United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division
B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
an action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act
(ERISA), 29 U.S.C. §1001 et. seq. Metropolitan Life
Insurance Company (“MetLife”) filed a Motion To
Dismiss, Or Alternatively Motion For Summary Judgment against
Plaintiff, Jack V. Venable, Jr. [Rec. Doc. 51] to dismiss the
allegations against it in Counts IV, V and VI of Plaintiff s
Complaint, Plaintiff filed an Opposition [Rec. Doc. 53],
MetLife filed a Reply [Rec. Doc. 58] and Plaintiff filed a
Sur-reply [Rec. Doc. 60]. For the following reasons, the
motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims for attorney's fees,
statutory penalties and breach of contract is granted.
took disability leave from his employment with Schlumberger
Technology Corporation (“STC”) aka Smith
International Inc. (“Smith”) on or about
September 23, 2015, due to chronic ankle and back pain and
post traumatic stress disorder. R. 1, ¶ 8. STC
established the Schlumberger Group Welfare Benefit Plan (the
“Plan”), to provide short term disability
(“STD”) and long term disability
(“LTD”) benefits to its eligible employees.
R. 51, Exh. A., pp. 001-0029. The Plan is an
employee welfare benefit plan governed by the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended, 29 U.S.C.
§1001, et seq. (“ERISA”). Id.,
¶¶ 2, 3, 6, 7, 47-53, 54-63. As an employee of
STC Plaintiff was eligible to and did participate in the
Plan. R. 1, ¶ 1. The STD and LTD benefits
payable under the Plan are self-funded by STC, and MetLife is
the former claims administrator for the Plan. R. 58, p.
1. As the claims administrator, MetLife adjudicated STD
and LTD claims and determined eligibility for benefits, but
had no liability for the payment of benefits. R.
instituted a claim for STD benefits on September 23, 2015.
R.1, ¶ 16. By letter dated September 29, 2015,
MetLife informed Plaintiff that his claim for STD benefits
was denied. Id. at ¶ 18. Plaintiff appealed the
denial of the claim for STD Benefits. Id. at ¶
18. By correspondence dated April 6, 2016, MetLife
denied Plaintiffs appeal for STD benefits based upon a lack
of coverage as he was terminated before he applied for
disability benefits. Id. at ¶ 20. Thereafter,
Plaintiff submitted an undated appeal letter to MetLife
stating he had applied for disability benefits before being
terminated from his employment. R. 53-3. In his
letter, Plaintiff also requested that MetLife “provide
me with a copy of the documents, records, or other
information you have that are relevant to my claim”
Id. MetLife's April 6, 2016 correspondence
acknowledged Plaintiffs February 22, 2016 appeal request and
receipt of his appeal letter on March 10, 2016, but
maintained that Plaintiffs STD benefits must be denied
pursuant to the terms of the Plan [“When Coverage
Ends”, SPD-013] because the records indicated he
was terminated before he applied for disability. Id.
53-4. MetLife advised Plaintiff of his “second
level of appeal” which had to be made to the Company in
writing. Id. MetLife explained that “[t]he
Company has the responsibility to interpret the Plan and will
make a final determination” regarding his right to a
benefit under the Plan. Id. Also MetLife further
advised Plaintiff that he must make a written request for
documents relevant to his claim and they will be provided
free of charge. Id.
September 22, 2016, prior to the decision on the second level
of appeal, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit alleging employment
and ERISA-related claims against STC, the Plan, the
Administrative Committee of the Plan, Smith and MetLife.
While the Complaint principally asserted employment
law-related claims against the Schlumberger defendants, it
also alleged causes of action against MetLife for failure to
timely deliver Plan documents in violation of 29 U.S.C.
§1132(c), R. 1, Count V, and wrongful denial of
STD and LTD benefits, R. 1, Count IV.
September 26, 2016, MetLife issued a letter approving
Plaintiff's claim for STD benefits. The record indicates
that Plaintiff's Complaint was filed while his claim for
STD benefits was pending on administrative appeal and prior
to the commencement of a claim for LTD benefits. R. 58-1,
Exh. E. Specifically, the Complaint, Summons and a
Request for Waiver of Service (“Summons package”)
was submitted to MetLife through the Louisiana Secretary of
State on September 26, 2016. Id. The Summons package
was received by the Secretary of State on September 30, 2016,
and was transmitted to MetLife by the Secretary of State on
October 3, 2016. Id.
stated above, the administrative appeal resulted in a
determination awarding STD benefits to Plaintiff before
Plaintiff's lawsuit was served on MetLife. Thereafter, on
October 10, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a claim for LTD
benefits. R. 51-2, Exh. C. By letter dated January
4, 2017, MetLife communicated to Plaintiff that his claim for
LTD benefits was approved. Id. at Exh. D. Thus,
Plaintiff's claim for wrongful denial of STD and LTD
benefits is without merit because he has received such
benefits. R. 1, Count IV. As discussed below,
however, Plaintiff states in his Opposition that his claim
under Count IV is also for attorney's fees, costs and
interest. The Court will address each of these allegations.
also alleged a claim against MetLife for failure to timely
deliver Plan documents in violation of 29 U.S.C.
§1132(c), R. 1, Count V. The Plan identifies
the Administrative Committee as the “ Plan
Administrator” and states that “[t]he Plan is to
be administered by the Plan Administrator.” R.
51-2, Exh. A, SPD-019. The Plan further
identifies the “Claims Administrator” as MetLife.
Id. Pursuant to the express terms of the Plan, as
well as 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4), documents are to be
obtained “[u]pon written request to the Plan
Administrator.” Id. The Court will further
address Plaintiff's claim under Count V.
Plaintiff alleged in Count VI a breach of contract claim.
R. 1, Count VI(erroneously labeled “Count V”,
see F.N.2). Apparently acknowledging that such state law
claims are preempted by ERISA, Plaintiff states in his
Opposition that only Counts IV and V apply to MetLife.
“Count VI [was] an alternative claim for breach of
contract if the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims are
not in fact governed by ERISA.” R. 53, p. 3.
The Court will not address Count VI.
12(b) Standard of Review
does not assert whether it's motion is filed under Rule
12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6). Even if the Court finds there is lack
of jurisdiction, it will also consider whether Plaintiff has
failed to state a claim. When reviewing a Rule (b)(1) or Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss,  the Court must “accept all
well-pleaded facts as true and view those facts in the light
most favorable to the plaintiff.” Hines v.
Alldredge, 783 F.3d 197, 200-01 (5th Cir. 2015). Even
so, a complaint must be “plausible on its face.”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Determining
whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]
... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court
to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”
Id. at 679. Although the complaint need not set out
“detailed factual allegations, ” it must set
forth something “more than labels and conclusions, and
a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
considering a motion to dismiss, courts generally are limited
to the complaint and its proper attachments. Dorsey v.
Portfolio Equities, Inc., 540 F.3d 333, 338 (5th Cir.
2008). However, courts may rely upon “documents
incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of
which a court may take judicial notice”-including
public records. Dorsey, supra. Furthermore, as here,
“[d]ocuments that a defendant attaches to a motion to
dismiss are considered part of the pleadings if they are
referred to in the plaintiff's complaint and are central
to her claim.” Collins v. Morgan Stanley Dean
Witter, 224 F.3d 496, 498-499 (5th Cir. 2000).