Susan Wengert, formerly known as Susan McConnell Plaintiff- Appellant
Theresa A. Rajendran, Personal Representative of Estate of Timothy McConnell, deceased and Trustee of the Timothy McConnell Trust estate of, Timothy McConnell; Mark Swanson, Members of the Majors Plastics, Inc., Employee Stock Ownership Plan; Michael Herzog, Members of the Majors Plastics, Inc., Employee Stock Ownership Plan; Jay Van Roy, Members of the Majors Plastics, Inc., Employee Stock Ownership Plan Defendants - Appellees
Submitted: November 15, 2017
from United States District Court for the District of
Nebraska - Omaha
BENTON, SHEPHERD, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.
BENTON, Circuit Judge.
Wengert sued the members of the plan-administrative committee
of the Majors Plastics, Inc. Employee Stock Ownership Plan;
the personal representative of the Estate of Timothy
McConnell; and the trustee of the Timothy McConnell Trust.
The district court granted summary judgment against Wengert.
Having jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, this court
husband was Timothy J. McConnell. He filed for divorce. He
was a participant in an employee-benefit plan governed by the
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29
U.S.C. §§ 1001-1461. Under the plan, the amount in
a participant's account is an "Accrued
Benefit." McConnell's Accrued Benefit was $2, 721,
739.37. On Friday, September 12, 2014, McConnell requested a
lump-sum distribution of the Accrued Benefit to his trust.
The plan-administrative committee wired the funds that same
day. McConnell died on Sunday. The trust did not receive the
funds until Monday.
was still married to Wengert when he died. The plan defines a
"Beneficiary" as a "Participant's
surviving spouse." The plan says: "A pay-out of the
vested Accrued Benefit . . . shall satisfy all obligations of
the Plan . . . to [the] Participant or his Beneficiary."
Wengert submitted a claim for benefits. The
plan-administrative committee denied it:
McConnell had no Accrued Benefit (i.e., Accounts) under the
Plan. Therefore, there is no benefit for [Wengert] to claim
from the Plan. . . . Since Mr. McConnell had no Accrued
Benefit under the Plan, [Wengert] cannot be a Beneficiary of
the Plan, and therefore has no basis to make a claim for
believes she should receive the $2, 721, 739.37 as
McConnell's beneficiary. She suggests that the Friday
wire transfer is irrelevant because the trust did not receive
the funds until after McConnell's death. The
plan-administrative committee disagreed:
For purposes of the Plan, the relevant inquiry is not when
funds are received by a Participant, but rather when funds
are transferred out of the Plan. At the point of transfer of
the remaining Accrued Benefit in a Participant's account,
the Plan has satisfied all obligations to the Participant or
his Beneficiary. In the present case, the full Accrued
Benefit remaining in Mr. McConnell's account under the
Plan was disbursed via wire transfer transmitted on September
12, 2014. At that time, the funds were no longer held by the
Plan and therefore Mr. McConnell no longer had any Accrued
Benefit in the Plan.
district court concluded that the plan gives the committee
"broad discretionary authority" to determine
eligibility for benefits. "Where an ERISA plan grants
the administrator discretion to determine eligibility for
benefits and to interpret the plan's terms, courts must
apply a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard of
review." Green v. Union Sec. Ins. Co., 646 F.3d
1042, 1050 (8th Cir. 2011), citing Firestone Tire &