Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., No. 97-1206

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore POSNER, Chief Judge, and MANION and KANNE; MANION
Citation128 F.3d 549
PartiesPens. Plan Guide (CCH) P 23944L Rosemary RIORDAN, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. COMMONWEALTH EDISON COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
Docket NumberNo. 97-1206
Decision Date17 October 1997

Page 549

128 F.3d 549
Pens. Plan Guide (CCH) P 23944L
Rosemary RIORDAN, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
COMMONWEALTH EDISON COMPANY, Defendant-Appellee.
No. 97-1206.
United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh Circuit.
Argued Sept. 3, 1997.
Decided Oct. 17, 1997.

Page 550

James J. Kupka (argued), Eugene F. Keefe, Alholm & Monahan, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Sharon L. King, Sidley & Austin, Colleen K. Nouhan (argued), Commonwealth Edison Company, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and MANION and KANNE, Circuit Judges.

MANION, Circuit Judge.

Rosemary Riordan was married to James Riordan for over twenty years. They had five children. But in 1977 they separated and nine years after that they divorced. When James died in 1992, his employer, Commonwealth Edison ("ComEd"), paid a $50,000.00 death benefit to his second wife, Irene. Rosemary sued ComEd under ERISA; she claimed plan documents revealed James' intent that she receive the death benefit rather than Irene. After the case was removed to federal court, both sides agreed that the dispute could be resolved on the basis of the record and each filed a motion for summary judgment. The court granted ComEd's motion and denied Rosemary's. We affirm.

I.

When James and Rosemary separated in 1977, they obtained a Judgment for Legal Separation from Cook County Circuit Court. The judgment did not legally end the marriage (only a Judgment for Dissolution can do that, In Re Sutton, 136 Ill.2d 441, 145 Ill.Dec. 890, 893, 557 N.E.2d 869, 872 (1990)), but it did order James to maintain his employer-sponsored life insurance policy for the benefit of his minor children. About a year after the order was issued, James filled out a "designation of beneficiary form" with ComEd in which he named Rosemary (on behalf of the children) as the beneficiary of his $50,000.00 death benefit. But because he was doing so pursuant to a court order, ComEd's benefits supervisor typed the word "irrevocable" on the face of the form.

By 1986 James' marriage to Rosemary was officially over; this time the circuit court issued a Judgment for Dissolution. According to the order, James Riordan was to name his remaining minor child (James) as his "irrevocable" beneficiary on his life insurance policy until the child turned 18, which would occur one year later in 1987. After reviewing the divorce decree the plan administrator wrote James stating: "You previously had the $50,000 irrevocably payable to your ex-wife (copy attached). The current divorce decree indicates irrevocable insurance to the minor child. Please complete the enclosed beneficiary card naming the minor child for the $50,000.00 and the balance payable to ___. Please sign and return." For whatever reason, James never got around to that, but in 1988, he married Irene, and shortly thereafter filed a new designation of beneficiary form with ComEd naming Irene as his sole beneficiary. Under the terms of ComEd's summary plan description, employees could change their beneficiaries "at any time by submitting a new Beneficiary Designation card" to the company. So when James died in 1992, ComEd paid his death benefit to

Page 551

Irene. Under the divorce decree, Rosemary received a portion of James' pension.

About a year before he died, James asked his daughter (from his marriage to Rosemary) to keep some of his personal papers at her house. Two years after James' death, the daughter discovered his initial designation of beneficiary form that assigned his death benefit to Rosemary. She showed the form (with the notation "irrevocable" typed on its face) to her mother. Rosemary brought suit under ERISA, claiming that the $50,000.00 death benefit paid to Irene should have been paid to her.

II.

