from the United States District Court for the Western
District of Louisiana
BARKSDALE, SOUTHWICK, and HAYNES, Circuit Judges.
HAYNES, CIRCUIT JUDGE
case is a dispute between decedent Gerald Miletello's
ex-wife Sandra and widow Pam about who is entitled to the
funds in Gerald's 401(k) retirement account. The dispute
hinges on the existence and timing of a "qualified
domestic relations order," or QDRO, which is controlled
by federal law. The district court granted summary judgment
in favor of Sandra, concluding that she had timely received a
QDRO. For the reasons set forth below, we AFFIRM the district
court's judgment that Sandra is entitled to $500, 000 of
the 401(k) balance.
The ERISA Regulatory Scheme
Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974
("ERISA") is a comprehensive federal statute that
regulates employee benefit plans. Boggs v. Boggs,
520 U.S. 833, 841 (1997). It covers defined contribution
plans like 401(k) accounts. See LaRue v. DeWolff, Boberg
& Assocs., Inc., 552 U.S. 248, 250 (2008). ERISA
generally prohibits the assignment or alienation of employee
benefits under covered plans. 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(1). It
also preempts state laws that "relate to" employee
benefit plans. Id. § 1144(a).
those prohibitions do not apply in the case of a QDRO.
Id. §§ 1056(d)(3)(A), 1144(b)(7). A QDRO
is a type of domestic relations order, or DRO. A DRO "is
any judgment, decree, or order that concerns 'the
provision of child support, alimony payments, or marital
property rights to a spouse, former spouse, child, or other
dependent of a participant' and is 'made pursuant to
a State domestic relations law (including a community
property law).'" Boggs, 520 U.S. at 846
(quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(B)(ii)). A QDRO, in
turn, "is a type of domestic relations order that
creates or recognizes an alternate payee's right to, or
assigns to an alternate payee the right to, a portion of the
benefits payable with respect to a participant under a
plan." Boggs, 520 U.S. at 846 (citing §
1056(d)(3)(B)(i)). Under a QDRO, the alternate payee is
considered a beneficiary of the relevant plan. 29 U.S.C.
§ 1056(d)(3)(J). The "alternate payee" may be
a "spouse, former spouse, child, or other dependent of a
participant." Id. § 1056(d)(3)(K).
must satisfy certain requirements to be a QDRO.
Boggs, 520 U.S. at 846; 29 U.S.C. §
1056(d)(3)(B)-(D). ERISA states:
During any period in which the issue of whether a [DRO] is a
[QDRO] is being determined (by the plan administrator, by a
court of competent jurisdiction, or otherwise), the plan
administrator shall separately account for the amounts
(hereinafter . . . the "segregated amounts") which
would have been payable to the alternate payee during such
period if the order had been determined to be a [QDRO].
29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(3)(H)(i). ERISA provides an
eighteen-month period for determining whether a DRO is a
QDRO. Id. § 1056(d)(3)(H)(i)-(v). The
eighteen-month period "begin[s] with the date on which
the first payment would be required to be made under the
[DRO]." Id. § 1056(d)(3)(H)(v). If during
that period, the DRO is determined to be a QDRO, the plan
administrator must pay the segregated amounts to the person
entitled to them under the QDRO. Id. §
1056(d)(3)(H)(ii). But if (1) the DRO is determined to not be
a QDRO, or (2) the issue is unresolved by the time the
eighteen-month period expires, the plan administrator must
pay the segregated amounts to the person "who would have
been entitled to [them] if there had been no order."
Id. § 1056(d)(3)(H)(iii). Finally, if a DRO is
determined to be a QDRO after the eighteen-month period has
expired, such a determination "shall be applied
prospectively only." Id. §
Miletello and Appellee Sandra Bellgard Miletello were
married. Gerald participated in a 401(k) plan set up and
administered by Appellee RMR Mechanical, Inc.
("RMR"). He designated Sandra as the beneficiary of
and Gerald divorced on January 21, 2014. Gerald married
Appellant Pam Miletello four months later, in May 2014. As
part of the divorce, Sandra and Gerald agreed to a community
property settlement (the "Divorce Settlement"). The
Divorce Settlement awarded $500, 000 of the funds in the
401(k), or the balance of the 401(k) if it was less than
$500, 000, to Sandra. ...