May 29, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Eastern
District of Wisconsin. No. 2:16-cv-01235-LA - Lynn Adelman,
Bauer, Barrett, and St. Eve, Circuit Judges.
EVE, CIRCUIT JUDGE
days into retirement and three days before the start of her
pension, Linda Faye Jones died. The Administrative Committee,
which oversees the Children's Hospital and Health System,
Inc. Pension Plan, denied the pension to Linda's daughter
and beneficiary, Kishunda Jones. The Committee reasoned that
only spouses are entitled to benefits under the Plan when a
participant dies before the start of her pension. Because the
Administrative Committee's decision was not arbitrary or
capricious, we affirm.
worked for Children's Hospital of Wisconsin for 37 years.
As an employee, she was a participant in the employer-funded
Plan. In August of 2015, Linda faced recurring bladder
cancer, and at 60 years old, decided to retire. While
formalizing her retirement, Linda received a form asking her
to apply for the benefits of the Plan.
IV of the Plan describes the four benefits available to
employees: a normal retirement pension, an early retirement
pension, a deferred vested retirement pension, and a
pre-retirement surviving-spouse death benefit. Section 4.4
explains the surviving-spouse benefit, which is available to
a participant's spouse when the participant dies
"before the Participant's annuity starting
date." No other benefit provides that it is available to
beneficiaries if the participant dies before payments start.
VI of the Plan details the benefits' payment structures.
Section 6.2 states that early retirement pensions
"commence with a payment due on the first day of the
month next following" the date of termination and the
election of benefits. Section 6.4 explains that a participant
"may elect to have his pension payable" in
alternative forms of annuities. One of those annuities is a
ten-year annuity, described in Section 6.4(a)(iii) as:
A ten (10) year certain life annuity providing monthly
payments to the Participant for his life and, if he dies
before receiving the one hundred twentieth (120th) such
payment, continuing such payments to his designated
beneficiary until the aggregate payments made to him and such
beneficiary total one hundred twenty (120).
6.4(d) requires a participant selecting the ten-year annuity
to designate a beneficiary.
6.9(e)(i), however, limits who can constitute a designated
beneficiary in certain situations. Specifically, "[i]n
the case of a Participant who dies prior to the date
distributions begin, the Participant's designated
beneficiary will be his or her surviving Spouse, if any,
pursuant to the terms of Section 4.4." Otherwise,
"[i]n the case of a Participant who dies after the date
distributions begin, the designated beneficiary will be the
individual who is designated as the beneficiary under Article
VI." These varying definitions have a purpose, according
to Section 6.9(d)(iv): certain tax rules do not apply to the
Plan because the beneficiary of a participant who dies before
distribution must be the participant's spouse.
VIII of the Plan vests the Administrative Committee with
"full and complete discretionary authority,
responsibility and control over the management,
administration and operation of the Plan." That
discretion extends to the authority to "formulate, issue
and apply rules and regulations, " "interpret and
apply the provisions of the Plan, " and "make
appropriate determinations and calculations."
receiving the application for Plan benefits, Linda opted for
the early retirement pension. She also elected to receive her
pension through Section 6.4(a)(iii)'s ten-year annuity.
She designated her only ...