David C. Pellegrin
In a recent decision dated May 25, 2022, Judge Brian A. Jackson of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana entered a default judgment in favor of Plaintiff Baton Rouge Sheet Metal Workers’ Union #21 Pension Fund in a suit against a woman who accepted pension funds not owed to her. Judge Jackson is an appointee of former President Barack Obama. The pension fund sued Ann E. Paul for accepting funds automatically deposited into her bank account. The bank account formerly belonged to widow Annabelle Elizabeth Gautreau, who was a proper beneficiary due to her husband’s years of service with the union.
The Court found that the pension fund had stated a plausible claim for relief, as Ms. Paul should have informed the plan of Ms. Gautreau’s death and should not have kept the money. Also, because Ms. Paul did not respond to the lawsuit, the Court found that the pension fund was due a default judgment for the improperly paid amount of $58,577.76 plus $35,509.00 in prejudgment interest as allowed by ERISA, the law that governs the pension fund. In addition, the Court stated it would award attorneys’ fees after a properly supported motion for attorneys’ fees. Courts will likely remain receptive to these kinds of claims, as the paying of funds to persons other than proper beneficiaries threatens the solvency of ERISA plans.