X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
The full case caption appears at the end of this opinion. Kanne, Circuit Judge. Arnold Downs is receivingthe exact level of retirement benefits to whichthe express terms of his pension plans entitlehim, but he claims that he deserves more. Hisformer employer World Color Press apparently toldhim in error that he would receive twenty-eightyears of service credit under its ERISA plans,even though Downs worked only sixteen years forthe company. Downs complains that thesemisrepresentations modified one of his ERISAplans and entitled him to more benefits thanallowed under its express terms. We disagree andaffirm the district court’s grant of summaryjudgment against Downs. I. History Arnold Downs worked for the corporate divisionof World Color Press (“Corporate Division”) inEffingham, Illinois, from June 1, 1975, toDecember 31, 1986. Like most defined-benefitpension plans under the Employment RetirementIncome Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. sec.sec.1001-1461, the retirement plan covering CorporateDivision employees (“Corporate Plan”) calculateslevels of pension benefits based in part onlength of employment service. Downs receivedcredit under the Corporate Plan for his elevenand one-half years of service in the CorporateDivision. On January 1, 1987, Downs transferred withinWorld Color Press to the Salem Gravure division(“Salem Division”) in Salem, Illinois. Althoughboth the Corporate Division and Salem Divisionwere subunits of World Color Press, each divisionmaintained separate pension plans for itsrespective employees. Salem Division employees,including Downs as of January 1, 1987, werecovered by the Salem Gravure Salaried PensionPlan (“Salem Plan”). Accordingly, Downs stoppedreceiving service time under the Corporate Planand began receiving service credit under theSalem Plan for his employment service in theSalem Division. In 1989, World Color Press merged the SalemPlan with the retirement plans for a number ofother divisions to form a new and distinctpension plan called the Pension Plan forEmployees of World Color Press, Inc. (“MergedPlan”). The Merged Plan is a defined-benefitERISA plan which specifies that a participant canreceive service credit only for time employed byone of several enumerated employers. The listedemployers under the Merged Plan comprise a numberof divisions within World Color Press, includingthe Salem Division but not the CorporateDivision. Consistent with this scheme, Downsreceived credit under the Merged Plan for hisemployment service with the Salem Division fromJanuary 1, 1987, to his retirement on July 11,1991. Downs, of course, did not receive creditunder the Merged Plan for his tenure in theCorporate Division. After he retired, Downs received benefits underthe Corporate Plan for his time in the CorporateDivision and received benefits under the MergedPlan for his time in the Salem Division. This wasthe correct result under the express terms ofboth plans. However, Downs was unhappy because heinsisted that World Color Press had promised himretroactive credit under the Merged Plan for hisCorporate Division service. In 1994, Downsformally appealed to World Color Press that heshould be double credited for his eleven and one-half years in the Corporate Division. Downs asserted that World Color Press made anumber of oral and written representations to himthat he would receive back credit under theMerged Plan for his time in the CorporateDivision. Downs alleged that World Color PressBenefits Manager Tom Phillips had assured him onthe day of his transfer that his initial date ofemployment for Salem Division retirement benefitswould be June 1, 1975, not January 1, 1987.According to Downs, his supervisor ClaytonMitchell and General Manager Jack O’Connor alsoverified this arrangement. In addition, Downspresented benefits paperwork indicating that theemployment date for purposes of calculating hisSalem Division benefits was June 1, 1975.However, World Color Press explained that ifPhillips, Mitchell and O’Connor had promised himdouble benefits for his time in the CorporateDivision, they had done so wrongly and withoutlegal authority. World Color Press also explainedthat the documentation listing Downs’s date ofemployment as June 1, 1975, was the result of anadministrative mistake during the creation of theMerged Plan in 1989. World Color Press rejectedhis arguments and enforced the express terms ofthe Merged Plan. On July 8, 1998, Downs sued World Color Pressin Illinois state court under 29 U.S.C. sec.1132(a)(1)(B) to clarify his rights under theMerged Plan, and World Color Press removed thecase to federal district court under 28 U.S.C.sec. 1441 on August 21, 1998. Before the districtcourt, Downs argued that World Color Press’s oraland written representations to him amended theMerged Plan and entitled him to double benefitsfor his time in the Corporate Division. He alsoargued that World Color Press’s oralrepresentations to him estopped World Color Pressfrom enforcing the terms of the Merged Plan. Theparties submitted cross-motions for summaryjudgment, and the district court granted summaryjudgment in favor of World Color Press on April1, 1999. Downs filed a motion for reconsiderationunder Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of CivilProcedure, arguing that the district court failedto address his request for relief. On July 8,1999, the district court vacated its judgment forWorld Color Press and entered an amended finaljudgment for World Color Press specifying Downs’scompensation under the Merged Plan. II. Analysis Downs appeals summary judgment and argues thatWorld Color Press’s oral and writtenrepresentations entitled him to additionalbenefits under the Merged Plan for two reasons:(1) World Color Press’s representations amendedthe Merged Plan; (2) World Color Press isestopped by its representations from enforcingthe express terms of the Merged Plan. Thedistrict court rejected both arguments andgranted summary judgment in favor of World ColorPress. We review de novo the district court’sgrant of summary judgment, drawing our ownconclusions of law and fact from the recordbefore us. See Haefling v. United Parcel Serv.,169 F.3d 494, 497 (7th Cir. 1999). In determiningwhether a genuine issue of material fact exists,we draw all reasonable factual inferences infavor of the non-movant Downs. See Anderson v.Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The statements by World Color Press employeesand the incorrect date of employment on Downs’sbenefit papers do not constitute amendment of theMerged Plan. First, oral modification of an ERISAplan is prohibited, so Downs cannot rely on theoral statements to him by Phillips, Mitchell andO’Connor. See Plumb v. Fluid Pump Serv., Inc.,124 F.3d 849, 856 (7th Cir. 1997); Doe v. BlueCross & Blue Shield United, 112 F.3d 869, 876(7th Cir. 1997). As we explained in Pohl v.National Benefits Consultants, Inc., 956 F.2d126, 128 (7th Cir. 1992), “One of ERISA’spurposes is to protect the financial integrity ofpension and welfare plans by confining benefitsto the terms of the plans as written, thus rulingout oral modifications.” Second, though writtenmodification of an ERISA plan is permissible, seeDoe, 112 F.3d at 876, a plan may be amended onlypursuant to its express terms. See 29 U.S.C. sec.1102(a)-(b); Brewer v. Protexall, Inc., 50 F.3d453, 457 (7th Cir. 1995). All the writtendocumentation on which Downs relies camesubsequent to the Merged Plan’s inception, andSection Twelve of the Merged Plan states thatWorld Color Press may amend the plan only”through action of its Board of Directors.” Downscites a number of World Color Press benefitsdocuments listing his employment start date underthe Merged Plan as June 1, 1975, but he does notargue, much less establish, that the World ColorPress Board of Directors ratified any planmodification that would entitle him to additionalbenefits. Furthermore, the representations by World Colorthat Downs cites do not establish estoppel. Forestoppel to apply, the plaintiff must show thefollowing: (1) knowing misrepresentation by thedefendant; (2) in writing; (3) with reasonablereliance by the plaintiff on themisrepresentation; (4) to the plaintiff’sdetriment. See Coker v. Trans World Airlines, 165F.3d 579, 585 (7th Cir. 1999). Thus, Downs cannotrely on the oral statements by Phillips, Mitchelland O’Connor because the estoppel doctrine doesnot override the aforementioned rule proscribingoral modification of an ERISA plan. See Coker,165 F.3d at 585; Frahm v. Equitable LifeAssurance Soc’y, 137 F.3d 955, 961 (7th Cir.1998). Downs still argues that documents listing hisstart date as June 1, 1975, were writtenmisrepresentations by World Color Press thatsupport estoppel here. Yet, whether based on oralor written representations, any application ofestoppel to an ERISA plan is problematic in lightof the requirements that modification of a planoccur only in writing and through the expressprocedures for amendment. See 29 U.S.C. sec.1102(a)(1), (b)(3); see also Shields v. Local705, Int’l Bhd. of Teamsters Pension Plan, 188F.3d 895, 903-04 (7th Cir. 1999) (Posner, J.,concurring); Health Cost Controls of Ill., Inc.v. Washington, 187 F.3d 703, 711 (7th Cir. 1999);Coker, 165 F.3d at 585. As a result, somecircuits refuse any application of estoppelprinciples to modify an ERISA plan. See, e.g.,Miller v. Coastal Corp., 978 F.2d 622, 625 (10thCir. 1992); Coleman v. Nationwide Life Ins. Co.,969 F.2d 54, 58-59 (4th Cir. 1992). In Black v.TIC Investment Corp., 900 F.2d 112, 115 (7th Cir.1990), we held that estoppel applies to unfunded,single-employer welfare benefit plans, but sinceBlack, we have repeatedly declined to decidewhether estoppel might apply to an employer-funded, defined-benefit plan such as we havehere. See, e.g., Shields, 188 F.3d at 900; Coker,165 F.3d at 585-86; Krawczyk v. HarnischfegerCorp., 41 F.3d 276, 280 (7th Cir. 1994). In bothShields and Krawczyk, we explained that it wasunnecessary to decide whether to permit estoppelin cases involving employer-funded plans becausethe plaintiffs had failed to establish theelements of estoppel. Shields, 188 F.3d at 900;Krawczyk, 41 F.3d at 280. Likewise in this case,we again express no opinion whether estoppel maybe applied to ERISA plans other than unfundedwelfare plans because Downs fails in the firstplace to establish the elements of estoppel. In an attempt at showing detrimental reliance,Downs claims that he would not have transferredfrom the Corporate Division to the Salem Divisionif he knew that he would not receive doublecredit for his eleven and one-half years in theCorporate Division. However, Downs could not haverelied upon benefits documents wrongly reportinghis start date in deciding to transfer becausethe earliest of these documents are dated March1989, well after he shifted to the Salem Divisionin 1987. Even looking past this fact, Downscannot establish that World Color Press’s writtenmisrepresentations were intentional. AlthoughWorld Color Press might have been negligent inlisting the wrong start date on his forms, “[a]claim will not lie for every false statementreasonably and detrimentally relied upon by anunwitting plaintiff.” Coker, 165 F.3d at 585.World Color Press explained that the incorrectstart date was the result of a clerical error,and Downs does not argue otherwise. We held inCoker that a similar instance of “bureaucraticsloppiness,” where the plaintiffs receivedpaperwork and insurance coverage from theiremployer well after their benefits should haveended, did not constitute intentionalmisrepresentation. Id. at 586. Moreover, Downsdoes not allege that he was harmed by thetransfer. Like the plaintiff in Shields, Downsdoes not claim that he “forwent any other moreadvantageous job opportunities” or “suffered anydetriment” in reliance on his employer’srepresentations. Shields, 188 F.3d at 901. Heargues essentially that he should be permitted todouble dip by receiving almost twice theretirement benefits to which he is entitled. Heinsists in his brief that “equity abhorsinjustice,” but this principle works here againstDowns, not for him. III. Conclusion For the foregoing reasons, we AFFIRM the grant ofsummary judgment in favor of World Color Press.
Downs v. World Color Press In the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit Arnold Downs, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. World Color Press, Defendant-Appellee. No. 99-3030 Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, Benton Division. No. 98 C 4270–J. Phil Gilbert, Chief Judge. Argued: February 16, 2000 Decided: May 25, 2000 Before: KANNE, WOOD and EVANS, Circuit Judges.
 
Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.

More From ALM

Premium Subscription

With this subscription you will receive unlimited access to high quality, online, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry. This is perfect for attorneys licensed in multiple jurisdictions or for attorneys that have fulfilled their CLE requirement but need to access resourceful information for their practice areas.
View Now

Team Accounts

Our Team Account subscription service is for legal teams of four or more attorneys. Each attorney is granted unlimited access to high quality, on-demand premium content from well-respected faculty in the legal industry along with administrative access to easily manage CLE for the entire team.
View Now

Bundle Subscriptions

Gain access to some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys with our 2 bundle options! Our Compliance bundles are curated by CLE Counselors and include current legal topics and challenges within the industry. Our second option allows you to build your bundle and strategically select the content that pertains to your needs. Both options are priced the same.
View Now

Women Influence & Power in Law Awards 2021

October 07, 2021
Washington, DC

Women Influence & Power in Law Awards honors women lawyers who have made a remarkable difference in the legal profession.


Register

Women Influence & Power in Law (WIPL) 2021

October 06, 2021 - October 08, 2021
Washington, DC

WIPL is the original global forum facilitating women-to-women exchange on leadership and legal issues.


Register

General Counsel Conference Midwest: SuperConference 2021

October 12, 2021 - October 13, 2021
Chicago, IL

GCC Midwest addresses today's legal issues facing companies by providing general counsel with insight and best practices.


Register

Immigration Attorney

Rochester, New York, United States

Immigration Attorney   Harter Secrest & Emery LLP, a top-ranked 125+ lawyer firm in upstate New York, is seeking an attorney to j...


Apply Now ›

Labor and Employment Associate

Atlanta, Georgia, United States

Duane Morris LLP is looking for an associate with approximately 3-5 years’ experience for its Employment Practice Group in the Atlanta...


Apply Now ›

Associate Attorney- New York

New York, New York, United States

Smith Mazure, PC, is a highly respected results-oriented law firm serving insurance carriers and self-insured corporations for 50 years. We ...


Apply Now ›

ABRAMS, FENSTERMAN, FENSTERMAN, EISMAN, FORMATO, FERRARA & WOLF LLP

09/28/2021
NYLJ Web

Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara, Wolf & Carone, LLP would like to announce that...


View Announcement ›

JAVERBAUM WURGAFT HICKS

09/20/2021
NJLJ Web

JAVERBAUM WURGAFT HICKS mourn the passing of our Co-Founding Partner, collegue, and friend.


View Announcement ›

BARTON GILMAN LLP

09/14/2021
CLT Web

Barton Gilman Expands Into Connecticut


View Announcement ›