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Supreme Court of the United States
January 15, 1997, Argued ; June 2, 1997, Decided
[*835] [**1758] [***52] JUSTICE KENNEDY delivered the opinion of the Court.
We consider whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 88 Stat. 832, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., pre-empts a state law allowing a nonparticipant [*836] spouse to transfer by testamentary instrument an interest in undistributed pension plan benefits. Given the pervasive significance of pension plans in the national economy, the congressional mandate for their uniform and comprehensive regulation, and the fundamental importance of community property law in defining the marital partnership in a number of States, the question is of undoubted importance. We hold that ERISA pre-empts the state law.
Isaac Boggs worked for South Central Bell from 1949 until his retirement in 1985. Isaac and Dorothy, his first wife, were married when he began working for the company, and they remained husband and wife until Dorothy's death in 1979. They had three sons. Within a year of Dorothy's death, Isaac married Sandra, and they [****7] remained married until his death in 1989.
Upon retirement, Isaac received various benefits from his employer's retirement plans. One was a lump-sum distribution from the Bell System Savings Plan for Salaried Employees (Savings Plan) of $ 151,628.94, which he rolled over into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA). He made no withdrawals and the account was worth $ 180,778.05 when he died. He also received 96 shares of AT&T stock from the Bell South Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). In addition, Isaac enjoyed a monthly annuity payment during his retirement of $ 1,777.67 from the Bell South Service Retirement Program.
The instant dispute over ownership of the benefits is between Sandra (the surviving wife) and the sons of the first marriage. The sons' claim to a portion of the benefits is based on Dorothy's will. Dorothy bequeathed to Isaac one-third of her estate, and a lifetime usufruct in the remaining two-thirds. A lifetime usufruct is the rough equivalent of a common-law life estate. See La. Civ. Code Ann., Art. 535 (West 1980). She bequeathed to her sons the naked ownership [*837] in the remaining two-thirds, subject to Isaac's usufruct. All agree that, absent pre-emption, Louisiana [****8] law controls and that under it Dorothy's will would dispose of her community property interest in Isaac's undistributed pension plan benefits. A Louisiana state court, in a 1980 order entitled "Judgment of Possession," ascribed to Dorothy's estate a community property interest in Isaac's Savings Plan account valued at the time at $ 21,194.29.
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
520 U.S. 833 *; 117 S. Ct. 1754 **; 138 L. Ed. 2d 45 ***; 1997 U.S. LEXIS 3396 ****; 65 U.S.L.W. 4418; 97 Cal. Daily Op. Service 4103; 97 Daily Journal DAR 6882; 21 Employee Benefits Cas. (BNA) 1047; 10 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 511
SANDRA JEAN DALE BOGGS, PETITIONER v. THOMAS F. BOGGS, HARRY M. BOGGS AND DAVID B. BOGGS
Prior History: [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT.
Disposition: 82 F.3d 90, reversed.
spouse, pension plan, annuity, benefits, state law, pension, provisions, community property, retirement, anti-alienation, pre-empt, community property law, nonparticipant, funds, testamentary transfer, stock, surviving spouse, community property interest, pension benefits, divorce, pre-emption, accounting, survivor's, survivor annuity, plans, plan participant, retirement benefits, relations, marriage, domestic relations order
Estate, Gift & Trust Law, Estate Planning, Community Property, General Overview, Family Law, Property Rights, Characterization, Community Property, Governments, Fiduciaries, Pensions & Benefits Law, ERISA, Disclosure, Notice & Reporting, ERISA Pension Plan Qualification Requirements, Participation & Vesting, Business & Corporate Compliance, Coverage Requirements, Child & Spouse Benefit Rules, Qualified Domestic Relations Orders, Federal Preemption, State Laws, Basic Plan Requirements, Annuity Requirement, Constitutional Law, Supremacy Clause, Employee Benefit Plans, Classification, Retirement Benefits, Pensions, Delinquency & Dependency, Welfare Benefit Plans, Support Obligations, Types, Medical Support, Property Distribution, Alienation & Assignment of Benefits