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Pulliam v. Pulliam

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland

April 29, 2015

JASON PULLIAM
v.
JILL IRENE PULLIAM

Page 243

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Harford County. William O. Carr, Judge

JUDGMENT AFFIRMED; COSTS TO BE PAID BY APPELLANT.

Argued by: Michael B. Green of Towson, MD for Appellant.

Argued by: Mary Roby Sanders & Dempsey Nash (Turnbull, Nicholson & Sanders, PA on the brief) all of Towson, MD for Appellee

Zarnoch, Graeff, Leahy, JJ.

OPINION

Page 244

[222 Md.App. 581] Leahy, J.

Appellant Jason Pulliam is a law enforcement officer employed by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Force. During divorce proceedings in the Circuit Court for Harford County, Appellant and his then-wife, Appellee Jill Irene Pulliam, agreed, as reflected in the consent judgment entered, that she would receive one half of the marital share of his Law Enforcement Officers' Pension System (" LEOPS" ) pension. The parties dispute whether, pursuant to the agreement and consent judgment, a voluntary Deferred Retirement Option Program (" DROP" ) benefit is part of Husband's pension plan and properly included in Wife's eligible domestic relations order (" EDRO" ). The circuit court concluded that Husband's LEOPS pension plan encompassed the DROP benefits and entered the EDRO.

We hold that the parties' consent judgment was unambiguous and that DROP benefits are part of the LEOPS pension as a matter of law for purposes of the parties' EDRO. We affirm the judgment of the circuit court.

[222 Md.App. 582]BACKGROUND

Jason and Jill Pulliam were married on June 4, 2005, and one child was born during their marriage. On June 19, 2010, the parties separated, and ultimately filed for divorce in the Circuit Court for Harford

Page 245

County.[1] At the uncontested divorce hearing held on February 7, 2012, the parties, through their counsel, placed the settlement agreement that they had reached on the record. Of particular relevance to this appeal, the agreement addressed Husband's membership in the LEOPS, in which he had been enrolled since November 1, 1997 through his employment at the Maryland Transportation Authority. The parties announced they had agreed that:

Each party will retain [his or her] own 401-K retirement savings.
Mr. Pulliam has a pension through his employer, a law enforcement pension. He will assign a portion of that to Mrs. Pulliam equal to one half, or 60 months, will be the marital share. She is entitled to one half of that portion of service.
Mrs. Pulliam has, at her option and cost, to opt for survivor benefits at the time Mr. Pulliam retires.

Both parties accepted these terms on the record and affirmed their understanding that neither party could " come back and ask for a marital award or for the Court to adjust interest in marital property, or for the Court to take any action regarding property, other than to enforce the terms of this agreement."

On March 23, 2012, the court entered a judgment of absolute divorce. In its order, the court recognized that the parties had reached an agreement " as to all issues arising out of their marriage" ; that this agreement had been read into [222 Md.App. 583] the record; and that the judgment entered contained its terms. The judgment specifically addressed retirement benefits as follows:

ORDERED, that each party shall retain as their sole and separate property their respective interest in and to their own 401K Plans; and it is further
ORDERED, that the Defendant shall assign to the Plaintiff an interest in the Pension System for Law Enforcement Officers of the State of Maryland, as follows: One half of the Marital Share of his entire pension benefit. The Marital Share is a fraction, the numerator of which is the number of months of the Participant's benefit credited service under the Plan during the parties' marriage, which the parties deem to be 60 months, and the denominator of which is the total number of months of the Participant's benefit credited service under the Plan. Plaintiff shall have the right, at her option, to request survivor benefits equal to her marital share provided she pays the cost of such benefits, and such benefits are available[.]

(Emphasis added).

On August 21, 2013, Wife filed a motion requesting that the circuit court enter an EDRO because Husband had refused to sign the order she had prepared, which specifically addressed the DROP benefits as part of Husband's pension. Accordingly, Husband filed an opposition on September 11, 2013, asserting that the proposed EDRO contained a provision directing that DROP payments were to be included in calculating the marital share, and emphasizing that he was not even eligible to participate in the DROP at the time. On January 17, 2014, the court issued an order and accompanying memorandum opinion granting Wife's motion and entering her proposed EDRO. In its opinion, the court

Page 246

framed the issue as " whether a particular retirement asset known as a DROP was or should be included in the Defendant's retirement assets." To resolve this issue, the Court relied on Dennis v. Fire & Police Employees Retirement System, 390 Md. 639, 890 A.2d 737 (2006), which the court found to " completely address[]" the issue. The court adopted the Court of Appeals's conclusion in [222 Md.App. 584] Dennis, id. at 656, that the DROP payments were to be considered retirement assets within the meaning of the EDRO.[2] The court noted that in the case under consideration, [222 Md.App. 585] " the intention of the court in incorporating the agreement of the parties was that all retirement assets be divided pursuant to the formula set by the parties."

The signed and filed EDRO provided, inter alia, that the " Alternate Payee's [Wife's] share of the ...


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