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Roark v. Universal Fibers, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Abingdon Division

January 6, 2017

POLLY ROARK, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSAL FIBERS, INC. ASSOCIATES SAVINGS PLAN, Defendant.

          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.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          James P. Jones, United States District Judge

         This case, governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”), presents the question of whether the death benefit due under a former employee's retirement plan is payable to the former employee's widow, whom he married after his employment terminated, or to his parents, whom he had designated as beneficiaries prior to his marriage and during his employment. I conclude that the widow, who is the plaintiff in this action, is entitled to the death benefit; therefore, I will deny the defendant's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings.

         I.

         In connection with the present motion, the basic facts of the case are not in dispute. Steven Roark was employed by Prisma Fibers, Inc. (“Prisma”), a predecessor of Universal Fibers, Inc. (“Universal Fibers”), from some time before April 1, 1990, until December 4, 1999. During his employment, Steven participated in the retirement plan administered by Prisma Fibers, Inc. Associates Savings Plan. Throughout his employment, he was unmarried.

         On March 16, 1990, Steven completed a Beneficiary Designation Form that named his mother as primary beneficiary and his father as contingent beneficiary of any death benefit payable under the plan. On May 31, 1995, Steven completed a Beneficiary Designation Form designating his mother and father as the primary beneficiaries of his retirement account, and naming his brother Robbie as contingent beneficiary. On March 10, 2000, after his employment with Prisma terminated, Steven married Polly Roark. He did not submit a designation form naming Polly as the primary beneficiary of his account or otherwise changing his named beneficiaries.

         The Summary Plan Description says the following regarding payment of death benefits:

         Who is the beneficiary of my death benefit?

If you are married at the time of your death, your spouse will be the beneficiary of the entire death benefit unless an election is made to change the beneficiary. IF YOU WISH TO DESIGNATE A BENEFICIARY OTHER THAN YOUR SPOUSE, YOUR SPOUSE MUST IRREVOCABLY CONSENT TO WAIVE ANY RIGHT TO THE PORTION OF THE DEATH BENEFIT PAYABLE TO YOUR SPOUSE. YOUR SPOUSE'S CONSENT MUST BE IN WRITING, BE WITNESSED BY A NOTARY OR A PLAN REPRESENTATIVE, AND ACKNOWLEDGE THE SPECIFIC NON-SPOUSE BENEFICIARY.
If you are married, you have named someone other than your spouse to be your beneficiary as described in the preceding paragraph, and you wish to again change your beneficiary designation, your spouse must again consent to the change, unless you are changing your designation to name your spouse as your beneficiary. In addition, you may elect a beneficiary other than your spouse without your spouse's consent if your spouse cannot be located.

Compl. Ex. B at 12-13, ECF No. 1-3. The Summary Plan Description further states, “If you are not married, you may designate your beneficiary on a form to be supplied to you by the Administrator.” Id. at 13. In addition, it reads, “Since your spouse has certain rights in the death benefit, you should immediately report any change in your marital status to the Administrator.” Id. The Summary Plan Description also states, “If you terminate employment with us and subsequently die, your beneficiary will be entitled to the vested percentage of your remaining account balance at the time of your death.” Id.

         Steven did not notify the Plan of his marriage to Polly, and Polly never submitted a written consent to waive any right she had to Steven Roark's death benefit.

         Prisma is now operating as Universal Fibers, and the Prisma Fibers, Inc. Associates Savings Plan is now operating as the Universal Fibers, Inc. Associates Savings Plan (hereinafter “Plan”).

         Steven died on February 2, 2012. He was married to Polly at the time of his death, a fact which is indicated on his Certificate of Death.[1] Following Steven's death, on April 18, 2013, Steven's parents submitted Death Benefit Distribution Request forms to the Plan. The Plan paid a death benefit in the amount of $54, 257.90 to Robert and Joan Roark, Steven's parents. Joan Roark has since died, and the Plan ...


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