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Cowser-Griffin v. Griffin

Supreme Court of Virginia

February 26, 2015

Kimberley Cowser-Griffin, Executrix of the Estate of David Griffin, Appellant,
v.
Sandra D.T. Griffin, Appellee

Petition for certiorari filed at, 06/24/2015

Upon an appeal from a judgment rendered by the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Court of Appeals No. 1177-13-1.

Justice Kelsey took no part in the consideration of this case. JUSTICE MILLETTE, with whom CHIEF JUSTICE LEMONS and SENIOR JUSTICE KOONTZ join, dissenting.

OPINION

Upon consideration of the record, briefs, and argument of counsel, the Court is of opinion that the Court of Appeals of Virginia did not err.

For the reasons stated in the majority opinion of the Court of Appeals in Griffin v. Griffin, 62 Va.App. 736, 753 S.E.2d 574 (2014), the judgment of the Court of Appeals is affirmed. The appellant shall pay to the appellee two hundred and fifty dollars damages.

This order shall be certified to the Court of Appeals of Virginia and to the Circuit Court of Sussex County, and shall be published in the Virginia Reports.

Justice Kelsey took no part in the consideration of this case.

DISSENT

JUSTICE MILLETTE, with whom CHIEF JUSTICE LEMONS and SENIOR JUSTICE KOONTZ join, dissenting.

Because I conclude that ERISA-governed death benefits successfully vested in his surviving spouse at David Griffin's death, and are therefore not subject to limitation by a posthumously entered Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO), I must respectfully dissent.

In 1996, in the course of their original divorce action, David and Sandra Griffin entered into a Property Settlement Agreement (PSA) in which they agreed to name their children as beneficiaries in " 401(k) plans and other such plans which would be distributed upon the death of either party." This PSA was incorporated into their 1998 final divorce decree.

[289 Va. 190] David Griffin died on May 26, 2012. At the time, he was actively employed at Dominion Power with an ERISA-governed Dominion Salaried Savings Plan (the Plan), which provides retirement and death benefits payable pursuant to ERISA. In this instance, upon the death of a Plan participant, the Plan documents provide for a lump sum payment to the surviving spouse unless the spouse explicitly consents to another beneficiary or unless a QDRO has been entered providing for an alternate beneficiary.

It is undisputed that Mr. Griffin's surviving spouse, Kimberly Cowser-Griffin, did not consent to the naming of other beneficiaries. It is likewise undisputed that neither the PSA or divorce decree met the statutory requirements for a QDRO. For this reason, Sandra Griffin now seeks entry of a posthumous QDRO to award the Griffin children Plan benefits.

I.

The majority concludes that nothing prevents posthumous QDROs. I agree that posthumous QDROs are at times permissible. Indeed, the regulations concerning timing of QDROs promulgated by the Labor Relations Board appear to permit posthumous QDROs, stating that a QDRO does not fail " solely because of the time at which it is issued," and illustrating this rule with an example involving the death of a participant. 29 C.F.R. § 2530.206(c)(1); see also 29 C.F.R. § 2530.206(c)(2) (ex. 1). If Mr. Griffin was unmarried at the time of his death with no designated ...


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