U.S. District Judge Oliver W. Wanger of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California made the award in a suit filed by Trudy G. Hemphill who said she had asked for the documents beginning in 1996.
Wanger also turned aside arguments by the widow of the plan trustee that she could not be personally liable for the penalty payments because of California probate law. Wanger ruled that the state statute was pre-empted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
The plan trustee, James J. Ryskamp Jr, was Hemphill’s ex-husband. The two were divorced in 1994 with the separation agreement calling for Hemphill to get $50,000 from the plan sponsored by Ryskamp’s firm.
Hemphill did not receive the money as called for in her divorce from Ryskamp and the plan failed to provide the necessary documents informing Hemphill of how to get the distribution executed, so she filed suit. Wanger ruled in favor of Hemphill after rejecting the defendants’ contention that there was a triable issue of fact as to whether Hemphill was a “beneficiary or participant” when the lawsuit was filed and whether her lawsuit for penalties was filed too late.
The court rebuffed Hemphill’s request for the maximum penalty of $110 per day for the nine years she waited for the requested plan documents. Noting that at least some documents had been provided her, the court awarded the penalty of $50 per day from June 6, 1996, to September 25, 2005.
The case is Hemphill v. Personal Representative of the Estate of Ryskamp, E.D. Cal., No. CV-F-05-1319 OWW/SMS, 3/21/08.
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