Stiel v. Stiel, No. M2010–01459–COA–R3–CV.

CourtCourt of Appeals of Tennessee
Writing for the CourtFRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which PATRICIA J. COTTRELL, P.J., M.S., and ANDY D. BENNETT, J., joined.
Citation348 S.W.3d 879
PartiesAnthony F. STIEL, Jr.v.Susan M. STIEL.
Decision Date16 March 2011
Docket NumberNo. M2010–01459–COA–R3–CV.

348 S.W.3d 879

Anthony F. STIEL, Jr.
v.
Susan M. STIEL.

No. M2010–01459–COA–R3–CV.

Court of Appeals of Tennessee, Middle Section, at Nashville.

Jan. 18, 2011 Session.March 16, 2011.Permission to Appeal Denied by


Supreme Court July 14, 2011.
Published Pursuant to Tenn. R. S. Ct. 4(D).

[348 S.W.3d 880]

James D. Helton II, Franklin, Tennessee, for the appellant, Anthony F. Stiel, Jr.Mary Frances Lyle, Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellee, Susan M. Stiel.FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which PATRICIA J. COTTRELL, P.J., M.S., and ANDY D. BENNETT, J., joined.
OPINION
FRANK G. CLEMENT, JR., J.

This post divorce appeal arises from the lack of symmetry between the parties' 1995 Final Divorce Decree and a 1996 Qualified Domestic Relations Order that was not entered into contemporaneously with the Divorce Decree. The ex-husband, a General Motors retiree, contends the trial court erred in finding that his ex-wife was entitled to the marital portion of his early retirement supplements of his pension and in finding that her benefits are based on post-divorce increases to his pension benefits. For her issue, the ex-wife contends the trial court erred in failing to grant her survivorship rights in the ex-husband's retirement benefits. We affirm the trial court in all respects.

The marriage of Anthony F. Stiel, Jr. (“Husband”) and Susan M. Stiel (“Wife”), which lasted fourteen years, ended in divorce in June 1995. The Final Decree of Divorce included a settlement agreement, which provided that Wife was to receive one-half of the value of Husband's General Motors Retirement Plan earned during the marriage. The provision, as stated in the Final Decree of Divorce, reads: “That the Husband's Saturn 401k plan and the Saturn individual retirement account be divided equally between the parties and the General Motors retirement plan value earned during the marriage be divided equally between the parties.” The Final Decree of Divorce was entered by the Clerk & Master on June 23, 1995.

In August of 1996, fourteen months after the entry of the Final Decree of Divorce, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order

[348 S.W.3d 881]

(“QDRO”) 1 was agreed to by the parties, approved and entered by the trial court, and submitted to the General Motors Plan Administrator. The August 1996 QDRO was rejected by the Plan Administrator. An Amended QDRO, dated December 5, 1996, was mailed to the Plan Administrator at General Motors on December 12, 1996. By letter dated February 28, 1997, the General Motors Pension Administration Center notified Wife, Husband, and Husband's attorney that the Amended QDRO was accepted. The letter from the Plan Administrator summarized the substantive portions of the QDRO, stating that Wife was entitled to a share of the early retirement and post-retirement benefits and that Wife would be designated as a surviving spouse, which would entitle her to a marital portion of the surviving spouse benefits. The letter also stated that if the information did not “accurately reflect the intent of the parties, the Order should be amended accordingly.” The record reveals that the order was not amended following the receipt of the letter from the General Motors Pension Administrator.

Husband retired from General Motors with thirty years and six months of credited service in August of 2009. A few days thereafter, on August 31, 2009, Husband filed a “Verified Petition to Re-open Case and Amend QDRO,” claiming that the QDRO granted Wife benefits that were not provided in the 1995 Final Decree of Divorce. Specifically, Husband contended that Wife was not entitled to any early retirement supplements or post-retirement increases, and that Wife was not entitled to survivorship rights in the event he predeceased her. Wife filed an answer joining the issues raised by Husband.2 Thereafter, Husband filed an Amended Petition seeking restitution damages in the event that Wife was receiving benefits to which she was not entitled to receive.

