De Pace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of America, No. 02-CV-4312(ERK).

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtKorman
Citation257 F.Supp.2d 543
PartiesNicholas DE PACE, Salvatore Di Blasi, and Andrew G. Molinaro, Plaintiffs, v. MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC CORPORATION OF AMERICA, Defendant.
Decision Date15 May 2003
Docket NumberNo. 02-CV-4312(ERK).
257 F.Supp.2d 543
Nicholas DE PACE, Salvatore Di Blasi, and Andrew G. Molinaro, Plaintiffs,
v.
MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC CORPORATION OF AMERICA, Defendant.
No. 02-CV-4312(ERK).
United States District Court, E.D. New York.
May 15, 2003.

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Harvey W. Spizz, Spizz & Cooper, LLP, Mineola, NY, for Plaintiffs.

David W. Garland, Daniel Turinsky, Sills, Cummis, Radin, Tischman, Epstein & Gross, New York, NY, for Defendant.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

KORMAN, Chief Judge.


Plaintiffs Nicholas DePace, Salvatore Di Blasi and Andrew Molinaro brought this ERISA action against Matsushita Electric Corporation ("Matsushita"), the parent company of their former employer Panasonic

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alleging that the company fraudulently induced them to participate in a voluntary resignation program by furnishing them with misleading information as to the pension benefits they could expect. Matsushita moves to dismiss the complaint pursuant to rule 12(b)(6).

BACKGROUND

1. Allegations in the Complaint as to Plaintiff DePace

The complaint alleges that on October 12, 2001, plaintiff Nicholas DePace received materials advising him of his eligibility to participate in Matsushita's Voluntary Resignation Program (the "VRP"). (Cmplt. ¶ 9). This program provides employees with special severance payments including lump sum cash payments based upon years of service and enhanced medical benefits, in exchange for the execution of a release of claims against Matsushita. The materials sent to DePace included a Summary Plan Description of the VRP (Exhibit 2)1, an Election and Release Form (Exhibit 3), Personalized Separation Pay Information (Exhibit 1), and a Checklist (Exhibit 4).

According to the Summary Plan Description, participation in the VRP was "STRICTLY VOLUNTARY" and eligible employees who elected to participate were required to inform Matsushita by December 3, 2001. (Exhibit 2, at 2). The Summary Plan Description also informed Mr. DePace that by electing to participate in the VRP he would receive a lump sum separation payment on December 31, 2001 equal to 2.6 weeks of base pay for each year of service earned through October 12, 2001, up to a maximum of 52 weeks. (Id. at 3). The Summary Plan Description also explained that participating employees would have their monthly premium payments for COBRA paid by the Company for up to 18 months or, as an alternative for employees age 55 years or older with 10 years of service, special rates for their continued medical coverage under a Post Employment Medical Option. (Id. at 4-5).

As a component of the VRP, Matsushita provided an administrative process to be utilized by employees who did not receive benefits to which they believed they were entitled. The Summary Plan described this process in great detail:

Review of Denial of Benefits

In the event that an employee does not receive benefits to which he/she thinks he/she is entitled, such individual may file a written claim for those benefits. The written claim should specify the amount of the claim and any other pertinent data and should be submitted to the Plan Administrator. In the event that such individual's claim is denied, in whole or in part, he/she will be notified in writing. The notice will tell the individual why his/her claim was denied, and either request any additional information necessary to grant such claim or tell the individual what to do to appeal the denial. To appeal, the employee must inform the Company (Attn: Plan Administrator)

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in writing, setting forth the facts and benefits claimed within sixty (60) days of such denial. On appeal, the employee has the right to review pertinent Plan documents and send to the Plan Administrator a written statement of the issues and any other documents in support of the claims for benefits or other matters under review. The Plan Administrator will render a decision with respect to the individual's claim within sixty (60) days of receipt of his/her appeal. When special circumstances require more time for a decision, the employee will be notified by the Plan Administrator in writing prior to the end of this sixty (60) day period of the potential delay and the reasons for the delay. In such a case, an additional sixty (60) days for a total of one-hundred and twenty (120) days may be taken to render a decision. In any event, the employee will receive the Plan Administrator's written response within sixty (60) or one-hundred and twenty (120) days of receipt of the appeal. The response will include the specific reasons for the decisions as well as references to the pertinent Plan provisions on which the decision is based. If the Plan Administrator does not give its decision on review within the appropriate time span, the employee may consider the claim denied. Please note that the Plan requires that a participant pursue all the claims and appeal rights described above before seeking any other legal recourse regarding claims for benefits.

