January 16, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 15-CV-8785 -
Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, Judge.
Bauer, Rovner, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(ERISA) requires administrators of employee benefit plans to
comply with the documents that control the plans. 29 U.S.C.
§ 1104(a)(1)(D). In the case of life insurance policies,
that means death benefits are paid to the beneficiary
designated in the policy, notwithstanding equitable arguments
or claims that others might assert.
case, the deceased employee was Georges Cehovic, whose
employer offered its employees an insurance benefit plan
through ReliaStar Life Insurance Company. Georges had two
policies under the plan with ReliaStar: a basic life
insurance policy with a death benefit of $263, 000, and a
supplemental life insurance policy with a death benefit of
$788, 000. On both policies, Georges listed his sister,
plaintiff Emma Cehovic-Dixneuf, as the sole and primary
beneficiary. After Georges died, his ex-wife, defendant Lisa
Wong, claimed that she and the child she had with Georges
were entitled to the death benefits from the supplemental
policy. Any equitable arguments Wong might make can gain no
traction, however, if the supplemental life insurance policy
is covered by ERISA.
district court granted summary judgment for plaintiff
Cehovic-Dixneuf, finding that the supplemental life insurance
policy is indeed covered by ERISA. We affirm. Defendant Wong
failed to offer evidence to the district court showing any
genuine issue of any fact material to the case. She did not
present her evidentiary objections to Cehovic-Dixneuf's
evidence in the district court when she could and should
noted, ERISA ordinarily requires plan administrators to
manage plans according to the governing documents, including
beneficiary designations. Kennedy v. Plan Administrator
for DuPont Savings & Investment Plan, 555 U.S. 285,
288 (2009) (beneficiary designation for pension plan upon
participant's death); Egelhoff v. Egelhoff, 532
U.S. 141 (2001) (life insurance benefits under ERISA plan
awarded to designated beneficiary, who was decedent's
ex-wife, despite contrary state law); Melton v.
Melton, 324 F.3d 941 (7th Cir. 2003)
(same). It is virtually impossible to avoid
a written designation of a beneficiary for a life insurance
policy governed by ERISA. To avoid the effect of beneficiary
designation, therefore, Wong has argued in the district court
and on appeal that the supplemental policy is not governed by
question on the merits is governed by our decision in
Postma v. Paul Revere Life Insurance Co., 223 F.3d
533 (7th Cir. 2000). We explained there the scope of
ERISA's coverage of insurance for the benefit of
employees and the scope of the United States Department of
Labor's so-called safe-harbor regulation, which offers a
way to exclude insurance for employees from ERISA coverage.
We explained in Postma that five elements must be
shown for ERISA to cover an employee welfare plan like an
(1) a plan, fund, or program, (2) established or maintained,
(3) by an employer or by an employee organization, or by
both, (4) for the purpose of providing medical, surgical,
hospital care, sickness, accident, disability, death,
unemployment or vacation benefits, apprenticeship or other
training programs, day care centers, scholarship funds,
prepaid legal services or severance benefits, (5) to
participants or their beneficiaries.
Id. at 537, quoting Ed Miniat, Inc. v. Globe
Life Ins. Group, Inc., 805 F.2d 732, 738 (7th Cir.
1986). All of those criteria are satisfied here. The life
insurance policy was part of a program established by
Georges's employer for the purpose of providing death
benefits to participants or their beneficiaries.
asserts, however, that the supplemental life insurance policy
should fall outside ERISA because Georges paid all of the
premiums on the policy himself (and, she says, with marital
assets), without any direct subsidy from the employer. That
is not enough to avoid ERISA coverage, however. The
safe-harbor regulation excludes from coverage some group
insurance programs, but with four requirements that must all
For purposes of title I of the Act and this chapter, the
terms "employee welfare benefit plan" and
"welfare plan" shall not include a group or
group-type insurance program offered by an insurer to
employees or members ...