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Schandel v. Siebert

United States District Court, D. Colorado

March 30, 2016

ROGER SCHANDEL and LORI SCHANDEL, Plaintiffs,
v.
DARLENE A. SIEBERT, and QWEST PENSION PLAN, Defendants.

ORDER AFFIRMING DECISION OF PLAN

Robert E. Blackburn, United States District Judge

This matter is before me on the Plaintiffs’ Brief In Support of Claim for Benefits [#30], [1] filed August 15, 2013. The defendants filed responses [#32 & #49] and the plaintiffs filed a reply [#50]. I affirm the decision of the Qwest Pension Plan, now known as the CenturyLink Pension Plan.

I. JURISDICTION

I have jurisdiction over this matter under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(e) (authority to review denial of benefits under an ERISA plan).

II. BACKGROUND

This case concerns the pension benefit of the plaintiff, Roger Schandel, as paid by the Qwest Pension Plan (the Plan), which is a named defendant. Defendant Darlene Siebert is the former wife of Mr. Schandel. The Plan is paying a portion of the pension benefit of Mr. Schandel to Ms. Seibert under the terms of a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) and the terms of the Plan. Mr. Schandel claims the Plan is paying Ms. Seibert more than she is entitled to under the terms of the Plan, the QDRO, and the terms of a Mandatory Portability Agreement.

A. History of Pension Benefits of Mr. Schandel

Some factual background is necessary to understand this dispute and its resolution. During the periods listed below, Mr. Schandel was employed by Bell System companies or their successors:

- June 6, 1966 through December 31, 1983 - Pacific Bell and Mountain Bell;
- January 1, 1984 through September 14, 1991 - AT&T; and
- September 15, 1991 through October 1, 2008 - U.S. WEST/Qwest.

Both of the companies with which Mr. Schandel was employed from 1966 through 1983 were impacted by the 1983 divestiture of AT&T. Prior to divestiture, Pacific Bell and Mountain Bell, among other companies, entered into a Mandatory Portability Agreement (MPA). [#36] AR 00038 - 00164. The MPA preserves benefits of employees who move between companies covered by the MPA. All of the companies listed above for which Mr. Schandel worked between 1966 and 2008 are covered under the terms of the MPA. The MPA describes how the service of an employee will be credited to determine term of employment, vesting, and for other purposes, when the employee moves from one MPA company to another. [#36] AR 00062-00067. The MPA also describes how the obligation of paying an employee pension and the assets funding the pension are transferred in such circumstances. AR 00078-00088. The MPA explicitly excludes liability to third parties, such as the plaintiffs, stating:

This Agreement shall not provide third parties including any covered employee, with any remedy, cause, liability, reimbursement, claim of action or other right in excess of those existing without reference to this Agreement.

[#36], AR 00119.

When the assets of the Bell System Plan for Employees Pensions, Disability Benefits and Death Benefits were divided among the retirement plans of the various entities that were parties to the MPA, the U.S. West Pension Plan succeeded to the liability for the pension of Mr. Schandel. [#37], AR 00169. Each time Mr. Schandel transferred among the companies listed above, his service credits and accrued pension benefit were transferred to the hiring company under the terms of the MPA. [#37], AR 00169. The Qwest Pension Plan succeeded to that liability when Qwest and U.S. West, Inc. merged. At that time, the U.S. West pension Plan was renamed the Qwest Pension Plan. [#37], AR 00169.

Mr. Schandel retired in October 2008. The Qwest Pension Plan managed the retirement benefits of Mr. Schandel when he retired. He elected to receive his pension benefit as a 100% joint and survivor annuity with his current wife, Lori Schandel, as the beneficiary. [#35], AR 00027 - 00031. Effective October 31, 2008, the Plan began to pay to Roger and Lori Schandel a monthly annuity of 2, 846.95 dollars. [#35], AR 00034 - 00036.

In 2011, Qwest merged with CentruyLink, Inc., and the Plan was renamed the CenturyLink Pension Plan. The CenturyLink Employees Benefits Committee became the plan administrator. [#41], AR 00374 - 00375.

B. Terms of the Qualified Domestic Relations Order

On February 16, 1966, just before Mr. Schandel began his long span of employment with Bell system operating companies and their successors, Mr. Schandel and Ms. Siebert were married. They remained married until April 27, 1981, when they separated. As a result of their dissolution of marriage, Mr. Schandel and Mrs. Siebert are parties to a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) ...


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