(Id. at 6)(emphasis in original).

Panasonic, the division of Matsushita Corp. in which Mr. DePace was employed, also sent detailed pension plan materials to Mr. DePace describing the benefits employees would be entitled to if they elected to participate in Matsushita's VRP. (Exhibit 5). The Panasonic Pension Plan contained a similar description of the administrative process for resolving employee benefit disputes:

CLAIMS PROCEDURE

If you don't receive benefits to which you feel you're entitled, you may file a written claim with the Plan Administrator.

If Your Claim is Denied

If your claim for benefits is denied, in whole or in part, you'll receive a written explanation within 90 days after receipt of your claim. In the event of special circumstances, the Plan Administrator may extend the period for a determination for up to an additional 90 days, in which case you will be so advised. This explanation will cover specific reasons for the denial of your claim, the specific references in the Plan Documents that support those reasons, the information you must provide to verify your claim and the reasons why that information is necessary, and the procedure available for further review of your claim.

If you don't receive a written report of your claim within 90 days, you should assume your claim has been denied.

Your Rights to Appeal

You have the right to appeal a denial. You must submit a written appeal to the Plan Administrator within 60 days after you receive the claim denial notice. You and your representative may review the Plan documents pertinent to your claim and submit written comments and relevant information.

* * *

The Plan Administrator or Plan Administrative Committee will conduct a full and fair review of your appeal, and will notify you of the decision within 60 days. Due to special circumstances, the Plan Administrator may extend the period for determination for up to an additional 60

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days. The decision will be in writing, and will include the specific reasons and the Plan references on which the decision is based.

Any failure on your part to comply with the request for information by the Plan Administrator or the Committee constitutes sufficient grounds for delay in the payment of benefits and until such information is received.

(Exhibit 5 at 38-39).

According to the complaint, Mr. DePace received four, pension benefit estimates during the months of October 2001: one dated October 18, 2001 (Exhibit 6); two dated October 19, 2001 (Exhibits 7-8); and one dated October 26, 2001 (Exhibit 9). Each pension estimate clearly stated that "[w]hile every effort has been made to provide accurate figures, this statement is subject to correction for any errors in data accumulation or benefit calculations." (Exhibits 6-9). All four estimates also contained the following disclaimer: "The availability and amount of all benefits is governed by the plan documents and not by this statement." (Id.). The complaint alleges that these estimates "included contributions that had been made toward De-Pace's pension during the years he had worked at Panafax, a company which later merged with Panasonic, a division of MECA [Matsushita Electric Corporation of America]." (Cmplt.¶ 11). Indeed, all four pension estimates use the date March 30, 1987, the date on which Mr. DePace commenced employment at Panafax, for purposes of computing "Pension Service." As alleged in the complaint, the pension estimate dated October 18, 2001 provided that Mr. DePace would receive a lump sum payment of $349,219.42. (Id. at ¶ 12).

