Court Denies Interest on Benefit Paid 12 Years After Death

July 7, 2008 ( - The U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware has denied a request by a deceased pension plan participant's ex-wife for interest on surviving spouse benefits paid to her 12 years after her ex-husband's death.

In its opinion, the court said Section 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) does allow a beneficiary of an ERISA plan to sue for equitable relief, including interest on delayed payments, but only in cases of violations of ERISA or the terms of the plan. The court ruled that General Motors did not wrongfully withhold Delsie E. Brookens’ benefit payment.

Specifically, General Motors decision that a separation agreement presented by Brookens with her second request for benefits was not a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) was not arbitrary and capricious, according to the opinion. Brookens and her ex-husband had a separation agreement which provided that Mr. Brookens would designate Ms. Brookens as survivor beneficiary of any insurance or pension plans provided through his employment.

David Brookens died in 1991. Delsie Brookens first request for survivor benefits in 1998 was denied because she was not married to Mr. Brookens during the 12 months prior to his death as the plan required.

In 2004, Ms. Brookens sent a second request for benefits, including the separation agreement between Mr. Brookens and her. General Motors determined the separation agreement did not meet the requirements of a QDRO set forth in ERISA, denied her request, and advised that she could get a retroactive QDRO.

Ms. Brookens obtained a retroactive QDRO and requested benefits plus interest on the lump-sum benefit payment. She received a lump-sum and monthly benefits also began, but her request for interest was denied because the plan did not provide for interest payments.

Brookens then sued General Motors. The district court granted summary judgment for the company.

The case is Brookens. v. General Motors Corp., D. Del., No. 07-387-JJF, 7/1/08.