956 F.Supp. 61 (D.Mass. 1997), C. A. 92-30223, Vartanian v. Monsanto Co.

Docket Nº:C. A. 92-30223
Citation:956 F.Supp. 61
Party Name:Vartanian v. Monsanto Co.
Case Date:February 20, 1997
Court:United States District Courts, 1st Circuit, District of Massachusetts
 
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956 F.Supp. 61 (D.Mass. 1997)

Leo VARTANIAN, Plaintiff,

v.

MONSANTO COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

Civil Action No. 92-30223-MAP.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts.

Feb. 20, 1997

John C. Sikorski, John W. Lake, Robinson, Donovan, Madden & Barry, Springfield, MA, for Leo Vartanian.

Francis D. Dibble, Jr., Jerome M. Scully, Bulkley, Richardson & Gelinas, Springfield, MA, Richard J. Pautler, Richard P. Sher, Peper, Martin, Jensen, Maichel & Hetlage, St. Louis, MO, for Monsanto Company, The Monsanto Company Salaried Employee's Pension Plan (1986), The Monsanto Special Voluntary Retirement Incentive Plan for MCC and Corporate Staff Employees, The Employee Benefits Plans Committee of the Monsanto Company.

MEMORANDUM REGARDING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

(Docket No. 57)

PONSOR, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION.

On March 27, 1990 plaintiff Leo Vartanian, a thirty-six year employee of the defendant Monsanto, notified his employer that he would be retiring in thirteen months, effective May 1, 1991. At that time he was the beneficiary of a pension plan adopted by Monsanto in 1986.

In the late winter and spring of 1990-91 Vartanian began to hear rumors about a new, more generous pension plan possibly under consideration by defendant. He made inquiry about these rumors to appropriate personnel at Monsanto. They told him that no new pension provisions applicable to him were under consideration. Relying on these comments plaintiff then left Monsanto as planned on May 1, 1991, receiving a lump sum in full payment of his pension entitlement.

Plaintiff subsequently learned that, following his departure, a new pension plan was in fact adopted. Under its terms he would have received a significant addition to his lump sum had he continued in Monsanto's employ until December 1, 1991. He now contends that he was the victim of misrepresentations

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by Monsanto personnel, and that he would have remained employed for the additional seven months and received the additional payment but for these misrepresentations. Plaintiff has charged that Monsanto's conduct violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq.

Defendants have moved for summary judgment, contending that the facts of record, distilled from extensive discovery, support only one material conclusion: Monsanto had no new pension plan applicable to the plaintiff under serious consideration at the time plaintiff made his inquiries, or indeed even at the time of his retirement on May 1, 1991. Because the court agrees that no factfinder could reasonably draw any other inference from this record, it will allow defendants' motion.

II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND.

The complaint as originally filed on November 6, 1992 asserted claims in Counts I-III under ERISA and in Count IV under the common law. On December 15, 1992, Monsanto filed a motion to dismiss. On May 24, 1993 this court allowed the defendant's motion, holding that the common law claims were preempted by ERISA, and that plaintiff lacked standing to pursue his ERISA claims because he was not a participant in, or beneficiary of, the 1991 pension plan.

On February 2, 1994 the First Circuit affirmed that portion of the May 24 decision dismissing the plaintiff's common law claims, but reversed the part holding that plaintiff lacked standing to pursue claims under ERISA. Accepting the facts as pled, the Court of Appeals concluded that plaintiff was "within the 'zone of interests' ERISA was intended to protect." Vartanian v. Monsanto Co., 14 F.3d 697, 702 (1st Cir. 1994), citing Astor v. International Business Machines Corp., 7 F.3d 533, 538-39 (6th Cir. 1993).

Upon remand, this court dismissed Count II of plaintiff's complaint, which alleged that the defendants had violated ERISA by failing to disclose to plaintiff that they were considering a business restructuring. What remain now before the court are Count I, which claims that defendants violated ERISA by failing to disclose that they were "seriously considering" a sweetened pension plan, and Count III, which charges that defendants violated ERISA by interfering with plaintiff's efforts to obtain benefits under the new plan.

In addressing the dispositive motions previously filed, this court as well as the First Circuit of course accepted the facts as pled in the complaint. In particular, the court assumed that plaintiff could prove that a new, more generous pension plan applicable to plaintiff, in fact, was under "serious consideration" at the time plaintiff made his inquiries before retirement. While conceding that this allegation would have to be accepted for purposes of the motions to dismiss, Monsanto's counsel has always made it clear that, if the case proceeded, defendants would vigorously contest this factual claim. Now, with the completion of discovery, defendants have argued that no material fact--nothing beyond plaintiff's ardent speculation--supports plaintiff's contention that any such "serious consideration" was underway at the relevant time. Defendants now contend that, to the contrary, the entire record (even viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff) confirms that no serious consideration of any new plan applicable to the plaintiff occurred until after he left the defendant's employ. As noted above, because the court is compelled to...

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