The complaint further alleges that on November 5, 2001, Mr. DePace signed and submitted a Voluntary Resignation Package. (Cmplt. ¶ 13). Included in that package was an Election and Release Letter signed by Mr. DePace, which provided for a release of all claims against Matsushita including: "[c]laims, actions, causes of action or liabilities arising under ... the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended ..." (Exhibit 10). The Election and Release Letter advised Mr. DePace that he had forty-five days to consider participating in the VRP and another seven days to revoke his decision to participate. It also encouraged Mr. De-Pace "to consult with your personal attorney" before signing the Release. (Id.). On the final page of the Election and Release Letter, just above the signature line where Mr. DePace signed to indicate his interest in participating in the VRP, the following language appeared in bold print:

By signing this Agreement, you acknowledge that: (i) you have read this Agreement completely; (ii) you have had an opportunity to consider the terms of this Agreement; (iii) you have had the opportunity to consult with an attorney of your choosing prior to executing this Agreement to explain the Agreement and its consequences; (iv) you know that you are giving up important legal rights by signing this Agreement; (v) you understand and mean...

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45 practice notes
  • Amara v. Cigna Corp., No. 3:01CV2361 (MRK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • February 15, 2008
    ...waiver of claims against an employer was not prohibited by section 406(a)(1)(D) of ERISA." De Pace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 555 (E.D.N.Y.2003) (citation and quotation marks omitted); see also Smart v. Gillette Co. Long-Term Disability Plan, 887 F.Supp. 383, 385 (......
  • Smith v. Champion Inter. Corp., Civil Action No. 3:02-cv-212 (CFD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • August 26, 2008
    ...of bad faith or breach of fiduciary duties may be sufficient to establish futility. See, e.g., DePace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 560 (E.D.N.Y.2003) ("In cases where the plan fiduciary has acted in bad faith ... courts have invoked the futility doctrine and waived e......
  • Pineiro v. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., No. 96 Civ.7392 GEL.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • August 26, 2003
    ...to "impose personal liability on [defendants] for a contractual obligation to pay money"); DePace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 561 (E.D.N.Y.2003) (disallowing claim for benefits allegedly withheld because of breach of fiduciary duty).33 Thus, it Page 101 that plainti......
  • Daponte v. Manfredi Motors, Inc., No. 01 CV 2734(SJ).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 9, 2004
    ..."relate to" a benefit plan and are therefore preempted, see, e.g., Smith, 959 F.2d at 10; De Pace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of America, 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 567-573 (E.D.N.Y.2003); Ullrich v. Linotype-Hell Co., 187 F.Supp.2d 68, 72-73 (E.D.N.Y.2002); Cerasoli, 952 F.Supp. at 157-161; Hamburge......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
45 cases
  • Amara v. Cigna Corp., No. 3:01CV2361 (MRK).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • February 15, 2008
    ...waiver of claims against an employer was not prohibited by section 406(a)(1)(D) of ERISA." De Pace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 555 (E.D.N.Y.2003) (citation and quotation marks omitted); see also Smart v. Gillette Co. Long-Term Disability Plan, 887 F.Supp. 383, 385 (......
  • Smith v. Champion Inter. Corp., Civil Action No. 3:02-cv-212 (CFD).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)
    • August 26, 2008
    ...of bad faith or breach of fiduciary duties may be sufficient to establish futility. See, e.g., DePace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 560 (E.D.N.Y.2003) ("In cases where the plan fiduciary has acted in bad faith ... courts have invoked the futility doctrine and waived e......
  • Pineiro v. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., No. 96 Civ.7392 GEL.
    • United States
    • U.S. District Court — Southern District of New York
    • August 26, 2003
    ...to "impose personal liability on [defendants] for a contractual obligation to pay money"); DePace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of Am., 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 561 (E.D.N.Y.2003) (disallowing claim for benefits allegedly withheld because of breach of fiduciary duty).33 Thus, it Page 101 that plainti......
  • Daponte v. Manfredi Motors, Inc., No. 01 CV 2734(SJ).
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
    • September 9, 2004
    ..."relate to" a benefit plan and are therefore preempted, see, e.g., Smith, 959 F.2d at 10; De Pace v. Matsushita Elec. Corp. of America, 257 F.Supp.2d 543, 567-573 (E.D.N.Y.2003); Ullrich v. Linotype-Hell Co., 187 F.Supp.2d 68, 72-73 (E.D.N.Y.2002); Cerasoli, 952 F.Supp. at 157-161; Hamburge......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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