Judge Upholds Pension Benefits Denial to Spouse

October 4, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge has backed a decision by a pension plan administrator to deny preretirement survivor income benefits to a woman who had been married to a participant for less than a year when he died.

Chief US District Judge David Larimer of the US District Court for the Western District of New York issued the ruling in a case involving the Eastman Kodak pension, which required that spouses could get preretirement benefits only if they had been married to a participant for at least 12 months.

According to Washington-based legal publisher BNA, Larimer also ruled that Sally Burke was not entitled to benefits as a domestic partner because her husband Kenneth hadn’t filed the plan-required affidavit of domestic partnership. According to the ruling, the Burkes had lived together for eight years, but the two had only been married for five months before his November 1999 death from lung cancer.

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Following her husband’s death, Sally Burke applied for preretirement survivor income benefits from Eastman Kodak where Kenneth Burke worked.

The company’s retirement income plan administrator denied Sally Burke’s request for benefits, because the Burkes had only been married for five months and had not filed the domestic partner affidavit with the administrator.


In his ruling, Larimer upheld the administrator’s decision and threw out Sally Burke’s suit.

Larimer said that the couple was aware of the domestic partnership affidavit requirement, but made the decision not to take steps to establish their domestic partnership.

The case is Burke v. Kodak Retirement Income Plan, W.D.N.Y., 00-CV-6596L, No. 7/31/02.