The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOODS
Henry Woods, U.S. District Judge.
Pending now before the court are cross-motions of the plaintiffs, Robert Wilson et al, and the defendant, the Mid-South Foundry, Inc. (Mid-South), for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, the defendant's motion shall be granted and the motion of the plaintiffs shall be denied.
In October, 1984, the Mid-South Foundry, Inc. operated by the defendant ceased operations. The plant's closing caused the several plaintiffs in this matter, former employees of Mid-South, to lose their jobs. The Mid-South Pension Plan Committee, acting in its capacity as named fiduciary for Mid-South's Pension Plan pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1102(a), determined that all former employees whose benefits under the pension plan had an actuarial value less than $ 1,750.00 would receive their benefits in one lump sum payment, while those whose benefits had an actuarial value in excess of $ 1,750.00 would receive a paid-up annuity contract from the Banker's Life Insurance Company. The plaintiffs fall into the latter category,
each having received and accepted
an annuity contract. (Affidavit of Ralph Hill). At least some, and maybe all, of the plaintiffs had requested in writing to receive their pension benefits in one lump sum.
This lawsuit arises out of the plaintiffs' claim that the Plan Committee's refusal to pay lump sum benefits violated the provisions of the plan, Article V, Section 5.05, and their rights under The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. (ERISA). Two questions are raised. One, does the Mid-South Pension Plan confer on the plaintiffs a right to receive their accrued benefits by lump sum payment and, two, does ERISA confer on the plaintiffs any such right?
Both parties agree that Article V, Section 5.05 of the Mid-South Pension Plan is dispositive of the first question, but they differ as to its proper interpretation. Section 5.05 reads in pertinent part:
The plaintiffs urge the court to construe this language to mean that a cash lump sum payment must be made if either the actuarial value of the benefits is less than $ 1,750.00 (condition (i)) or the employee agrees in writing to accept such payment (condition (i)). The court declines to manipulate the quoted language contrary to its plain meaning in order to reach the result advocated by the plaintiffs. Clearly, under Section 5.05 whether a lump sum payment is to be made in lieu of some other mode of payment is within the Pension Committee's discretion. The provision reads "if" condition (i) or condition (ii) is satisfied the Pension Committee "may" direct a lump sum payment to be made. The use of the word "may" connotes that a discretionary choice is to be made, as opposed to the words "shall" or "must," for example, which indicate an affirmative obligation. As recited in the Pension Plan Summary, the Plan was written to comply with the requirements of ERISA. The court takes notice that the Plan was artfully drafted to define legal rights and obligations and will, therefore, presume that the drafters intended the words used to be interpreted in their usual sense unless otherwise indicated. So interpreting Section 5.05 the court finds that the Mid-South Pension Plan confers no right upon the plaintiffs to receive lump sum payments, nor can the plan reasonably be interpretated to create that expectation.
Under ERISA, any right to a particular method or form of payment must be found in the pension agreement. The Act, by itself, provides for no specific mode of payment, by lump sum or otherwise. CZYZ v. General Pension Board, Bethlehem Steel Corp., 578 F. Supp. 126, 129 (W.D. Penn. 1983) citing Pompano v. Michael Schiavone & Sons, Inc., 680 F.2d 911, 914 (2d Cir. 1982); Fine v. Semet, 699 F.2d 1091, 1093 (11th Cir. 1983). Accordingly, since no right to lump sum payment arises under the Mid-South Pension Plan, no such corresponding right arises under ERISA.
The plaintiffs next argue that Mid-South's failure to disclose its interpretation of Section 5.05 -- that lump sum benefits were not available to members whose accrued benefits exceeded $ 1,750 -- was misleading and therefore in violation of ERISA, specifically 29 U.S.C. § 1022(b) and 29 C.F.R. § 2520.102-2(b).
This argument is rejected. Section 1022(b) enumerates the information to be contained in the description of the benefit plan and includes the requirement that the plan summary set forth "circumstances which may result in disqualification, ineligibility, or denial or loss of benefits." C.F.R. Section 2520.102-2(b) requires only that the plan summary description not have the effect to mislead or fail to inform.
The plaintiffs state in their brief, in conclusory fashion, that "the Defendants [sic] action to deny lump sum payments of vested benefits to Plaintiffs were [sic] arbitrary, capricious, discriminatory, inconsistent with the Pension Plan and in violation of ERISA and the Pension Plan." The court finds this conclusory allegation insufficient to create a genuine issue of fact. See Wright, Miller & Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure, Civil 2d § 2727.
Ralph Hill, President of Mid-South, stated in his affidavit that the Pension Committee acted to further the purpose of the plan. The introductory page to the plan summary states "the purpose of this Plan is to provide for the retirement of Employees." As a fiduciary, the Pension Committee was obligated to act with the above purpose in mind. See supra, f.n. 4 (purpose of ERISA is to guarantee pension payments to participants). The action taken, securing annuity contracts to provide pension payments to the plan's participants, was entirely consistent with the duties imposed upon the Pension Committee and was not arbitrary as a matter of law.
Accordingly, there being no genuine issues of material fact in dispute, the court finds that the defendant, Mid-South, is entitled to judgment as a matter of law and that the plaintiff's complaint should be, and is hereby, dismissed with prejudice. The costs herein shall be assessed ...