CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Citation146 Md. App. 526,807 A.2d 651
Decision Date11 September 2002
Docket NumberNo. 2128,2128
PartiesGail L. YOUNG v. ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Maryland.

807 A.2d 651
146 Md.
App. 526


No. 2128, Sept. Term, 2000.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

September 11, 2002.

807 A.2d 657
Ronald H. Jarashow (Franch, Jarashow, Burgmeier & Smith, P.A., on the brief), Annapolis, for appellant

William D. Evans, Jr., Senior Assistant County Attorney (Linda M. Schuett, County Attorney, on the brief), Annapolis, for appellee.

HOLLANDER, KRAUSER and JAMES S. GETTY, (Retired, Specially Assigned), JJ.

807 A.2d 652
807 A.2d 653
807 A.2d 654
807 A.2d 655

807 A.2d 656

In this appeal, we have been asked to decide whether Gail Young, appellant, the widow of Charles Young, Jr. (the "Decedent" or "Young"), is entitled to recover survivor pension benefits from Anne Arundel County (the "County"), appellee, under the County's Police Service Retirement Plan (the "Plan"). Young retired as a County police officer in September 1992, and was diagnosed with dementia in 1995, at the age of fifty-three. At the time of Young's death on October 19, 1997, he was survived by a minor child, Theresa Young;1 a sister, Susan Grier; and his wife, from whom he had separated.

Pursuant to a marital separation agreement (the "Separation Agreement" or "Agreement"), executed by appellant and Young in September 1996, the Youngs waived their respective rights to the other's retirement funds. In March 1997, the Decedent also executed a change of beneficiary form, naming his sister as the beneficiary under the Plan. The circumstances that led to the execution of the Separation Agreement and the change of beneficiary form are in dispute. Nevertheless, based on the Agreement, the County's Office of Personnel refused to award Young's pension benefits to appellant. Aggrieved by that determination, appellant filed a claim with the Anne Arundel County Board of Appeals (the "Board"). At a hearing on May 26, 1998, the Board refused to address appellant's challenges to the validity of the Agreement and change of beneficiary form, and denied her request for pension benefits.

Appellant then sought judicial review of the Board's decision in the Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County. On September 1, 1998, while the judicial review petition was pending, appellant filed a Complaint for Declaratory Judgment. The circuit court stayed the declaratory action and remanded the matter to the Board for further consideration of appellant's claims. Thereafter, the Board held an evidentiary hearing on May 27, 1999, but declined to consider the validity of the Agreement or change of beneficiary form. Presuming those documents to be valid, the Board rejected appellant's request for benefits.

The circuit court subsequently consolidated the declaratory action and appellant's second administrative review petition. The parties then filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Following a hearing, the court concluded, inter alia, that appellant waived any claim to Young's pension benefits when she executed the Separation Agreement. Accordingly, the court granted the County's summary judgment motion and denied appellant's motion.

807 A.2d 658
On appeal, Ms. Young presents several issues for our consideration, which we have rephrased and reordered:

I. Whether appellant's status as the spouse of a retired, deceased police officer entitled her to the survivor benefits under the Plan.

II. Whether appellant could lawfully waive her rights to benefits under the Plan, pursuant to the marital separation agreement executed by appellant and Charles Young.

III. Was the waiver language in the separation agreement sufficient to constitute a waiver of benefits?

IV. Was the filing with Aetna of the Change in Beneficiary Form effective, as a matter of law, to deprive appellant of benefits under the Plan, despite her status as the spouse and joint annuitant of Charles Young?

V. Did the court err in granting summary judgment to the County as to the claims of duress and incapacity, because the validity and enforceability of the marital separation agreement presented disputes of material fact?

For the reasons that follow, we shall vacate the award of summary judgment and remand this case to the circuit court for further proceedings.


Young was born on February 22, 1942, and began his service with the County in 1970. Appellant, who was born on May 19, 1946, married Young on February 15, 1992. On July 15, 1992, in anticipation of his impending retirement from the County police on September 1, 1992, Young executed the "ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY RETIREMENT INCENTIVE PROGRAM PARTICIPATION AGREEMENT." From the time of his retirement until his death in October 1997, Young was married to appellant.

