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Charles D. Skinner and v. Northrop Grumman

March 16, 2012

CHARLES D. SKINNER AND GREGORY A. STRATTON, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED,
PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS,
v.
NORTHROP GRUMMAN RETIREMENT PLAN B AND ADMINISTRATIVE COMMITTEE OF NORTHROP GRUMMAN RETIREMENT PLAN B, DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California John F. Walter, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 2:07-cv-03923- JFW-AGR

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Goodwin, Circuit Judge:

FOR PUBLICATION

Argued and Submitted February 9, 2012-Pasadena, California

Before: Alfred T. Goodwin, Diarmuid F. O'Scannlain, and Susan P. Graber, Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge Goodwin

OPINION

Appellants Charles Skinner and Gregory Stratton appeal summary judgment rejecting their claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, and we affirm.

I. Facts and procedural history

Appellants were employees of Litton Industries, Inc., and participated in its retirement plan, which was called Litton Industries, Inc., Retirement Plan B ("Litton Plan B"). Following corporate mergers and plan modifications, Appellants sued the successor corporation, Northrop Grumman, and Northrop Grumman Retirement Plan B ("Northrop Plan B"), the plan that replaced Litton Plan B, under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B) to enforce their understanding of their rights under Northrop Plan B.

By June 2004, Appellant Skinner was anticipating retirement, and he received a pension calculation packet. That packet's formulas illustrated how Skinner's transition benefit would be calculated based on his salary, contributions, and age at retirement. The formulas included an "annuity equivalent offset." In December 2004 and April 2005, Skinner received additional pension calculation packets, both of which also included the annuity equivalent offset. Skinner testified at his deposition that, after he received the packet in December 2004, he understood how his benefits would be calculated, including the annuity equivalent offset. In May 2005, Skinner retired.

By February 2005, Appellant Stratton was anticipating retirement, and he received a pension calculation packet. That packet's formulas included an "annuity equivalent offset." In December 2005, the plan administrators provided a summary of material modifications ("SMM"), which included the annuity equivalent offset. Stratton testified at his deposition that he received the SMM, that it clearly explained the annuity equivalent offset, and that he understood how that offset would affect his pension. In May 2006, Stratton received another pension calculation packet, which also contained the annuity equivalent offset. In July 2006, Stratton retired.

The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants after concluding that Appellants had not raised a genuine issue of material fact. We reversed and remanded the case upon our conclusion that an ambiguity existed between summary plan descriptions ("SPDs") issued to employees in earlier years and the plan master documents that were actually being enforced by the plan administrators. That ambiguity was related to the controversial "annuity equivalent offset" that plan administrators used to reduce annual benefit amounts based on the age of the participant at retirement. We held, pursuant to this court's earlier decisions in Bergt v. Retirement Plan for Pilots Employed by MarkAir, Inc., 293 F.3d 1139, 1143 (9th Cir. 2002), and Banuelos v. Construction Laborers' Trust Funds for Southern California, 382 F.3d 897, 904 (9th Cir. 2004), that the ambiguity created a triable issue.

The district court again granted summary judgment, and Appellants again appealed. We deferred argument and submission of the second appeal until the Supreme Court's resolution of CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 131 S. Ct. 1866 (2011). In that case, the Supreme Court overruled, in relevant parts, our two prior decisions that had treated SPD language as if it were an enforceable part of the retirement plan. In holding that the SPD language was not part of the plan, the Court made it clear that "summary documents, important as they are, pro- vide communication with beneficiaries about the plan, but that their statements do not themselves constitute the terms of the plan for purposes of ยง 502(a)(1)(B)." Id. ...


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