After discovery and the taking of at least one deposition, cross-motions for summary judgment were filed by the parties. Following a hearing, the trial court entered an order partially granting and denying the respective motions and expressly stating that it took “particular note” of two opinions, Cohen v. Cohen, 937 S.W.2d 823 (Tenn.1996), and Croley v. Tiede, No. M1999–00649–COA–R3–CV, 2000 WL 1473854 (Tenn.Ct.App. Oct.5, 2000), in reaching its decision. In its order, the trial court granted summary judgment to Wife on two issues, finding that the post-dissolution early retirement supplement and the post-retirement increases were included in the award based upon the language in the Final Decree of Divorce. As for the survivorship rights, the trial court found that survivorship rights were not included based on the language stated in the Final Decree of Divorce and, thus, the court ruled in Husband's favor on this issue. The trial court also required a second amended QDRO, which was entered on May 29, 2010. This appeal followed.

Standard of Review

This appeal arises from the grant of summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when a party establishes that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that a judgment may be rendered as a matter of law. Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04; Stovall v. Clarke, 113 S.W.3d 715, 721 (Tenn.2003). It is appropriate

[348 S.W.3d 882]

in virtually all civil cases that can be resolved on the basis of legal issues alone. See Byrd v. Hall, 847 S.W.2d 208, 210 (Tenn.1993); Pendleton v. Mills, 73 S.W.3d 115, 121 (Tenn.Ct.App.2001). It is not appropriate when genuine disputes regarding material facts exist. See Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04. In this action, neither party disputes any material facts; therefore, summary judgment is appropriate. Because the resolution of a motion for summary judgment is a matter of law, we review the trial court's judgment de novo with no presumption of correctness. Martin v. Norfolk Southern Ry. Co., 271 S.W.3d 76, 84 (Tenn.2008).
Analysis
I.
The 1995 Final Decree of Divorce and the 1996 QDRO

The only provision in the 1995 Final Decree of Divorce that pertains to Husband's General Motors pension or retirement benefits and Wife's entitlement to some of those benefits is stated in one sentence, which reads:

That the Husband's Saturn 401k plan and the Saturn individual retirement account be divided equally between the parties and the General Motors retirement plan value earned during the marriage be divided equally between the parties.

Fourteen months after the entry of the Final Decree of Divorce, the parties agreed to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”), which was approved by the trial court, entered by the Clerk & Master, and mailed to the GM Pension Plan Administrator. The initial QDRO was rejected by the Plan Administrator and the parties subsequently agreed to and submitted an amended QDRO, which was accepted by the Plan Administrator as evidenced by the February 28, 1997 letter.

Pursuant to the Amended QDRO, Wife, as the Alternate Payee, is entitled to “50% of the Marital Portion (as defined below) of [Husband's] accrued benefit under the Plan as of the Participant's benefit commencement date or the Alternate Payee's benefit commencement date, if earlier.” The QDRO stated that the “Marital Portion” was determined:

[B]y multiplying the Participant's Accrued Benefit by a fraction, the numerator of which is the 169 months of the Participant's participation under the Plan while married to the Alternate Payee (from May 15, 1981 to June 23, 1995), and the denominator of which is the Participant's total number of months of participation under the Plan until the earliest of the Participation's cessation of benefit accruals, retirement, termination, disability, death or the date that the Alternate Payee commences her benefits under the Plan.

The QDRO further provided:

The Alternate Payee shall also be entitled to a pro-rata share of any early retirement subsidy or payment provided to the Participant. Such pro-rata share shall be based on the proportion that the Alternate Payee's Benefit holds to the Participant's final accrued benefits. The amount payable to the Alternate Payee shall accordingly be increased in accordance with the Plan Administrator's practices and the Plan's actuarial principles. Should the Participant's benefit change due to a return to employment, the Alternate Payee's monthly benefit amount will be revised correspondingly.

