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Theriot v. Building Trades United Pension Trust Fund

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

November 4, 2019

DEBORAH THERIOT
v.
BUILDING TRADES UNITED PENSION TRUST FUND, ET AL.

         SECTION I

          ORDER & REASONS

          LANCEV M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is defendants Building Trades United Pension Trust Fund (“the Fund”) and the Fund's Board of Trustees' (“Trustees”)[1] (collectively, the “defendants”) motion[2] for summary judgment with respect to count III of plaintiff Deborah Theriot's (“Theriot”) second amended complaint.[3] Theriot opposes their motion.[4]

         Five days after filing her opposition, Theriot filed a motion for leave to supplement her opposition to defendants' motion with two exhibits, which this Court granted.[5] One of these exhibits was Theriot's sworn declaration.[6] Defendants moved for sanctions and to strike Theriot's declaration pursuant to the “sham affidavit rule”[7] and Theriot opposed that motion.[8] Defendants then moved to supplement their motion for summary judgment with “an order by the 24th Judicial District Court of the State of Louisiana to appoint Deborah Theriot as the independent administrator to the Audry Hamann Estate on November 28, 2018” (“Order of Appointment”).[9] Theriot then filed a supplemental memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment.[10] Defendants moved to strike Theriot's supplemental memorandum[11] and Theriot opposed that motion.[12] For the following reasons, the motion for summary judgment is granted.

         I.

         Count III of Theriot's second amended complaint alleges that the Fund, through its Trustees, failed to timely produce requested plan documents in violation of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4) and that, therefore, Theriot is entitled to penalties under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c).[13] Theriot made two separate requests for documents that are at issue: a request on November 1, 2017 (the “2017 request”), and two identical requests on November 2, 2018 and December 19, 2018 (the “2018 requests”).

         Defendants move for summary judgment on the basis that Theriot did not have standing to request either set of documents under § 1024(b)(4).[14] Alternatively, defendants argue that they complied with the 2017 request and did not fail to produce any documents in response to the 2018 requests that must be provided under § 1024(b)(4).[15]

         II.

         Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the Court determines that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The party seeking summary judgment need not produce evidence negating the existence of a material fact; it need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id.; see also Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue is not satisfied by creating “‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,' by ‘conclusory allegations,' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions,' or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).

         A genuine issue of material fact exists when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Although the substance or content of the evidence submitted to support or dispute a fact on summary judgment must be admissible . . ., the material may be presented in a form that would not, in itself, be admissible at trial.” Lee v. Offshore Logistical & Transp., LLC, 859 F.3d 353, 355 (5th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The nonmoving party's evidence, however, “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving party's] favor.” Id. at 255; see also Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999).

         “[A] district court has somewhat greater discretion to consider what weight it will accord the evidence in a bench trial than in a jury trial.” Matter of Placid Oil Co., 932 F.2d 394, 397 (5th Cir. 1991). “[W]here ‘the evidentiary facts are not disputed, a court in a nonjury case may grant summary judgment if trial would not enhance its ability to draw inferences and conclusions.'” Id. (quoting Nunez v. Superior Oil Co., 572 F.2d 1119, 1124 (5th Cir. 1978)); see also Manson Gulf, L.L.C. v. Modern Am. Recycling Serv., Inc., 878 F.3d 130, 134 (5th Cir. 2017).

         III.

         Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4),

“[t]he administrator shall, upon written request of any participant or beneficiary, furnish a copy of the latest updated summary[] plan description, and the latest annual report, any terminal report, the bargaining agreement, trust agreement, contract, or other instruments under which the plan is established or operated” (emphasis added).

         Section 1132(c) gives courts discretion to award penalty damages for violations of § 1024(b)(4):

“Any administrator . . . who fails or refused to comply with a request for any information which such administrator is required by this subchapter to furnish to a participant or beneficiary. . . within 30 days after such request may in the court's discretion be personally liable to such participant or beneficiary in the amount of up to $100 a day from the date of such failure or refusal, and the court may in its discretion order such other relief as it deems proper” (emphasis added).

