United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Tyler Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. SCHROEDER III UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action, Plaintiff Mary Motes (“Motes”) seeks to
obtain pension benefits from Defendant Time Warner Cable
Pension Plan (“TWCPP”). The Court held a bench
trial in this matter on July 11, 2017. Docket No. 49
(“Tr.”) at 4:1.
Positions of the Parties
alleges four primary facts. First, Motes alleges that from
1980 to 1986, she was an employee of one or more subsidiaries
or affiliates of Group W Cable, Inc. (“Group W”
or “Westinghouse”). Second, Motes alleges that during
her period of employment at Group W, she became vested in the
Group W's pension plan (the “Group W Plan” or
“Westinghouse Plan”). Third, she alleges that
Paragon Communications (“Paragon”) acquired or
merged with Group W such that the obligations of the Group W
Plan were absorbed by the Paragon Communications Pension Plan
(the “Paragon Plan”). Finally, Motes alleges that
Time Warner Cable subsequently acquired Paragon, and the
Paragon Plan was absorbed into the TWCPP in 1995.
does not contest that Motes worked at Group W or the duration
of Motes's employment at Group W. Nor does TWCPP contest
that Motes became fully vested in the Group W Plan, saying
only that it lacks the information to determine whether Motes
became fully vested in the Group W Plan. TWCPP admits that
TWCPP assumed the obligations of the Paragon Plan. TWCPP
contests that the Paragon Plan ever took on the pension
obligations of the Group W Plan or that Motes otherwise
became a Participant in the Paragon Plan. E.g., Tr.
Evidence to Be Considered
parties agreed at trial that the only proper evidence before
the Court is contained within the administrative record of
the proceedings before the Claims Committee of the TWCPP. Tr.
at 6:23-7:19, 8:15-21; see also Vega v. Nat'l Life
Ins. Servs., 188 F.3d 287, 299-300 (5th Cir. 1999) (en
banc), abrogated in part on other grounds by Metro. Life
Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105 (2008). The Court will
refer to the administrative record according to the Bates
numbers used therein in its analysis below.
denial of benefits under an ERISA plan is reviewed either
de novo or, where the plan delegates discretionary
authority to determine benefits eligibility to the plan
administrator, for abuse of discretion. Firestone Tire
and Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 115 (1989).
Generally, a claimant has the burden of proving he is
entitled to benefits from an ERISA plan. E.g.,
Perdue v. Burger King Corp., 7 F.3d 1251, 1254 n.9
(5th Cir. 1993). However, ERISA requires the plan to
“maintain records with respect to each of his employees
sufficient to determine the benefits due or which may become
due to such employees.” 29 U.S.C. § 1059(a)(1).
Accordingly, once the claimant establishes a prima facie case
of entitlement to benefits, the failure to maintain such
records may result in the Court shifting the burden onto the
plan to prove that the claimant is not entitled to benefits.
See Anderson v. Mt. Clemens Pottery Co., 328 U.S.
680, 687 (1946); Barton v. ADT Sec. Servs. Pension
Plan, 820 F.3d 1060, 1066-69 (9th Cir. 2016); Combs
v. King, 764 F.2d 818, 825-27 (11th Cir. 1985).
Paragon Plan and TWCPP both give their administrators
discretion to determine benefits eligibility. Admin.Rec000068
at ¶11.4 (TWCPP); Admin.Rec000127 at ¶8.3
(Paragon). Accordingly, the Court reviews the denial
of benefits for abuse of discretion. Firestone, 489
U.S. at 115; see also Tr. at 9:14-18.
correctness of the denial of benefits in this case turns on
whether the Paragon Plan assumed the pension obligations of
the Group W Plan. See Tr. at 20:6-10. Whether Motes
became vested in the Group W Plan is not contested by TWCPP,
which asserts that it does not have sufficient information
about the Group W Plan to confirm or refute Motes's
claim. See Id. at 17:16-17; 19:8-12. Further, TWCPP
admits that it assumed the pension obligations of the Paragon
Plan. See e.g., Tr. at 24:21-23. Thus, the primary
dispute between the parties is whether the Paragon Plan
assumed the pension obligations of the Group W Plan.
asserts that that the burden of proof with respect to the
Paragon Plan assuming the obligations of the Group W Plan
should fall on TWCPP under 29 U.S.C. § 1059(a)(1)
because Paragon is in a better position than Motes to have
maintained records of Paragon's putative acquisition of
Group W. See Tr. at 13:13-21. TWCPP asserts that
Paragon never acquired Group W or assumed Group W's
pension obligations and that shifting the burden to TWCPP to
prove that Paragon did not assume the obligations of Group W
would be improper. Id. at ...