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Horton v. Hilton Retirement Plan

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 4, 2017

BABOM HORTON
v.
HILTON RETIREMENT PLAN ET AL.

         SECTION I

          ORDER AND REASONS

          LANCE M. AFRICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Hilton Hotels Retirement Plan (“Hilton”), incorrectly identified by plaintiff Babom Horton (“Horton”) as Hilton Retirement Plan, filed a motion to dismiss the above-captioned matter.[1] Because Hilton attached documents to its motion that are not referenced in Horton's complaint, the Court converted the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.[2] See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

         Horton then responded to the motion.[3] In his response, Horton explains why he is suing Hilton, but he does not address the basis for Hilton's motion-namely, that Horton's case is untimely.[4]

         I.

         Hilton is an ERISA-regulated employee pension benefit plan.[5] The plan's governing document outlines, among other things, a detailed claims review process that claimants must exhaust prior to initiating a legal action for benefits under the plan.[6] Importantly for present purposes, the governing document provides that, “[e]ffective for claims initially filled [sic] . . . on or after January 1, 2011, any suit or legal action initiated by a claimant under the Plan must be brought by the claimant no later than one hundred eighty (180) days following a final decision on the claim for benefits.”[7]

         Horton filed a claim for benefits with Hilton on October 9, 2012.[8] On his claim form, Horton listed his address as an apartment on South Liberty Street in New Orleans.[9] During the course of the claims review process, Hilton used that address to correspond with Horton.[10]

         That process came to an end during the summer of 2015. In a letter dated July 31, 2015, the Hilton U.S. Appeals Committee denied Horton's appeal of the denial of his claim for benefits.[11] The letter informed Horton, in bold: “The administrative process is complete. You now have the right to bring a civil action under Section 502(a) of ERISA in federal court if you choose to further pursue this claim. Please be aware that the Plan requires that any such suit be filed within 180 days of the date of this letter.”[12] The letter listed Horton's address as his South Liberty Street apartment.[13]

         According to Hilton's outside counsel for employee benefit matters, the letter was sent to that address via regular mail on the date listed on the letter.[14] Further, Horton's counsel at the time received a disc containing a digital copy of the letter on August 7, 2015.[15]

         Horton filed this lawsuit on September 14, 2017.

         II.

         Summary judgment is proper when, after reviewing the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits, the court determines that there is no genuine dispute of material fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. “[A] party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of [the record] which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The moving party need not produce evidence negating the existence of material fact, but need only point out the absence of evidence supporting the other party's case. Id.; Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1195 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Once the party seeking summary judgment carries its initial burden, the nonmoving party must come forward with specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute of material fact for trial. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). The showing of a genuine issue of material fact is not satisfied by creating “‘some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts, ' by ‘conclusory allegations, ' by ‘unsubstantiated assertions, ' or by only a ‘scintilla' of evidence.” Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). Instead, a genuine issue of material fact exists when the “evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         The party responding to the motion for summary judgment may not rest upon the pleadings, but must identify specific facts that establish a genuine issue. Id. However, the nonmoving party's evidence “is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [the nonmoving ...


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