         A request for plan documents must “provide clear notice to the plan administrator of the information [the plaintiff] desire[s]” to trigger statutory penalties. Van Bael v. United Healthcare Services, Inc., No. 18-6873, 2019 WL 160183, at *3 (E.D. La. Jan. 10, 2019) (Africk, J.) (quoting Kollman v. Hewitt Assocs., LLC, 487 F.3d 139, 145 (3d Cir. 2007); citing Fisher v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 895 F.2d 1073, 1077 (5th Cir. 1990)) (citations omitted). The “touchstone” of sufficiency “is whether the request provides the necessary clear notice to a reasonable plan administrator which, given the context of the request, should be provided.” Center for Restorative Breast Surgery, LLC v. Humana Health Benefit Plan of La., Inc., No. 10-4346, 2015 WL 4394034, at *17 (E.D. La. July 15, 2015) (Fallon, J.) (quoting Kollman, 487 F.3d at 146; citing Fisher, 895 F.2d at 1077). Whether to award statutory penalties for violations of § 1024(b)(4) is within the discretion of the court. 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1).

         A. Pending Motions

         The Court will first address the motions that have been filed since defendants filed their motion for summary judgment. The exhibits filed by both Theriot and defendants to supplement the summary judgment record relate to whether Theriot, through her counsel at the time (the Javier Firm), [16] had standing to make a request for documents on behalf of Audry Hamann's estate (“the Estate”) on November 1, 2017. 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4) only requires plan administrators to respond to requests for information from participants and beneficiaries. Theriot was not a participant or beneficiary under defendants' plan, and she only had derivative standing to request documents as a representative of her mother, Audry Hamann's, estate.[17] See James v. La. Laborers Health & Welfare Fund, 766 F.Supp. 530, 531 (E.D. La. 1991) (Feldman, J.) (discussing Hermann Hosp. v. MEBA Med. & Benefits Plan, 845 F.2d 1286, 1287-89 (5th Cir. 1988), overruled on other grounds by Access Mediquip, L.L.C. v. UnitedHealthcare Ins. Co., 698 F.3d 229 (5th Cir. 2012) (mem.)).[18] Therefore, defendants' response to the 2017 request can only trigger statutory penalties if the Javier Firm represented Theriot, in her capacity as administrator of the Estate, on November 1, 2017. Accordingly, Theriot must have had the authority to act on behalf of the Estate on November 1, 2017.

         Theriot swears in her declaration that she:

“engaged the Javier Firm to represent [her], both individually and as a representative of [the Estate]. In that capacity, [she] authorized the Javier Firm to request plan documents, and to take whatever steps necessary to protect [her] mother's right to the lump-sum benefit available under the Fund's ERISA plan. Pursuant to this engagement, on November 1, 2017, the Javier Firm requested that [the Fund] produce a complete copy of the plan agreement and other documents as detailed in Exhibit 8[.]”[19]

         Defendants filed a motion for sanctions and to strike Theriot's declaration pursuant to the “sham affidavit rule, ”[20] which Theriot opposes.[21] Shortly thereafter, defendants filed a motion to supplement the summary judgment record with the Order of Appointment, which shows that Theriot was not appointed independent administrator of the Estate until November 28, 2018.[22] Theriot did not object to this motion, provided that she had the opportunity to file a response.[23] Theriot filed a response, making additional arguments as to why summary judgment should not be granted.[24] Defendants moved to strike Theriot's supplemental memorandum on the grounds that the memorandum did not address the new evidence, the Order of Appointment, but rather only made new arguments as to why defendants' summary judgment motion should not be granted.[25] Theriot opposed that motion.[26]

         The Court finds good cause to allow defendants to supplement the summary judgment record with the newly discovered evidence because Theriot allegedly did not turn over the Order of Appointment until after defendants moved for summary judgment.[27] Theriot does not argue that defendants possessed the Order of Appointment before they filed their motion. Theriot's declaration does not directly contradict the Order of Appointment, but the Court will consider Theriot's sworn statements in light of the Order of Appointment.[28] Further, the Court will only consider those paragraphs of Theriot's supplemental memorandum that relate to the Order of Appointment.[29] Theriot had several opportunities to argue in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment, and the Court finds no reason to allow Theriot to continuously present new arguments and reiterate her previous assertions.

