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Venable v. Schlumberger Technology Corp.

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Lafayette Division

April 13, 2018

Venable
v.
Schlumberger Technology Corporation, et al

          ORDER

          CAROL B. WHITEHURST UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is 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.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff 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.[1] 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. 51-1.

         Plaintiff 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.

         On 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.[2]

         On 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.[3] Id.

         As 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         Finally, 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.

         II. 12(b) Standard of Review[4]

         MetLife 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, [5] 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.

         When 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).

         III. ...


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