United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
BIRMINGHAM PLUMBERS & STEAMFITTERS LOCAL UNION NO. 91 PENSION PLAN, Plaintiff,
HEATHER NICOLE METCALF, et al., Defendants.
E. OTT CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
action, the Birmingham Plumbers & Steamfitters Local
Union No. 91 Pension Plan (the “Plan”) seeks a
declaratory judgment in connection with a dispute over what
party or parties are entitled to receive pension benefits
under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
(“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.
(Doc. 1 (“Complaint” or
“Compl.”)). The cause comes to be heard on the
Plan's motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Rule 12(c), Fed.R.Civ.P. (Doc. 10). The defendants, Heather
Nicole Metcalf (“Metcalf”), Brian Wayne Mabry
(“Brian”), and Cynthia Mabry Granberry
“Defendants”), have filed an answer (Doc. 4
(“Answer” or “Answ.”)), an amended
answer (Doc. 9 (“Amended Answer” or “Amd.
Answ.”)), and a response to the Plan's motion for
judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 11), expressing agreement
with the Plan's assertion that the pension benefits at
issue are, in fact, payable to Metcalf and Brian. The
court will therefore enter a declaratory
to the pleadings, the salient facts of the case are these:
The Plan is a defined benefit pension plan governed by ERISA.
(Compl., ¶¶ 1, 5). In relevant part, the Plan
provides that if a participant dies before he or she receives
60 months of retirement income, then under specified
circumstances the Plan will make monthly payments to the
participant's designated beneficiary until a total of 60
months of benefits have been paid. (Id.,
¶¶ 11-13). If a beneficiary is not properly
designated, the Plan pays benefits in accordance with the
terms of the Plan. (Id., ¶ 13). Those terms
provide that, with no designated beneficiary, the benefits
become payable to the personal representative of the
participant's estate if such representative presents
proof of his or her qualification to the Plan administrator
within six months after the participant's death.
(Id.) Absent the presentation of such proof by the
estate representative within the six-month period, the
benefits become payable, in succession, to the
participant's spouse, if any; then to the
participant's minor children, if any, in equal shares;
then to the participant's adult children, again, in equal
Plan acknowledges that it owes a benefit under the
above-described Plan provisions to the appropriate
beneficiary or beneficiaries of Mr. Hoyt Dewayne Mabry
(“Hoyt”), a Plan participant who died on or about
January 10, 2019. (Compl., ¶ 1, 6). After Hoyt's
death, the Plan received a claim for those benefits from
Defendants Metcalf and Brian, Hoyt's two adult children.
(Id., ¶¶ 7, 8, 14; Ans., ¶ 1; Amd.
Answ., ¶ 2). The Plan initially denied that claim on the
ground that it was filed less than six months after
Hoyt's death and was therefore unripe and that additional
information was required to perfect the claim, including that
Hoyt was not married at the time of his death and that
Metcalf and Brian were his only children. (Compl., ¶
the Plan received another claim for the benefits, this time
from Defendant Granberry, who was married to Hoyt until their
marriage ended in divorce in 2010. (Compl., ¶¶ 9,
18). She is also Metcalf and Brian's mother. (Answ.,
¶ 1). The Plan alleges that Granberry claimed to have a
beneficiary designation card naming her as the beneficiary of
any benefits payable under the Plan. (Compl., ¶ 18). The
Plan, however, says it had no record of a beneficiary
designation and thus requested that Granberry provide
additional information, which she failed to produce.
the Plan recognized that Granberry would be entitled to the
benefits if she had an authentic beneficiary designation card
and other conditions precedent to perfecting such a
designation were satisfied. (Id., ¶ 20; see
also id., ¶ 13). On the other hand, the Plan also
acknowledged that Metcalf and Brian's claim would be
valid if Granberry was not properly designated as a
beneficiary and Hoyt had neither a surviving spouse, minor
children, nor any other adult children. (Id., ¶
21). Given the potential for inconsistent obligations and
double payment, the Plan filed this action on October 23,
2019, as one in interpleader (Compl., Count I) or for a
declaratory judgment decreeing which claimant or claimants
are entitled to the benefits. (Id., Count II).
acting through counsel, filed an Answer and an amendment
thereto, wherein Defendants maintain that there is nothing in
controversy between them, as they now agree that the benefits
due under the Plan are properly payable to Metcalf and Brian.
(Answ., ¶¶ 3, 5-7; Amd. Answ., at 2). They have
further alleged that they are Hoyt's only children, that
Hoyt had no surviving spouse, that it has been more than six
months since his death and no estate has been opened (Ans.,
¶¶ 1, 5; Amd. Ans., ¶¶ 2-4). The Plan
then filed its instant motion for judgment on the pleadings.
(Doc. 10). In it, the Plan demands a declaratory judgment,
based on Count II of the Complaint, ordering and decreeing:
(1) that Brian and Metcalf are entitled to the benefits; (2)
that Granberry is not so entitled, (3) that the Plan pay the
benefits to Brian and Metcalf accordingly; (4) that Count I
of the Complaint, raising a claim in interpleader, be
dismissed; and (5) that each party bear its own costs and
expenses. (Id., at 6-7). Defendants have followed
with a response generally conceding the propriety of the
relief sought by the Plan (Doc. 11), further clarifying
expressly that Granberry disclaims any right to the benefits.
(Id., ¶ 5).
this action involves the interpretation of an ERISA plan, the
court has subject-matter jurisdiction under 29 U.S.C. §
1132 and/or 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Further, district courts
are authorized to issue declaratory judgments in actions
within their jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a). Once the
pleadings are closed, a party is authorized to move for
judgment on the pleadings. Rule 12(c), Fed.R.Civ.P.
“Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there
are no material facts in dispute, and judgment may be
rendered by considering the substance of the pleadings and
any judicially noticed facts.” Hawthorne v. Mac
Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367, 1370 (11th Cir. 1998).
parties agree, as does the court, that the pleadings
establish the following: (1) Metcalf and Brian filed a claim
for benefits with the Plan, (2) they are Hoyt's only
children, (3) more than six months have elapsed since
Hoyt's death, (4) no personal representative of his
estate has been appointed, (5) he had no surviving spouse;
and (6) there is insufficient evidence of a properly
designated beneficiary; and (7) the only potential one,
Granberry, has disclaimed any entitlement to the benefits.
(Doc. 10 at 5; Doc. 11). The parties further agree, and,
again, so does the court, that, under those circumstances and
under the relevant terms of the Plan, the benefits in
question are now properly payable to Metcalf and Brian,
without dispute and as a matter of law. Accordingly, the
court will enter a declaratory judgment as sought by the
on the foregoing, the Plan's Rule 12(c) motion for
judgment on the pleadings (Doc. 10) is due to be
GRANTED. A ...