         B. 2017 Request

         The Court will first consider Theriot's 2017 request. In a letter dated November 1, 2017, Roger Javier (“Javier”) of the Javier Firm sent a letter to defendants advising them that he “represent[s] the interests of the estate of Ms. Audry Hamann, and also Debbie Theriot and Carl Panebiango, children of Audry Hamann[.]”[30]

         As a preliminary matter, defendants argue that “[b]ecause Deborah Theriot did not become the administrator for the Hamann Estate until November 28, 201[8], [31]she had no authority to retain the Javier Firm as counsel for the Hamann Estate by November 1, 2017.”[32] Defendants do not dispute that had Theriot been acting on behalf of the Estate, she would have had standing to request documents pursuant to § 1024(b)(4) on November 1, 2017.[33] Therefore, the question is whether Theriot was acting in her personal capacity or on behalf of the Estate when she retained the Javier Firm to make a request for documents on November 1, 2017.

         Theriot makes two arguments in her opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment: first, that defendants are attempting to enforce a “form requirement” for the appointment of an authorized representative that is not in the plan document and, second, that defendants waived their right to raise this argument.[34]

         Theriot argues in her opposition to defendants' motion to strike her declaration that she was Ms. Hamann's universal successor pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code Article 935 and, therefore, “could represent Mrs. Hamann to enforce her rights immediately upon her death.”[35] Further, Theriot argues that she “exercised this ability by engaging the Javier Firm to enforce the payment of the lump-sum benefit to which Mrs. Hamann became entitled prior to her death.”[36]

         Finally, Theriot argues in her supplemental memorandum in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment that “consideration of Plaintiff's claims should have been tolled until such time as a succession representative qualified or until such time as Defendants produced the plan documents giving rise to the Audry Hamann claim.”[37] Alternatively, Theriot argues that “the running of the time limitations for administrative review should have been equitably tolled until Audry Hamann officially became estate administrator.”[38] The Court will address each of Theriot's arguments in turn.

         1. Authorized Representative

         Theriot argues that defendants are “attempt[ing] to impose a form requirement for the Javier Firm's appointment as the representative of Audry Hamann's estate when no such requirement exists in the plan.”[39] Further, Theriot argues that imposing this “form requirement” that is not included in the plan document and summary plan description violates 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(b)(4).[40]

         Pursuant to 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(b)(4), a plan's claims procedures will be deemed reasonable only if “[t]he claims procedures do not preclude an authorized representative of a claimant from acting on behalf of such claimant in pursuing a benefit claim or appeal of an adverse benefit determination.” However, “a plan may establish reasonable procedures for determining whether an individual has been authorized to act on behalf of a claimant[.]” Id. Theriot argues that defendants are now trying to enforce procedures for determining whether Theriot was authorized to act on behalf of Ms. Hamann when no such “form requirement” was in either the plan document or summary plan description.[41]

         The Court finds that Theriot was not an “authorized representative” as contemplated by § 2560.503-1(b)(4) and, therefore, defendants are not attempting to retroactively impose procedures in violation of 29 C.F.R. § 2560.503-1(b)(4). Ms. Hamann did not take affirmative action to authorize Theriot to act on her behalf. Rather, Theriot, by operation of law, gained the right to act on the Estate's behalf on November 28, 2018 as its independent administrator.[42] See, e.g., Van Bael, 2019 WL 142298, at *6 (discussing whether the plan's procedures were fair and reasonable in light of the written authorization form the plaintiff's attorney was required to submit as the authorized representative); Omega Hospital, LLC v. United Healthcare Services, Inc., 345 F.Supp.3d 712, 729-30 (M.D. La. 2018) (discussing patients appointing a hospital to act as their authorized representative). Therefore, Theriot was not acting as an authorized representative when she engaged the Javier Firm to request documents on her behalf.

         2. Waiver

         Theriot next argues that defendants waived their argument that Theriot had no authority to retain the Javier Firm as counsel for the Estate on November 1, 2017 because defendants did not raise the argument sooner.[43] Theriot cites Pitts By and Through Pitts v. American Sec. Life Ins. Co., 931 F.2d 351, 357 (5th Cir. 1991) and Rhorer v. Raytheon Engineers & Constructors, Inc., 181 F.3d 634, 645 (5th Cir. 1999), abrogated on other grounds by CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 563 U.S. 421 (2011) in support of her argument.

