2021 COA 72. No. 19CA1712. Zook v. El Paso County.
Pension Plan—Survivor Benefits—Contingent Beneficiary—Breach of Contract—Subject Matter Jurisdiction.
May 27, 2021
Zook was employed by El Paso County (County) and receives monthly payments from the El Paso County Retirement Plan (Plan). Zook and his wife Rita sued the County, the El Paso County Board of Commissioners (Board), the Plan, and the El Paso County Retirement Board asserting claims of breach of contract based on alleged miscalculations in Zook’s monthly benefits. Rita asserted that she is an intended third-party beneficiary of the Plan because she will receive survivor benefits if she outlives Zook. The district court dismissed the claims as barred by the statute of limitations and claim preclusion.
On appeal, Rita argued that the district court erroneously granted summary judgment in favor of the County and the Board. However, a court cannot adjudicate an uncertain or contingent future claim. Because Zook is still alive, Rita does not currently receive, and is not contractually entitled to receive, any benefits directly from the Plan. Therefore, Rita’s claims were unripe when she filed her complaint, and the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to consider them. Consequently, it could not resolve the claims by entering summary judgment.
The judgment was vacated and the matter was remanded to the district court with instructions to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.