Estate of Jones v. Children's Hospital and Health System, Inc. Pension Plan, No. 17-3524 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
Linda worked for Children’s Hospital for 37 years, covered by its employer-funded Pension Plan. In 2015, Linda faced recurring cancer, and, at age 60, retired. The Plan describes a normal retirement pension, an early retirement pension, a deferred vested retirement pension, and a pre-retirement surviving-spouse death benefit. The surviving spouse benefit 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. 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. A 10-year annuity is available and allows the participant to designate a beneficiary for the remainder of a 10-year period, but if the participant dies before distributions begin, the designated beneficiary will be a surviving spouse. Linda chose the early retirement pension, through a 10-year annuity. She designated her daughter, Kishunda, as her beneficiary. Linda retired on August 26. Her first pension payment was set to commence on September 1. She died on August 29. Kishunda was denied her mother’s pension and sued under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)(B). The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment, upholding the administrator’s interpretation of the Plan as not arbitrary; only spouses are entitled to benefits under the Plan when a participant dies before the start of her pension.