         The Fifth Circuit has recognized the doctrine of waiver in the ERISA context, and it defines waiver as “the voluntary or intentional relinquishment of a known right.” Pitts, 931 F.2d at 357. There is “a clear dividing line as to when waiver claims are available [in the ERISA context].” Price v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., No. 04-338, 2008 WL 4187944, at *3 (N.D. Miss. Sept. 8, 2008). “The key element is that waiver must be intentional.” Id. “Generally waiver requires proof of the defendant's knowledge, actual or constructive, of the existence of his rights or of all material facts.” Lamb v. Provident Ins. Co., No. 2:93CV40, 1994 WL 1890828 at *4 (N.D. Miss. Oct. 4, 1994).

         The Fifth Circuit has held that administrators waive their rights to enforce policy provisions when they have full knowledge that a provision is being breached but allow the breach to continue. For example, in Pitts, the defendant's policy required a minimum of ten participating employees in the group insurance plan. 931 F.2d at 353. The defendant continued to accept insurance premiums and cash the plaintiff's premium checks “for five months after learning beyond all doubt that [the plaintiff] was the only employee remaining on the policy.” Id. at 357. The Fifth Circuit held that, therefore, the defendant had waived its right to assert the policy violation as a defense to liability under the policy. Id.

         Similarly, in Rhorer, the Fifth Circuit held that there was a fact issue precluding summary judgment as to whether the plan had waived its right to assert the defense that the employee lacked coverage because he was not actively working. 181 F.3d at 645. The plan knew that the employee was severely ill and had stopped working, but still allowed him to enroll in optional life insurance, accepted his premiums, and failed to return those premiums for over a year. Id. Rhoher and Pitts were primarily concerned with the plan administrator's conduct prior to the application for benefits, and it was that prior conduct that allowed the inference of waiver.

         In contrast, Theriot takes issue not with defendants' conduct regarding Ms. Hamann's application for her late husband's benefits or with Ms. Hamann's application for lump-sum payment, but rather with defendants not raising their argument, that Theriot did not have the authority as representative of the Estate to engage the Javier Firm to request documents on November 1, 2017, immediately upon receiving the Javier Firm's letter.[44]

         Unlike the administrators in Pitts and Rhoher, defendants, when they responded to the 2017 request, did not know “beyond all doubt” or have any reason to believe for that matter, that the Javier Firm did not properly represent the Estate. See Pitts, 931 F.2d at 357; Rhoher, 181 F.3d at 645; Lamb, 1994 WL 1890828, at *4. The Javier Firm's letter stated that it represented the Estate.[45] Moreover, defendants did not learn, until after they filed their motion for summary judgment, that at the time Theriot made the 2017 request she had not yet been appointed independent administrator of the Estate.[46]

         Theriot's claim of waiver is more analogous to the claim in Schadler v. Anthem Life Ins. Co., 147 F.3d 388, 396-97 (5th Cir. 1998). The Fifth Circuit held that it was “unwilling to conclude that the administrator has, by determining that [the plaintiff] was not covered by the [policy], waived the right to interpret any particular provisions of the [policy] once it has been shown that [the plaintiff] was in fact covered.” Id. The Fifth Circuit found that the administrator “advanced a non-frivolous argument that the [policy] had never been in effect as to [the plaintiff], ” and “therefore was not called upon to make any further benefits determinations or even to interpret the terms of the Plan at all in concluding that [the plaintiff] was not covered.” Id. at 396; see also Swenson v. Lincoln National Life Ins. Co., No. 17-0417, 2018 WL 3028954, at *8-9 (W.D. La. June 18, 2018) (holding that the doctrine of waiver was inapplicable to the defendant's allegedly insufficient appeal denial letter because the plaintiff took issue not with the defendant accepting premiums, but rather with the specific contents of the letter).