At the outset, ComEd argues that Rosemary Riordan has committed a fatal mistake by suing the wrong entity--ComEd (her ex-husband's employer and the plan administrator) rather than the plan itself. It is true that ERISA permits suits to recover benefits only against the plan as an entity, Jass v. Prudential Health Care Plan, Inc., 88 F.3d 1482, 1490 (7th Cir.1996), but we are not inclined to make this case known for that rule. ComEd did not pursue summary judgment on this basis. While we can affirm the judgment of the district court on any basis supported by the record, McClendon v. Indiana Sugars, Inc., 108 F.3d 789, 796 (7th Cir.1997), the exact relationship between ComEd and the plan is not clearly set out. The plan documents themselves refer to ComEd and the plan nearly interchangeably, and the company designated itself as the plan's agent for service of process. So it is not surprising that Rosemary sued ComEd instead of the plan.

Of more immediate concern is a jurisdictional issue. The parties apparently agree that Rosemary Riordan has standing to sue ComEd, but such acquiescence is not enough. National Org. for Women, Inc. v. Scheidler, 510 U.S. 249, 255, 114 S.Ct. 798, 802, 127 L.Ed.2d...

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69 practice notes
  • Larson v. United Healthcare Ins. Co., No. 12–1256.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 26, 2013
    ...control the plan.” 546 F.3d at 879;see also Mein v. Carus Corp., 241 F.3d 581, 586 (7th Cir.2001); Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549 (7th Cir.1997). Uncertainty isn't an issue here; the complaint [723 F.3d 915]clearly alleges that the insurers have both the discretion to deci......
  • Brooks v. Pactiv Corp., No. 12–1155.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • September 6, 2013
    ...Inc., 259 F.3d 864, 872 n. 4 (7th Cir.2001); Mein v. Carus Corp., 241 F.3d 581, 585 (7th Cir.2001); Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 551 (7th Cir.1997). “An ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) claim is ‘essentially a contract remedy under the terms of the plan.’ ” Larson, 723 F.3d at 911–......
  • Morlan v. Universal Guar. Life Ins. Co., No. 01-3795.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 26, 2002
    ...pension plans to include a provision forbidding the assignment or alienation (these are synonyms, Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 552 (7th Cir.1997), except that the addition of "alienation" to "assignment" makes crystal clear that the anti-assignment provision bars involu......
  • Leister v. Dovetail, Inc., No. 07-2242.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • October 23, 2008
    ...plaintiff to name as defendant whatever entity or entities, individual or corporate, control the plan, Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 551 (7th Cir.1997), thus bridging the two groups of cases. In the present case, involving as it does a small new company of conspicuous in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
69 cases
  • Larson v. United Healthcare Ins. Co., No. 12–1256.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 26, 2013
    ...control the plan.” 546 F.3d at 879;see also Mein v. Carus Corp., 241 F.3d 581, 586 (7th Cir.2001); Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549 (7th Cir.1997). Uncertainty isn't an issue here; the complaint [723 F.3d 915]clearly alleges that the insurers have both the discretion to deci......
  • Brooks v. Pactiv Corp., No. 12–1155.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • September 6, 2013
    ...Inc., 259 F.3d 864, 872 n. 4 (7th Cir.2001); Mein v. Carus Corp., 241 F.3d 581, 585 (7th Cir.2001); Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 551 (7th Cir.1997). “An ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) claim is ‘essentially a contract remedy under the terms of the plan.’ ” Larson, 723 F.3d at 911–......
  • Morlan v. Universal Guar. Life Ins. Co., No. 01-3795.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • July 26, 2002
    ...pension plans to include a provision forbidding the assignment or alienation (these are synonyms, Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 552 (7th Cir.1997), except that the addition of "alienation" to "assignment" makes crystal clear that the anti-assignment provision bars involu......
  • Leister v. Dovetail, Inc., No. 07-2242.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • October 23, 2008
    ...plaintiff to name as defendant whatever entity or entities, individual or corporate, control the plan, Riordan v. Commonwealth Edison Co., 128 F.3d 549, 551 (7th Cir.1997), thus bridging the two groups of cases. In the present case, involving as it does a small new company of conspicuous in......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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