United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
C. BUCKLEW United States District Judge
cause comes before the Court on Publix's Motion for
Summary Judgment. (Doc. No. 34). Plaintiff Arlene Ruiz
opposes the motion and asks for summary judgment in her favor
instead. (Doc. No. 41). As explained below, Publix's
motion is granted.
Standard of Review
judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The Court must draw all inferences from
the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant
and resolve all reasonable doubts in that party's favor.
See Porter v. Ray, 461 F.3d 1315, 1320 (11th Cir.
2006)(citation omitted). The moving party bears the initial
burden of showing the Court, by reference to materials on
file, that there are no genuine issues of material fact that
should be decided at trial. See id. (citation
omitted). When a moving party has discharged its burden, the
non-moving party must then go beyond the pleadings, and by
its own affidavits, or by depositions, answers to
interrogatories, and admissions on file, designate specific
facts showing there is a genuine issue for trial. See
id. (citation omitted).
Rizo is a former Publix employee who died from cancer on
January 19, 2015. During her employment with Publix, Rizo
participated in the Publix Super Markets, Inc. Employee Stock
Ownership Plan (“ESOP”) and the Publix Super
Markets, Inc. 401(k) SMART Plan (“401(k) Plan”).
The Summary Plan Descriptions for the ESOP and the 401(k)
Plan both provide for an initial beneficiary designation via
a Beneficiary Designation Card. (Doc. No. 38-1, p. 9, 46). In
order to change the designated beneficiary, these plans
provide the following directives:
It is important to remember to change your beneficiary
designation when the situation calls for it . . . . If you
wish to change your beneficiary(ies), please obtain a
Beneficiary Designation Card from your work location's
Publix Communication Center and complete, sign and submit it
to the Retirement Department, Publix Corporate Office,
Lakeland, Florida. Your change of beneficiary designation is
not valid under the Plan until the Retirement Department
receives and processes the properly completed Beneficiary
(Doc. No. 38-1, p. 11, 47). The plans also provide the
following instructions for completing a Beneficiary
Remember that a Beneficiary Designation Card is a legal
document. It should not contain mark outs, erasures or
correction fluid. It should be typed or printed in ink, and
you must sign and date the card. Your beneficiary designation
is not valid under the Plan until the Retirement Department
receives and processes the properly completed Beneficiary
(Doc. No. 38-1, p. 10, 46).
October of 2008, Publix received Beneficiary Designation
Cards from Rizo changing her prior designated beneficiaries
for both her ESOP and 401(k) Plan. (Doc. No. 38-5; Doc. No.
38, ¶ 22). These Beneficiary Designation Cards named (1)
her nephew, Alexander Perez-Vargas, (2) her niece, Andrea
Vargas, and (3) her niece, Jessica Vargas, as her
beneficiaries for both her ESOP and 401(k) Plan. (Doc. No.
38-5; Doc. No. 38, ¶ 22).
September of 2011, Rizo was diagnosed with cancer. On January
15, 2015, when Rizo was getting her affairs in order after
her cancer had progressed, Rizo called Publix to find out how
to change her beneficiaries for her ESOP and 401(k) Plan.
(Doc. No. 44, depo p. 79, 83). Arlene Ruiz was with Rizo
while Rizo made the call on speaker phone. (Doc. No. 44,
depo. p. 79-82). According to Ruiz, the Publix representative
told Rizo that in order to change her beneficiaries, she must
do the following:
She must write a letter. And in the letter[, ] she must put
the person she wants, with their Social Security number . . .
. That she must include her name, her Social Security number,
cards if she can get ahold of them. The main
thing was, they kept emphasizing that the most important part
of the letter was to make sure she signed it and dated, that
was a must.
(Doc. No. 44, depo p. 86-87). The Publix representative said
that the cards really were not important because Rizo was not
an active associate at the time. (Doc. No. 44, depo p. 88).
January 18, 2015, Rizo dictated a letter that Ruiz
transcribed. (Doc. No. 44, depo p. 88-90). The letter stated
January 18, 2015
To Publix Retirement Department,
I am writing to update my personal information, and to make
changes to my beneficiary for both my ESOP & my 401k
accounts[.] Enclosed you will find new cards made out and to
be in effect right away as I dated and signed this request.
My updated information is as follows: My new beneficiary is
Arlene Ruiz [Social Security number redacted] 100% as stated
on cards enclosed.
(My name is:) Irialeth Rizo
(My new address =) [address redacted]
My SS# is: [Social Security number redacted]
Please update all my information I am requesting[.] Any
questions you can reach me at [phone numbers redacted.] My
new update [sic] beneficiary cards are enclosed.
/s/ Irialeth Rizo
(Doc. No. 47). After Ruiz drafted the letter, Rizo read it
two or three times and then signed and dated it. (Doc. No.
44, depo p. 90). Additionally, Rizo directed Ruiz to put
Ruiz's name and Social Security number on two cards.
(Doc. No. 44, depo p. 91-92). At some point later, Rizo gave
Ruiz a sealed envelope addressed to Publix's corporate
office and asked Ruiz to mail the envelope. (Doc. No. 44,
depo p. 91-92). Ruiz did not see what was inside the
envelope, but she assumed it was the letter she had
transcribed. (Doc. No. 44, depo p. 93).
died on January 19, 2015. Thereafter, Publix received the
January 18, 2015 letter from Rizo, as well as the Beneficiary
Designation Cards. On the signature lines of the Beneficiary
Designation Cards, Rizo did not place her signature; instead,
she wrote “as stated in letter.” (Doc. No. 41,
¶ 22). According to Publix, after it received the letter
and cards, Publix did not process the change of beneficiary,
because the Beneficiary Designation Cards were not properly
filled out, as Rizo had not signed and dated them. (Doc. No.
43, depo p. 19). According to Publix, it returned the
Beneficiary Designation Cards to Rizo with a letter
explaining why they were being returned. (Doc. No. 43, depo
p. 19-21). No such letter from Publix was ever received,
despite the fact that other correspondence from Publix was
Ruiz made a claim for benefits under the ESOP and the 401(k)
Plan after Rizo's death, Publix denied ...