United States District Court, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT AND GRANTING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR JUDGMENT
ROBERT H. CLELAND UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Pending before the court is a Motion for Judgment, filed by Plaintiff Lydia Donati on December 31, 2014 (Dkt. # 37) and a Cross-Motion for Judgment filed by Defendant Ford Motor Company General Retirement Plan, Retirement Committee on February 4, 2015. (Dkt. # 48.) Having reviewed the briefs, the court concludes a hearing is unnecessary. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2). For the reasons stated below, the court will grant Defendant’s cross-motion and deny Plaintiff’s motion.
A. The Plan
The Ford Motor Company (“Ford”) maintains a General Retirement Plan (“GRP” or the “Plan”) for its employees. The GRP is a pension benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA § 3(1), which was funded by contributions from both participants and Ford. (Joint Appendix (hereinafter “JA”) 1-2.)
B. Donati’s Retirement Benefits
Lydia L. Donati worked for Ford for fifteen years and retired in good standing. She had been a participant in the GRP during her Ford employment. At the time of her retirement, Donati was a Retired Member who was entitled to receive a Life Income Benefit. (JA 455-56.) “Life Income Benefit” is defined by the Plan as “the portion of the retirement benefits provided in Article VI [Non-Contributory Retirement Benefits] and Article VII [Contributory Retirement Benefits] that continues to be payable, subject to the provisions of the Plan, to a Retired Member during the Member’s lifetime.” (JA 25.)
Donati had been the spouse of a Ford employee who also participated in the GRP, who was (and is) also a Retired Member entitled to a Life Income Benefit. (JA 501.) When Donati and her husband were divorced, she obtained a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (“QDRO”). ERISA defines a QDRO as a “domestic relations order which creates or recognizes the existence of an alternate payee’s right to, or assigns to an alternate payee the right to, receive all or a portion of the benefits payable with respect to a participant under a plan . . . .” 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(B). A portion of Mr. Donati’s vested retirement benefits were permanently assigned to Mrs. Donati.
Upon retirement, Donati applied for and began receiving her GRP pension benefits. Donati received monthly checks of $1, 184.91 per month, which included her own retirement benefits as well as the portion of her ex-spouse’s retirement benefits that were assigned to her as an alternate payee under the QDRO.
C. The Cash Out
Ford decided to allow certain individuals another payment option for their benefits, known as a “lump sum” or “cash out.” Eligible individuals could choose to convert their monthly lifetime benefits to the actuarially equivalent present lump-sum amount, to be paid immediately. (JA 355-425.) This election would be provided on a limited basis, during a “window” of Ford’s choosing. Participants had to elect the cash out on Ford’s timetable. Ford amended the Plan to provide for this lump sum opportunity. Appendix L of the Plan addresses the lump sum buyout options. In relevant part, the Plan provides for:
[a] lump sum retirement benefit, which shall be an amount equal to the Actuarial Equivalent lump sum value of the remaining monthly benefits payable, including the following, if applicable:
(i) Life Income Benefit;
(ii) Supplemental Allowance and/or ...