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Boggs v. Boggs

United States Supreme Court
520 U.S. 833 (1997)


For 36 years, Isaac Boggs worked for South Central Bell (SCB) in Louisiana and earned pension benefits. During this time, Isaac was married to his first wife, Dorothy, with whom he had three sons (defendants). When Dorothy died, Isaac married Sandra Boggs (plaintiff), to whom he remained married until his retirement and subsequent death. Upon his retirement, Isaac received a lump-sum amount from the SCB Savings Plan, which Isaac rolled over into an individual-retirement account (IRA). Additionally, Isaac owned stock from the SCB Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and received a monthly annuity from the retirement program. Because Louisiana was a community-property state, Dorothy bequeathed her interest in Isaac’s retirement benefits to their three sons upon her death. After Isaac died, his sons and Sandra disagreed on the proper distribution of assets and money from Isaac’s retirement accounts. Two of Isaac’s sons filed suit in state court, requesting a judgment awarding the sons a percentage of Isaac’s IRA, ESOP stock, and monthly annuity payments. Sandra filed suit in district court, seeking a declaratory judgment that the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., preempted the application of Louisiana’s community property and succession laws to the extent that the laws recognized the sons’ claims to an interest in the disputed retirement benefits. The district court granted summary judgment for the sons, concluding that Dorothy had an ownership interest in Isaac’s pension-plan benefits and that the sons had acquired this interest by operation of community property law. Additionally, the district court found that Dorothy’s testamentary transfer of interest to the sons was effective. Sandra appealed. The court of appeals affirmed. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Kennedy, J.)

Dissent (Breyer, J.)

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