Roark v. Universal Fibers, Inc. Associates Savings Plan
OPINION and ORDER granting 23 Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. Signed by Judge James P. Jones on 2/14/17. (ejs)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
UNIVERSAL FIBERS, INC.
ASSOCIATES SAVINGS PLAN,
Case No. 1:16CV00040
OPINION AND ORDER
By: James P. Jones
United States District Judge
R. Lucas Hobbs and Sheri A. Hiter, Elliott Lawson & Minor, P.C., Bristol,
Virginia, for Plaintiff; W. Bradford Stallard, Penn, Stuart & Eskridge, Abingdon,
Virginia, for Defendant.
In this case governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, I
previously denied the defendant’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. I found
that rather than support judgment for defendant Universal Fibers, Inc. Associates
Savings Plan (“Plan”), the record instead suggested that plaintiff Polly Roark is
entitled to the proceeds of her late husband’s retirement fund, which the defendant
had mistakenly paid to the decedent’s parents. Op. and Order, Jan. 6, 2017, at 10,
ECF No. 22.
Based on that ruling, the plaintiff has now herself moved for
judgment on the pleadings. The motion has been fully briefed and orally argued
and is ripe for determination.
In its response to the present motion, the Plan agrees that “the relevant facts
are essentially undisputed.” Resp. to Pl.’s Mot. 1, ECF No. 24. It does suggest
that there is an issue as to its lack of knowledge that the decedent had a spouse at
the time of his death. Id. The Plan points to 29 U.S.C. § 1055(c)(2)(B), which
states that spousal consent to a beneficiary election is not required when “it is
established to the satisfaction of a plan representative that the consent [of the
spouse] may not be obtained because there is no spouse, because the spouse cannot
be located, or because of such other circumstances as the Secretary of the Treasury
may by regulations prescribe.”
A relevant Treasury Regulation provides the
following question and answer:
Q–27: Are there circumstances when spousal consent to a
participant’s election to waive the QJSA or the QPSA is not required?
A–27: Yes. If it is established to the satisfaction of a plan
representative that there is no spouse or that the spouse cannot be
located, spousal consent to waive the QJSA or the QPSA is not
26 C.F.R. § 1.401(a)-20.
In this case, however, the Plan has not alleged that its representatives
undertook any investigation or reviewed any documents to satisfy themselves that
the decedent was unmarried at the time of his death. Before paying the account
proceeds to the decedent’s parents, the Plan could have examined public records to
determine whether there was a surviving spouse. Simply requesting and reviewing
the death certificate likely would have informed the defendant that the decedent
had left a widow. There is no indication in this case that the Plan representatives
did anything at all to satisfy themselves that the decedent died unmarried. The
cited statute and regulations thus do not shelter the Plan from its obligation to pay
the money owed to the plaintiff.
Based on the undisputed facts of record, I find that the plaintiff is entitled to
judgment on the pleadings and will grant her motion.
For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that:
The plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, ECF No. 23, is
Judgment will be entered following the determination of the
plaintiff’s request for prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees;
The plaintiff must file a motion stating the grounds of her request for
prejudgment interest and attorneys’ fees within 14 days of the entry of this Opinion
and Order. The motion for attorneys’ fees must include the requirements set forth
in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2)(B)(ii, iii, iv), including the terms of
any agreement between counsel and the plaintiff about fees for the services for
which the claim is made. The Plan must file a response to the motion within 14
days thereafter. The plaintiff may file a reply within 7 days after filing of the
The Plan must file any dispositive motions as to its Third-Party
Complaint within 21 days of the date of entry of this Opinion and Order.
ENTER: February 14, 2017
/s/ James P. Jones
United States District Judge
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