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Seal v. Maverick Claims, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

July 24, 2015



KURT D. ENGELHARDT, District Judge.

Now before the Court is Defendants Maverick Claims, LLC, ("Maverick") and Jay Pellegrini's ("Pellegrini") Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 14). Plaintiff Larry Seal ("Seal") filed a response in opposition (Rec. Doc. 33). Defendants filed a reply (Rec. Doc. 37). Pursuant to a court order, Seal filed a sur-reply on the sole issue of prescription (Rec. Doc. 44). For the reasons stated herein, IT IS ORDERED that the Motion (Rec. Doc. 14) is hereby GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. The motion is granted to the extent that Seal's state law, constitutional, tort, and fraud claims, as well as his claim for retaliation under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1140, are hereby DISMISSED. The motion is DENIED to the extent that Defendants assert Seal's remaining claim under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132, to recover benefits due and for failure to produce plan documents, is moot pursuant to Defendants' offer of judgment.

Specifically, the Court finds that Seal failed to dispute Defendants' calculations concerning the amounts owed for benefits he would have received under the Maverick Claims, LLC 401k Plan. As a result, the Court does not find a genuine issue of fact left to be decided as to this portion of Seal's ERISA claim. Therefore, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f)[1], the Court hereby places the parties on notice that summary judgment will be granted in Seal's favor in the amount of $107.92 plus any penalties[2] that the Court deems appropriate. Under Rule 56(f), the Court, after giving notice of its intent to enter summary judgment in favor of a nonmovant, must provide the parties with a reasonable time to respond. Accordingly, IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the parties have five days from the date of this Order to raise any objection to the Court's grant of summary judgment for the Plaintiff and, in particular, to dispute its ruling as to the amount Seal would be entitled to receive had he been enrolled plus any penalties.

If the parties wish to contest summary judgment in Seal's favor, they must demonstrate sufficient evidence to create a genuine dispute of material fact such that the Court's grant of summary judgment under Rule 56(f) is inappropriate. Absent evidence to the contrary, the Court will rely on Defendants' calculations and enter judgment on those grounds. On the other hand, the Court finds that there is a genuine dispute as the total number of days that Defendants were in violation of the ERISA statute when calculating any potential penalties to be assessed by the Court. Consequently, the Court denies summary judgment on the issue of penalties.

I. Background

Plaintiff Larry Seal began working for Maverick on April 30, 2012. (Rec. Doc. 14-9 at p. 1). After being employed by Maverick for a period of ninety (90) days, Seal was notified that he would be permitted to enroll in certain benefits provided by the company. Included in those benefits was the ability of qualified Maverick employees to participate in the company's 401k plan. ( Id. ). On July 26, 2012, after Seal received notice of his eligibility set to commence on August 1, 2012, Seal sent a request to Christie de Alminana, who assisted in the handling of benefits and hiring at Maverick, to produce the necessary plan documents and to enroll him in the plan. ( Id. ). Seal never received a response. ( Id. ). Seal sent a second request for plan documents and to be enrolled on August 1, 2012. Again, on August 7, 2012, Seal followed up on his request. ( Id. ). Five months later on January 8, 2013, Seal made a final request for plan documents. ( Id. ). The following day, Ms. de Alminana responded stating, "I'm so sorry[, ] Larry... actually, the reasoning behind this is that we are discontinuing the current plan with John Hancock and are looking to join a different plan. As soon as I get the information on the new plan, I will be forwarding that information to you. (Rec. Doc. 32-4 at p. 8). Seal was never enrolled in Maverick's plan, nor did he receive any benefits. (Rec. Doc. 33-1 at p. 1).

Approximately two weeks later, on January 21, 2013, Maverick terminated Seal's employment. Seal filed the instant action on February 3, 2014, alleging breach of contract, tort, fraud, wrongful termination/retaliation, breach of civil rights, and constitutional violations against Maverick as well as against Pellegrini, president and part owner of Maverick, on the grounds that he is personally liable as the plan administrator. (Rec. Doc. 1).

II. Law & Analysis

Pursuant to Rule 56(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The materiality of facts is determined by the substantive law's identification of which facts are critical and which facts are irrelevant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). A fact is material if it "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Id.

If the dispositive issue is one on which the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party may satisfy its summary judgment burden by merely pointing out that the evidence in the record contains insufficient proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's claim. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 2554, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986); see also Lavespere v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 910 F.2d 167, 178 (5th Cir. 1990). Once the moving party carries its burden pursuant to Rule 56(a), the nonmoving party must "go beyond the pleadings and by [his] own affidavits, or by the depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324, 106 S.Ct. 2553; see also Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S.Ct. 1348, 1356, 89 L.Ed.2d 538 (1986); Auguster v. Vermillion Parish School Bd., 249 F.3d 400, 402 (5th Cir. 2001).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Gillis v. Louisiana, 294 F.3d 755, 758 (5th Cir. 2002), and draws all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Hunt v. Rapides Healthcare System, L.L.C., 277 F.3d 757, 764 (2001). Factual controversies are to be resolved in favor of the nonmoving party, "but only when there is an actual controversy, that is, when both parties have submitted evidence of contradictory facts." Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir.1994) (citations omitted). The Court will not, "in the absence of any proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove the necessary facts." See id. (emphasis in original) (citing Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 3188, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990)).

Although the Court is to consider the full record in ruling on a motion for summary judgment, Rule 56 does not obligate it to search for evidence to support a party's opposition to summary judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3) ("court need consider only the cited materials"); Malacara v. Garber, 353 F.3d 393, 405 (5th Cir. 2003) ("When evidence exists in the summary judgment record but the nonmovant fails even to refer to it in the response to the motion for summary judgment, that evidence is not properly before the district court."). Thus, the nonmoving party should "identify specific evidence in the record, and articulate" precisely how that evidence supports his claims. Forsyth v. Barr, 19 F.3d 1527, 1537 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 513 U.S. 871, 115 S.Ct. 195 (1994).

The nonmovant's burden of demonstrating a genuine issue is not satisfied merely by creating "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, " "by conclusory allegations, " by "unsubstantiated assertions, " or "by only a scintilla of evidence." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075. Rather, a factual dispute precludes a grant of summary judgment only if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable ...

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