         Similarly, here, defendants advanced a non-frivolous argument that the Estate “did not have standing as a participant or beneficiary under ERISA [when] it requested information from [defendants]” in their answer to Theriot's second amended complaint.[47] Defendants only had occasion to inquire as to whether the 2017 request was made by Theriot in her personal capacity or on behalf of the Estate after this Court held in its order and reasons dismissing four of Theriot's claims that Theriot, because she was acting on behalf of the Estate, had standing to bring claims under ERISA.[48]

         Further, Theriot's assertion that defendants' argument is nothing but “newly conceived procedural deficiencies” is simply incorrect. Defendants stated in their March 2, 2018 letter to the Javier Firm that they “would like to make clear that Ms. Theriot and [her brother] are not Participants, Beneficiaries or Survivors within the meaning of the Plan and as a result the Law.”[49] Defendants then stated in their January 4, 2019 letter to Theriot's current counsel[50] that the Fund was reserving the right to assert “that Ms. Theriot and the Estate are not entitled to receive any documents under ERISA, as they are neither Participants nor Beneficiaries under the terms of the Plan and because of the law.”[51] Defendants again reiterated their position in their answer to Theriot's second amended complaint on July 26, 2019.[52]The Court finds, therefore, that defendants did not waive their right to assert that Theriot was not acting on the Estate's behalf when she requested documents, through the Javier Firm, on November 1, 2017.

         3. Universal Successor

         Theriot argues that regardless of when she was appointed administrator of the Estate, “Louisiana succession law allows Theriot, as Audry Hamann's daughter and heir to her intestate succession, ” to “represent Mrs. Hamann to enforce her rights immediately upon her death” as Ms. Hamann's universal successor.[53] Theriot argues that she exercised her ability to represent her mother's rights immediately upon her death by engaging the Javier Firm to enforce the payment of the lump-sum benefit to which Ms. Hamann was allegedly entitled and, therefore, the Javier Firm requested documents on November 1, 2017 on behalf of the Estate.[54]

         In response, defendants argue that only a succession representative, not a universal successor, may represent an estate in pursuing its claim for benefits under ERISA and, therefore, Theriot did not have standing to pursue Ms. Hamann's estate's claim for benefits and request documents until November 28, 2018, when she was appointed independent administrator of the Estate. The question is, therefore, whether Theriot could exercise the rights of the Estate to pursue a claim for benefits under ERISA immediately upon Ms. Hamann's death as universal successor, or whether she only gained this right once she was appointed independent administrator of the Estate.[55]

         “The universal successor represents the person of the deceased, and succeeds to all his rights and charges.” La. Civ. Code art. 3506. Pursuant to Louisiana Civil Code Article 935, “[i]mmediately at the death of the decedent, universal successors acquire ownership of the estate, ” and “[p]rior to the qualification of a succession representative only a universal successor may represent the decedent with respect to the heritable rights and obligations of the decedent.” Universal successors “may institute all actions that the decedent could have brought unless the estate is under administration, in which case the succession representative is the proper party plaintiff or defendant[.]” Id. Revision Comments (1997) (d). “If a universal successor exercises his rights of ownership after the qualification of a succession representative, the effect of that exercise is subordinate to the administration of the estate.” La. Civ. Code art. 938.

         As universal successor, Theriot had the right to institute all actions that Ms. Hamann could have brought, such as Ms. Hamann's claim for benefits under the pension plan, immediately upon Ms. Hamann's death. See La. Civ. Code art. 935, Revision Comments (1997) (d). Theriot was also subsequently appointed independent administrator of the Estate, so she had the authority to act on behalf of the Estate with respect to Ms. Hamann's claim for benefits both prior to and following her appointment as succession representative. See La. Civ. Code arts. 935, 938.

         Defendants argue that because Louisiana Civil Code Article 935 states that “only a universal successor may represent the decedent with respect to the heritable rights and obligations of the decedent, ” and Ms. Hamann's claim for benefits under ERISA is a nonheritable right, Theriot could only bring an action under ERISA and request documents on behalf of the Estate once she was appointed independent administrator.[56] Confusingly, defendants argue that a nonheritable right is in fact heritable, but may only be enforced by a succession representative appointed by the state, rather than by a universal successor.[57]

         Defendants are mistaken for two reasons: first, a claim for benefits is a heritable right which survives the death of a participant or beneficiary under ERISA and, second, under Louisiana law an independent administrator does not have the power to enforce a set of rights that a universal successor otherwise cannot in the absence of an independent administrator.

