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Guenther v. Lockheed Martin Corp.

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

September 1, 2017

CHARLES GUENTHER, Plaintiff,
v.
LOCKHEED MARTIN CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 133

          EDWARD J. DAVILA, United States District Judge

         After a remand from the Ninth Circuit, Plaintiff Charles Guenther (“Plaintiff”) alleges in this action that Defendants Lockheed Martin Corporation and Lockheed Martin Corporation Retirement Plan for Certain Salaried Employees (the “Plan”)[1] breached a fiduciary duty in violation the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) by failing to make accurate representations concerning Plaintiff's ability to “bridge” prior employment service credit with future service credit.

         Federal jurisdiction arises pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 1132(e). Presently before the court is Lockheed's Motion for Summary Judgment (Dkt. No. 133), which Plaintiff opposes.

         Lockheed has successfully shown that Plaintiff's sole claim is barred by ERISA's three year statute of limitations, and Plaintiff has not satisfied his responsive burden to produce evidence on which a reasonable factfinder could conclude otherwise. Thus, Lockheed is entitled to summary judgment for the reasons explained below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         After two prior employment periods, Plaintiff began his most recent period of employment with Lockheed on September 11, 2006. Depo. of Charles F. Guenther (“Guenther Depo.”), Dkt. No. 134, at 16:21-23; 124:17-19. It is undisputed that this period commenced after the Plan had been amended in 2005, effective January 1, 2006, to unambiguously state that “no person who is re-employed by [Lockheed] on or after January 1, 2006, shall become an active Participant or earn Credited Service under the Plan with respect to any period commencing with such reemployment.” Before Plaintiff was re-hired, he heard a “rumor” that “Lockheed was going to be changing around their plan.” Id. at 59:13-20; 121:21-122:5. On February 22, 2006, Plaintiff sent an email to Lockheed engineering manager Errol Modine in which he wrote the following, in pertinent part:

[Department of Energy] is rebidding contracts for the laboratories. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) was awarded back to the University of California over a year or so ago. Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) was recently awarded to a team consisting of Bechtel, University of California, and several other lesser companies in terms of percentage involvement. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) is to go out for bids later this year early next with contract award to take place some time next year. At issue for most of the vested employees is the potential for changes to the retirement system. Based on LANL information, any changes to the retirement system should not affect current retirees and have minimal impact, at this time, on employees currently vested in the retirement system. The changes at LANL seem to be similar to those made at [Lockheed] in the sense that the significant changes will affect new employees or those coming back into the laboratory.

Decl. of Clarissa A. Kang (“Kang Decl.”), at Ex. K.

         Though Modine and Plaintiff engaged in an exchange of messages after the February 22nd email, Modine never commented on whether Plaintiff accurately described changes to Lockheed's retirement plan. Id. Plaintiff did know, however, that Modine was not involved in human resources at Lockheed and did not have authority to speak on behalf of the Plan. Guenther Depo., at 122:6-8.

         During Plaintiff's subsequent interview at Lockheed, he met with a human resources representative and asked if Lockheed was “bridging service.” Id. at 112:13-15. In response, Plaintiff was given a “bridging form.” Id. at 112:16-21; Kang Decl., at Ex. F. The form was entitled “Application for Bridging of Prior Service” and stated as follows:

If you have prior service with Lockheed, Martin Marietta, General Electric, General Dynamics, Loral, Comsat or a company acquired by one of these companies, you may be eligible to have your prior service bridged with your current period of employment. If you have periods of service that you believe may be eligible for bridging, please complete the information below. You should receive a written decision within 60 days.
The determination of whether an employee's service will be bridged for pension or other purposes is dependent upon the employee's work history, ERISA regulations, the provisions of the pension plans, merger agreements and Company policies.

Kang Decl., at Ex G.

         Plaintiff completed and submitted the bridging application on July 17, 2006. Id. That same day, Lockheed made an employment offer to Plaintiff, and Plaintiff made a counter-offer to request a higher salary and signing bonus. Depo. of Christy Lim Yee (“Lim Yee Depo”), Dkt. No. 143, at 28:24-29:7. Lockheed made a revised offer on July 25, 2006, which Plaintiff accepted. Id.; Kang Decl., at Ex. H. He signed the acceptance letter and dated it “7-25-06.” Kang Decl., at Ex. H.

         Plaintiff received a letter by regular mail from Lockheed in response to his bridging application, also dated July 25, 2006. Assuming a rehire date of July 31, 2006, the July 25th letter stated, in pertinent part:

Since you were vested in a pension benefit provided by the Lockheed Martin Corporation Retirement Plan for Certain Salaried Employees, your prior periods of Lockheed/Lockheed Martin service will be bridged with your proposed Lockheed Martin service.
It should be noted that if you are rehired by Lockheed Martin, you will need to submit a new Application for Bridging of Prior Service to ensure that any necessary adjustments to your employment service date and pension records are made.

Kang Decl., at Ex. I.

         Based on the July 25th letter and his understanding of the term “bridging, ” Plaintiff concluded he would continue to participate in the Plan and earn additional credited service for his prior employment if he returned to Lockheed. Guenther Depo., at 47:6-48:7; 115:4-14. Other than the July 25th letter, Plaintiff does not recall any other communications stating he would receive credited service under the Plan. Id. at 48:4-7.

         After re-starting employment with Lockheed in September, 2006, Plaintiff submitted a new bridging application, dated September 14, 2006, to account for his actual start date as instructed by the July 25th letter. Kang Decl., at Ex. J. Plaintiff also began checking his online pension account but did not see any additional accumulation of credited service. Guenther Depo., at 29:25-31:12 Plaintiff received a letter from Lockheed dated November 7, 2006, in response to his September 14th bridging application. This letter stated as follows, in pertinent part:

For purposes of determining whether your prior periods of Lockheed/Lockheed Martin service will be bridged with your current period of employment, your rehire date is September 11, 2006. Since you were vested in a pension benefit provided by the Lockheed Martin Corporation Retirement Plan for Certain Salaried Employees, your prior periods of Lockheed/Lockheed Martin service will be bridged with your current Lockheed Martin service. Consequently, your accrued benefit under the Capital Accumulation Plan has immediately become vested because the combined total of your Lockheed Martin controlled group service exceeds five years.
It should be noted that because you are not currently participating in a Lockheed Martin defined benefit pension plan, you are not entitled to a pension benefit from Lockheed ...

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