In addition to the above, the Alternate Payee shall receive a pro-rata share of

[348 S.W.3d 883]

any cost-of-living adjustments or other economic improvements made to the Participant's benefits on or after the date of his retirement, in the same proportion that the Alternate Payee's Benefit holds to the Participant's final accrued benefits.
II.
Husband's Retirement Benefit

Husband continued to work for GM after the divorce; retiring from GM in August of 2009 when he was 50 years old. When he retired, Husband had accrued thirty years and six months credited service at GM, representing a total of 366 months. The parties were married for 169 months of the 366 months of Husband's credited service.

The deposition of the General Motors Pension Plan Administrator, Preston Crabill, provided substantial information and a very detailed analysis explaining how Husband's accrued final benefit was calculated.3 The formula to calculate benefits for one who retires at the age of fifty, which contains general principles, exceptions, deductions, credits, and supplements, is so convoluted it is almost impossible to explain, at least that is the admission of the author of this opinion. Nevertheless, Mr. Crabill provided a thorough and very detailed explanation, which started with a statement that the main criteria for determining Husband's benefit was the years of credited service and a collective bargaining agreement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers (UAW). Mr. Crabill...

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5 practice notes
  • Morris v. Morris, No. 11–0118.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 17, 2012
    ...A.2d 703, 714–15 (2002); Williams v. Williams, 37 So.3d 1196, 1202 (Miss.Ct.App.2009), affd, 37 So.3d 1171 (Miss.2010); Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 891–92 (Tenn.Ct.App.2011). Kathy invites us to presume the original decree includes the survivorship benefits as part of her award of “half......
  • Bailey v. Bailey, No. E2013-02195-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • July 17, 2014
    ...In this state, an MDA incorporated into a final decree of divorce "is a contract whichPage 4is binding on the parties." Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011). Because a MDA is, in essence, a contract between husband and wife in contemplation of a pending divorce, we seek......
  • Macy v. Macy, No. M2012-02370-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • February 11, 2014
    ...a contract which is binding on the parties and as such it is 'subject to the rules governing construction of contracts.'" Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Johnson v. Johnson, 37 S.W.3d 892, 896 (Tenn. 2001)). "'When resolving disputes concerning contract in......
  • Granoff v. Granoff, No. E2015-00605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • March 16, 2016
    ...[Wife]. In this state, a MDA incorporated into a final decree of divorce "is a contract which is binding on the parties." Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011). This court discussed the general rules and principles guiding the construction of a contract by stating as fol......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
5 cases
  • Morris v. Morris, No. 11–0118.
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court of Iowa
    • February 17, 2012
    ...A.2d 703, 714–15 (2002); Williams v. Williams, 37 So.3d 1196, 1202 (Miss.Ct.App.2009), affd, 37 So.3d 1171 (Miss.2010); Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 891–92 (Tenn.Ct.App.2011). Kathy invites us to presume the original decree includes the survivorship benefits as part of her award of “half......
  • Bailey v. Bailey, No. E2013-02195-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • July 17, 2014
    ...In this state, an MDA incorporated into a final decree of divorce "is a contract whichPage 4is binding on the parties." Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011). Because a MDA is, in essence, a contract between husband and wife in contemplation of a pending divorce, we seek......
  • Macy v. Macy, No. M2012-02370-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • February 11, 2014
    ...a contract which is binding on the parties and as such it is 'subject to the rules governing construction of contracts.'" Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011) (quoting Johnson v. Johnson, 37 S.W.3d 892, 896 (Tenn. 2001)). "'When resolving disputes concerning contract in......
  • Granoff v. Granoff, No. E2015-00605-COA-R3-CV
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Tennessee
    • March 16, 2016
    ...[Wife]. In this state, a MDA incorporated into a final decree of divorce "is a contract which is binding on the parties." Stiel v. Stiel, 348 S.W.3d 879, 885 (Tenn. Ct. App. 2011). This court discussed the general rules and principles guiding the construction of a contract by stating as fol......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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