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Becker v. Williams

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

January 28, 2015

LAWRENCE M. BECKER, as fiduciary of the Xerox Corporation Savings Plan and Xerox Corporation Retirement Income Guarantee Plan, Plaintiff, CARMEN STEPHANIE MAYSWILLIAMS, Defendant-Appellee,
v.
ASA WILLIAMS, JR., as personal representative of the Estate of Asa Willie Williams, Defendant-Appellant

Argued and Submitted, Seattle, Washington: May 15, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington. D.C. No. 3:11-cv-05830-BHS. Benjamin H. Settle, District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[*]

Employee Retirement Income Security Act

The panel reversed the district court's summary judgment in an ERISA interpleader action seeking a determination as to the proper beneficiary of proceeds under two employee benefit plans.

The plan participant formally designated his wife as his beneficiary. After their divorce, he designated his son as beneficiary over the telephone but did not sign and return beneficiary designation forms.

The panel held that the beneficiary designation forms were not " plan documents" governing the plan administrator's award of benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a)(1)(D). The panel concluded that there was a triable issue as to whether, under state law, the plan participant strictly or substantially complied with the governing plan documents' requirements for changing his beneficiary designation. The panel remanded the case for further proceedings.

Steven P. Krafchick, Krafchick Law Firm PLLC, Seattle, Wash., argued the cause and filed the briefs for the Defendant-Appellant. With him on the briefs was Lisa V. Benedetti, Krafchick Law Firm PLLC, Seattle, Wash.

Marcia P. Ellsworth, Peterson Russell Kelly, PLLC, Bellevue, Wash., argued the cause and filed a brief for the Defendant-Appellee. With her on the brief was Merryn B. DeBenedetti, Peterson Russell Kelly, PLLC, Bellevue, Wash.

Before: Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, Marsha S. Berzon, and Richard C. Tallman, Circuit Judges. Opinion by Judge O'Scannlain.

OPINION

Page 1036

O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:

We must decide whether a decedent succeeded in his attempt to ensure that his son--and not his ex-wife--received the benefits to which his employer's retirement plans entitled him.

I

A

When he retired in October 2004, Asa Williams, Sr., (" Asa, Senior" ) had worked

Page 1037

for the Xerox Corporation for over thirty years. He participated in various benefit programs that Xerox maintained for its employees, including the Xerox Retirement Income Guarantee Plan (the " RIGP" ) and the Xerox Savings Plan (the " Savings Plan," and, together with the RIGP, collectively, the " Xerox Plans" ), both of which are subject to the Employee Retirement Income ...


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