Aetna Life Insurance Company ("Aetna") has served as the third-party administrator of the County's Police Service Retirement Plan since July 1, 1969, pursuant to a "GROUP ANNUITY CONTRACT" (the "Contract") with the County. In that capacity, Aetna makes annuity and other payments of pension benefits to the beneficiaries of the Plan. Pursuant to the Plan, codified in Anne Arundel County Code ("A.A.C.C."), Art. 7, Title 5, § 5-102, Young received two annuity payments per month under the Plan. One payment was in the amount of $1835.00, and the other was in the amount of $263.52.

According to the County, Aetna was its authorized agent with respect to the Plan. Section 11 of the Contract concerns "Termination and Death Benefits," and § 11G pertains to Beneficiaries. It states, in relevant part:

11G Beneficiaries

11G-1 A Member may name a beneficiary to receive any Death Benefit which may become due on or after his death.... Any named beneficiary may be changed by the Member from time to time....

11G-2.... A Retired Member may name or change his beneficiary by written request filed at the Home Office of Aetna. A request filed with the Contractholder shall be forwarded by the Contractholder to Aetna, in accordance with Aetna's established administrative procedures, at least one month before the Member becomes a Retired Member or, if he dies before becoming a Retired Member, promptly after his death.

11G-3 A request to name or change a beneficiary will be effective on the date it is signed by a Member, whether or not the Member is living when the request is receiver by Aetna at its Home

807 A.2d 659
Office, but without prejudice to Aetna because of any payments made by Aetna before receipt of the request at its Home Office.

11G-4 Aetna will make a Death Benefit payment to the appropriate payee listed below if, on the date the Death Benefit payment is due, no beneficiary has been duly named by the member or no named beneficiary is alive. The payees are as follows:

(a) the surviving spouse of the member, if any....

On or about July 13, 1992, Young executed an Aetna form titled "ELECTION AND INFORMATION FORM," in which he selected the "JOINT ANNUITY OPTION" in Section D, naming Gail Young as his wife and "Joint Annuitant." That portion of the form provided:

With 100% of the annuity payable to be continued to my Joint Annuitant upon my death. I designate my Joint Annuitant Gail Young Wife ________________________________ (Name) (Relationship)

Under § G, Young also elected payment of his benefits to begin on September 1, 1992. That portion of the form contains a space for the "Designation of Beneficiary," but no name is inserted in the line provided.

On the same date, Young also completed an Aetna form entitled "DESIGNATION/CHANGE OF BENEFICIARY," which was filed with the County's Personnel Office. Under "MARITAL STATUS," Young wrote "MARRIED." In this form, Young designated appellant as the sole primary beneficiary of the Plan, and he named his daughter as the sole secondary beneficiary. The document states, in relevant part:

CONDITIONS—Unless otherwise expressly provided on this Designation/Change of Beneficiary form, any sum becoming payable upon my death under my employer's plan will be payable as prescribed in such plan. After payment of any amount required by the plan to be paid to my spouse, any remaining benefit will be paid to:

a. My designated primary beneficiary or beneficiaries if they should survive me;

b. My designated secondary beneficiary or beneficiaries if no designated primary beneficiary or beneficiaries survive me.

* * *

If my marital status changes, the validity of this designation may be affected. In the event of such a change, I should complete a new Designation Change of Beneficiary form.

DESIGNATION REQUEST—Subject to the terms of my employer's plan, I request that any sum becoming due upon my death be payable to the beneficiary(ies) designated below. I understand this designation shall revoke all prior beneficiary designations made by me under my employer's plan.

(Emphasis added).

Young and appellant each signed the document, certifying that "this Designation of Beneficiary is subject to all the CONDITIONS stated above." Under their signatures, the following appears: "To the best of my knowledge, the marital status of the participant/designator is as shown above." The signature of Mr. Valle, a County Personnel Office employee, appears in the

807 A.2d 660
space provided for the "SIGNATURE OF PLAN REPRESENTATIVE."

The designations of appellant as spouse, beneficiary, and joint annuitant were the only designations filed with the County's Personnel Office. No change was ever made in the records of the Personnel Office with regard to those designations.

As we noted, Young was diagnosed with dementia in 1995, at 53 years of age. At about the same time, appellant's stepfather died and her mother, who lived in Virginia, suffered a severe stroke, which resulted in significant paralysis. As a result of appellant's financial circumstances, she had to work outside the home while trying to care for both her mother and husband. Because of her difficulties, appellant sought help in February 1996 from Young's sister and brother-in-law, Susan and Robert Grier, who...

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