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Berry v. Retirement Benefit Plan of American Airlines, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Oklahoma

November 7, 2017

DONALD M. BERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
RETIREMENT BENEFIT PLAN OF AMERICAN AIRLINES, INC. FOR EMPLOYEES REPRESENTED BY THE TRANSPORT WORKERS UNION OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO, an ERISA plan, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JOHN E. DOWDELL, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Donald M. Berry brings this claim under the Employment Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq., to challenge Defendant's calculation of his retirement benefit. (Doc. 2). Plaintiff claims that Defendant inappropriately refused to credit the years from Plaintiff's first two terms of employment with American Airlines, Inc. (Doc. 31 at 1-2). After a thorough review of the Administrative Record, the Court has determined that Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's claim should be affirmed.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff's employment history with American Airlines, Inc., included three separate terms of employment:

1. April 3, 1967, through July 14, 1972;
2. January 8, 1973, through December 30, 1977; and
3. September 19, 1983, through January 30, 2004.

(Doc. 31 at 1; Rec. 20). During Plaintiff's first term of employment, the retirement plan in effect was the plan effective January 1, 1964, as amended on May 1, 1967 (the “1967 Plan”). The plan in effect during Plaintiff's second term with American Airlines was the plan as amended and restated effective January 1, 1976 (the “1976 Plan”). The retirement plan as amended and restated effective January 1, 2003 (the “2003 Plan”) was in effect when Plaintiff retired in 2004.

         Upon retirement, Plaintiff applied for and received a retirement benefit based only on his third term of employment. Plaintiff then made a claim for additional years of service to be included in his benefit, which was initially denied and later denied on appeal to the company's Pension Benefits Administration Committee (the “Committee”). (Rec. 7, 20-23).

         II. Objections to the Administrative Record

         The Court will first address Plaintiff's objections to the Administrative Record (the “Record”). Many of these objections were resolved by the Court in its March 22, 2016 Order (Doc. 33 at 4-6), but a few additional objections have not yet been addressed.

         First of all, Plaintiff takes issue with the fact that the version of the 1976 Plan included in the Record appears to be dated “March 1981.” (See Rec. at 252). Plaintiff contends that this version of the Plan includes amendments made after Plaintiff resigned in 1977. (Doc. 31 at 4). However, it appears that changes made to the Plan were given specific “effective dates” that clarify which provisions came into effect after Plaintiff's resignation. The Court finds that additional discovery on this issue is unnecessary, as the Court will consider these “effective dates” in evaluating the reasonableness of Defendant's decision.

         Plaintiff further argues that the Record “does not indicate what benefit Plaintiff is getting, nor how it was calculated.” (Doc. 31 at 4). The Court finds this objection to be meritless. In fact, the Record contains many pages of detailed information showing how Defendant calculated Plaintiff's retirement benefit. (See, e.g., Rec. 183-84, 187-193, 195-205, 208-210).

         Plaintiff makes two arguments that the Court will address in its discussion of the appropriate standard of review: first, that his denial letter from Defendant was insufficient (Doc. 31 at 4) and, second, that the Record should include documentation regarding the authority of the decision maker in his ...


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