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Evan Lofton v. Panasonic Pension Plan

December 12, 2012

EVAN LOFTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PANASONIC PENSION PLAN, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Evan Lofton ("Lofton") brought a single count action against Defendant Panasonic Pension Plan (the "Plan") alleging that the Plan wrongly denied Lofton's claim for pension benefits in violation of Section 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §1132(a)(1)(B). The Plan has moved for summary judgment. It asserts that Lofton's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of laches. The Plan also asserts that judgment should be entered in its favor because the Plan's decision to deny Lofton's claim for additional benefits was not arbitrary and capricious. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the Plan's motion and enters judgment in its favor.

STATEMENT OF UNDISPUTED MATERIAL FACTS*fn1

Matsushita Industrial Company employed Lofton from March 10, 1976 until June 13, 1988. (Doc. 56, Def. 56.1, ¶¶ 1-2.) As a Matsushita employee, Lofton participated in the Matsushita Industrial Company Retirement Security Plan (the "MIC Plan"). (Id. at ¶ 3.) The MIC Plan merged with the Plan in 1988. (Id. at ¶ 4.) The version of the MIC Plant in effect on the date that Lofton's employment ended was the MIC Plan as restated effective April 2, 1984 and subsequently amended in 1985 (the "1984 Plan"). (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) The 1984 Plan governed Lofton's entitlement to benefits under the MIC Plan. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

I. The 1988 Payout of Lofton's Benefits Under the Plan

Lofton's personal contributions to the Plan plus interest through December 31, 1987 were $2,422.74. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Upon termination of her employment with Matsushita, Lofton signed a form entitled "Matsushita Industrial Company RSP Request for Payment of Benefits." (Id. at ¶ 11.)*fn2 The Request for Payment of Benefits sheet provided Lofton with five options for the method by which she wished to receive benefits she was entitled to under the Plan. (Id.; Plan 004). One of these options was for a lump-sum cash amount, which was equivalent to the actuarial value of her retirement income. (Id.) A second option was for the refund of contributions plus interest thereon. (Id.) This refund would be for the employee's portion of contributions, Matsushita's contributions would remain in the RSP until Lofton was eligible for normal retirement. (Id.) Lofton selected the refund of contributions plus interest option. (Def. 56.1, ¶ 20.)

In order to effectuate the Request for Payment of Benefits, the Plan prepared a benefit estimate work sheet to determine the benefits to which Lofton was entitled under the 1984 Plan. (Id. at ¶ 14.) This estimate found that the value of Lofton's entire vested benefit as of August 1, 1988 was $2,572.69. (Id. at ¶¶ 16-18.) Lofton concedes that the Plan's calculation of her vested benefit as of August 1, 1988 was correct. (Id. at ¶ 55.)

Section 7.10 of the 1984 Plan states that: Nowithstanding a Participant's election to the contrary or any other provision of this Plan, if the Actuarial Equivalent single sum value of such Participant's Retirement Benefit...under this Plan is not greater than $3,500, the actuarial value of such Retirement Benefit...shall be paid in one or more payments within a single calendar year in full and final satisfaction thereof..." (Id. at ¶ 19.) Since the Plan calculated Lofton's total vested benefit to be $2,572.69, i.e., less than $3,500, it paid her in a single lump-sum payment of her total vested benefit despite the fact she had elected to only receive a refund of her contributions to the Plan plus interest. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Accordingly, the Plan sent Lofton a check for $2,543.58*fn3 and a letter on August 1, 1988 via certified mail. (Id. at ¶ 21.) The letter stated in relevant part that:

Upon termination of your employment with Matsushita Industrial Company you were eligible for a vested benefit from the Retirement Security Plan (RSP). Payment of this vested benefit normally begins at age 65. However, the RSP Advisory Committee has approved a policy which affects those terminations eligible for a small vested benefit. This policy directs payment, in a single lump-sum distribution, of the present value of your vested benefit if this present value is less than $3,500. We have determined that the present value of your vested benefit is less than $3,500. Hence, the enclosed check in the amount of $2,543.58 represents a refund of your contributions plus interest from RSP, as you requested in your Direction of Payment, and a distribution of the present value of your vested benefits as approved by the Advisory Committee.

(Id. at ¶ 22.)

Lofton received both the August 1, 1988 letter and the $2,543.58 payment in August 1988. (Id. at ¶ 23.) She deposited the check shortly after she received it. (Id.) This payment was a refund of all of Lofton's contributions to the Plan plus interest through her August 1, 1988 distribution date. (Id. at ¶ 24.) It was also a distribution of her entire vested benefit because her contributions would have been sufficient to fund the annual annuity provided for by the Plan as of her normal retirement date of July 1, 2017. (Id.)

II. The 1990 Supplemental Distribution of Benefits to Lofton from the Plan

On or around February 13, 1990, the Plan sent a letter to Lofton that stated in relevant part: According to our records, you received a distribution from RSP during 1988. Federal regulations were finalized in 1989 with respect to the calculation of your distribution.

As a result of these finalized regulations, we have determined that you are entitled to an additional distribution from RSP. Because your additional RSP distribution does not exceed $3,500, you will be paid a single sum payment as soon as practicable. (Id. at ¶ 25.) The Plan prepared another benefit estimate work sheet for Lofton in which it recalculated that the present value of Lofton's unpaid vested benefit under the Plan on April 1, 1990 would have been $6,381.54 if Lofton had not received the $2,572.69 distribution in 1988. (Id. at ¶ 26.) The Plan then paid Lofton the $3,427.96 remainder of the vested benefit.*fn4 (Id. at ΒΆΒΆ 26-27.) Lofton disputes receiving any communications from the Plan about the recalculation of the vested benefit; however, she does not dispute that she ...


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