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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Ind. Decisions - One Indiana decision today from 7th Circuit

In Cheryl Burns v. Orthotek, Inc. (ND Ind., Simon), a 13-page opinion, Judge Sykes writes:

This case requires us to decide a dispute over the pension benefits of the late Dr. Richard Burns. Before his death Dr. Burns designated his three sons as beneficiaries. But because the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) guarantees surviving spouses certain benefits, this designation is only effective if his widow, Cheryl Burns, consented. She signed a written consent form, but after her husband died, she claimed her consent was invalid because it was not witnessed, as required by ERISA. The pension plan found her consent valid and denied her claim for benefits. The district court upheld that decision, invoking the substantial-compliance doctrine and finding that the consent form Mrs. Burns signed substantially complied with ERISA.

We affirm, although on different grounds. For reasons we will explain, the substantial-compliance doctrine does not apply here. Nevertheless, the pension plan was within its discretion to deny Mrs. Burns’s claim for benefits. Although no witness signed the consent form as a witness, under the unusual facts of this case, we agree with the plan that Dr. Burns, the plan representative, witnessed his wife’s written consent to the waiver, as required by ERISA.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on September 15, 2011 12:53 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions