United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT OF
DEFENDANTS WINZ AND LESAN
A TSUCHIDA, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Defendants Mary Winz (“Winz”) and Tracie Lesan
(“Lesan”) move pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure for an order of judgment directing
Premera Blue Cross (“Premera”), to pay them the
interpleaded funds pursuant to the most recent beneficiary
designations governing two employee benefit plans (a pension
equity plan (“PEP”) and 401(k) savings plan
(“401(k)”)) (collectively “the
Plans”) owned by Gerald Lesan (“Gerald”),
who is now deceased. Co-Interpleader Defendant, Joyce Arlene
Nelson (“Nelson”), who was formerly married to
Gerald, claims she is entitled to the benefits from both
Plans. Dkt. 27.
and Lesan, Gerald's mother and sister respectively,
contend that Nelson is not entitled to the funds because the
Plans are governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security
Act of 1974 (ERISA) and the Retirement Equity Act of 1984
(REA), which preempt state law and the Plan benefits must be
distributed according to the beneficiary designations at the
time of Gerald's death. In addition, they argue that
Nelson agreed in her divorce from Gerald to accept not more
than 50% of the benefits, existing at the time of the
divorce, in the 401(k).
contends that, in addition to the 50% share of the 401(k)
benefits she has received, she is entitled to all remaining
401(k) benefits and all of the PEP benefits. She argues that
she is equitably entitled to these additional amounts because
Gerald violated discovery rules and hid the existence of the
PEP from her during their divorce. Dkt. 31. Nelson proposes
that this Court should rule on the division of the retirement
benefits “despite ERISA, under Washington law” or
alternatively, “certify the issue to the Snohomish
County Superior Court.” Id.
reviewed the memoranda, declarations, and exhibits submitted
by the parties, the Court finds that summary judgment in
favor of Winz and Lesan is appropriate.
judgment is appropriate when, viewing the facts in the light
most favorable to the nonmoving party, there is no genuine
dispute as to any material fact that would preclude the entry
of judgment as a matter of law. L.A. Printex Indus., Inc.
v. Aeropostale, Inc., 676 F.3d 841, 846 (9th Cir.2012).
The party seeking summary dismissal of the case “bears
the initial responsibility of informing the district court of
the basis for its motion” (Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)) and identifying those
portions of the materials in the record that show the absence
of a genuine issue of material fact (Fed. R. Civ. P.
the moving party has satisfied its burden, it is entitled to
summary judgment if the non-moving party fails to identify
specific factual disputes that must be resolved at trial.
Hexcel Corp. v. Ineos Polymers, Inc., 681 F.3d 1055,
1059 (9th Cir.2012).
and Nelson were married on May 5, 1997. Dkt. 28, Declaration
of Hans P. Juhl, ¶ 4. During their marriage, Gerald was
employed by Premera. Dkt. 29, Declaration of Robert Moe,
¶ 2. While employed at Premera, Gerald participated in
Premera's PEP and 401(k) plans, which are employee
pension benefit plans as defined by Section 3(2)(A) of ERISA.
Id. ¶ 3-7; Dkt. 30, Affidavit of Daniel W.
Nason, ¶ 1. On March 13, 2003, Gerald designated Nelson
as the primary beneficiary of his PEP and 401(k) plan
benefits. Dkt. 29, Moe Decl. ¶ 5-7. He designated his
mother Winz, as the secondary beneficiary of his PEP and
401(k) plan benefits. Id.; see also,
Exhibit D (designation form for 401(k) plan).
December 12, 2016, Snohomish County Superior Court issued a
Final Divorce Order and Dissolution Decree between Nelson and
Gerald. Dkt. 28, Juhl Decl. ¶ 5. The parties entered
their final dissolution pleadings by agreement. Id.
The agreement provided that Nelson was entitled to the lump
sum value of 50% of Gerald's 401(k) benefits as of
November 30, 2016 (the date of the Decree). Id.,
Exhibit A at 2. The lump sum was to be payable when the plan
administrators received a Qualified Domestic Relations Order
(“QDRO”), as defined in Section 206(d) of ERISA
and Section 414(p) of the Internal Revenue Code. Dkt. 29, Moe
Decl. ¶ 6. The divorce decree also awarded to Gerald all
employment benefits “including but not limited to any
401k, pension or other retirement benefit . . . except as
otherwise listed….” Id., Exhibit A at
2. Nelson was awarded all of her own employment benefits,
including “but not limited to any 401k, pension or
other retirement benefit….” Id.
time of the parties' divorce, Gerald's 401(k) was
worth $180, 000.00 and the PEP was valued at approximately
$125, 000.00. Dkt. 32, Declaration of Joyce Lesan, p. 2.
During the divorce proceedings, Gerald responded to
interrogatories and requests for production, in which he was
asked if he had “any interest of any kind in any
retirement or pension fund, ” to which he responded
“yes, ” and identified the 401(k) fund with a
balance of $180, 000.00. Id., Exhibit 3.
states that had she “been aware at all that the PEP
existed at the time we negotiated and finalized our divorce
by agreement, I would most certainly have claimed 50% of the
PEP plan.” Had the PEP plan been revealed to her
attorney and herself, Nelson asserts that the asset would
have been specifically included in the “50/50 division
of other assets” and she would not have allowed the
inclusion of the “generic language…awarding to
each of us our employment benefits ‘except as otherwise
listed.'” Id., Exhibit 1 at 2; Dkt. 33,
Declaration of Lara Dethlefs.
result of the dissolution decree, Gerald's designation of
Nelson as the primary beneficiary of his PEP and 401(k) plan
benefits was automatically revoked, pursuant to Section
8.5(f) of the PEP and Section 15.1(e) of the 401(k). Dkt. 29,
Moe Decl. ¶ 5, 7; Exhibits A and C. On December 16,
2016, Gerald designated his sister, Lesan, as the primary
beneficiary of his PEP benefits. Id. ¶ 5;
Exhibit B. He did not change the beneficiary designations on
his 401(k) Plan. Id. ¶ 7. By virtue of the
automatic revocation, this left Gerald's ...