         In regard to defendants' first error in reasoning, it is well settled that a claim for benefits under ERISA survives the death of a plan participant or beneficiary. The claim for benefits passes to the decedent's estate and confers derivative standing to representatives of the estate to sue on the decedent's behalf, provided that there is a colorable claim to benefits. James, 766 F.Supp. at 533-34 (finding that a succession representative could sue derivatively on behalf of the deceased for a claim to benefits under ERISA); see also Ibson v. Healthcare Services, Inc., 877 F.3d 384, 388 (8th Cir. 2017) (holding that “it is the representative of a deceased participant's estate that has standing to sue for breach of ERISA fiduciary duties” and, therefore, a legal representative of the decedent's estate must bring the claim for benefits, not the decedent's heir in her personal capacity) (citations omitted); Harrow v. Prudential Ins. Co. of America, 279 F.3d 244, 248 (3d Cir. 2002) (“Because Congress intended ERISA to be remedial, ERISA actions survive death.” (citing 29 U.S.C. § 1001(b); Duchow v. N.Y. State Teamsters Conference Pension & Retirement Fund, 691 F.2d 74, 78 (2d Cir. 1982)).[58]

         In regard to defendants' second error in reasoning, defendants fail to cite any authority which states that a claim for benefits under ERISA and the accompanying collateral right to request documents to pursue the claim do not pass to a decedent's universal successor, but rather only to the independent administrator of the estate.[59]All of the cases cited by defendants address whether the plaintiff could sue in his or her personal capacity, rather than on behalf of the decedent's estate.[60] That is not at issue here. Theriot is not arguing that she had standing in her personal capacity to request documents, but rather that she had standing as universal successor to request documents, on behalf of the Estate.

         Therefore, Ms. Hamann's right as a beneficiary under the Plan to request documents under 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4) to pursue a claim for benefits passed to her estate immediately upon her death and, Theriot, as universal successor, had the authority to exercise this right to request documents on behalf of the Estate on November 1, 2017.[61]

         4. Tolling of Limitations

         Finally, Theriot argues that “consideration of [p]laintiff's claims should have been tolled until such time as a succession representative qualified or until such time as [d]efendants produced the plan documents giving rise to the Audry Hamann claim.”[62] She further argues, “[a]ssuming arguendo that the Court accepts [d]efendants' argument, the running of the time limitations for administrative review should have been equitably tolled until Audry Hamann [sic] officially became estate administrator.”[63]

         Theriot's argument is inapposite and completely irrelevant as to whether she had authority to represent the Estate on November 1, 2017 and, therefore, had standing to make the 2017 request. There was no time restriction on when Theriot could request documents once appointed the independent administrator of the Estate, because neither the 2017 Plan nor 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4) impose a time limit on requesting documents.[64] Therefore, Theriot's argument is immaterial to the Court's decision.

         5. Defendants did not violate 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4)

         Theriot, through the Javier Firm, had standing to request documents pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4) on November 1, 2017, because she was acting on behalf of the Estate. The next issue is whether defendants complied with Theriot's 2017 request. The Javier Firm's letter requested:

[A] complete copy of the plan agreement including [Ms. Hamann's] application and all other correspondence from her to the Fund. I am particularly interested in reviewing any language which states that once a beneficiary elects a lump sum payment, irrespective of the fact that the Fund may process this request at its leisure, once it processes same and elects to make payment, the beneficiary must be alive.[65]

         Defendants sent the Javier Firm a copy of the plan agreement current through 2017 (the “2017 Plan”) in response to the request.[66] Theriot argues that defendants should have known she was also requesting the 1990 plan document, summary plan description, and collective bargaining agreement.[67]

         A claimant does not have to request a document under § 1024(b)(4) using its precise name, but the request must be “sufficiently clear” to provide “notice to the plan administrator of the information” the claimant desires. Van Bael, 2019 WL 160183, at *3; see also Center for Restorative Breast Surgery, 2015 WL 4394034, at *17. However, Theriot's request did not “provide clear notice to [defendants]” such that a reasonable plan administrator would have known Theriot was also requesting the summary plan description, 1990 plan document, and collective bargaining agreement. See Van Bael, 2019 WL 160183, at *3; Center for Restorative ...


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