in this case.

The parties have agreed to a resolution of the remaining Counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, based on the filings of the parties and the administrative record. The Court also gave the parties an opportunity to file proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law, and both sides have filed such documents. We have reviewed and considered the administrative record and all of the documents submitted to the court by the parties. We find that Defendants should prevail in this matter on all Counts and enter judgment in their favor.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 52, "[i]n an action tried on the facts without a jury . . ., the court must find the facts specially and state its conclusions of law separately." Id. The findings of fact and conclusions of law "may be stated on the record after the close of the evidence or may appear in an opinion or a memorandum of decision filed by the court." Id. Upon issuing the findings of fact and conclusions of law, "[j]udgment must be entered under" Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 58. Id.

FINDINGS OF FACT

1. Corbisiero was a long-time employee of LaSalle.

2. While employed at LaSalle, Corbisiero was eligible for benefits under the ABN AMRO Group Severance Pay Plan (ABN Severance Plan), and under two bonus plans referred to as the ABN AMRO Group Long Term Incentive Plan (LTIP) and the ABN AMRO Group Corporate Incentive Plan (CIP).

3. The ABN Severance Plan required that employees sign a waiver and release agreement in order to be eligible for severance benefits. (AR 52, 59).

4. In the ABN Severance Plan, LaSalle "reserv[ed] the right in its sole discretion to amend or terminate the Plan at any time in writing. . . ., provided, however, that no amendment nor termination shall reduce severance which have commenced being provided to an eligible employee." (AR 60).

5. LaSalle sent Corbisiero an undated letter from Robert J. Moore concerning benefits offered in the CIP. (Notification Letter). The Notification Letter, which is explicitly mentioned in the CIP, was part of the CIP Administrator's obligations to apprise participants of certain information for each year.

6. On October 1, 2007, BOA purchased the parent company of LaSalle and the ABN Severance Plan was frozen as part of BOA's purchase. No employees could utilize the plan after the purchase and instead participated in the BOA Corporate Severance Program (CSP), which was known at one point as the "Bank of America Transition Assistance Policy." (AR 46-47).

7. A provision of the CSP provided the following: "The Committee shall have discretionary authority to determine eligibility for and to construe the terms of the Plan, and shall have such other discretionary authority as may be necessary to enable it to discharge its responsibilities under the Plan, including, but not limited to, the power to [r]esolve disputes concerning eligibility and participation in the Plan and the amount of transitional assistance, including severance pay, [and] the ability to make factual determinations." (AR 132). The CSP also provides that "[t]he decision of the Committee . . . shall be final and binding on all parties . . . ." (AR 132).

8. The ABN Severance Plan, which LaSalle employees were subject to prior to the purchase of LaSalle's parent company by BOA, provided discretionary authority to the administrator. (AR 59-60, 81).

9. Under the CIP and LTIP, generally, in order for an employee to receive bonus benefits, the employee needed to be employed on the payment date, which was a date in the first quarter following the end of the plan year. One of the exceptions to the general rule was that an ...


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