United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division
OPINION & ORDER
HENRY COKE MORGAN, Jr., Senior District Judge.
This matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint ("Motion to Dismiss"), Doc. 16, Defendants' Motion to Modify Rule 26(f) Pretrial Order ("Rule 26(f) Motion"), Doc. 24, and Defendants' Motion for Protective Order, Doc. 27. This is Defendants' second Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(5) respectively. See Doc. 7. Defendants' first Motion to Dismiss was never addressed by this Court as Plaintiff instead opted to file the Amended Complaint. Doc. 12. A hearing was held to address all pending motions on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 2:30 p.m., and the Court ruled from the bench as follows:
As to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court GRANTED the Motion IN PART and herein DENIES the Motion IN PART.
The Court DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE Count One of the Amended Complaint only as to individual Defendants Thomas Bell, Tony W. Crosby, William B. Kuhlman, and Brian S. Olson.
The Court DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE Count Two of the Amended Complaint as to all Defendants. As such, individual Defendants Thomas Bell, Tony W. Crosby, William B. Kuhlman, and Brian S. Olson are DISMISSED from this case WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
The Court DENIES as MOOT Defendants' Motion to Dismiss in so far as it seeks the dismissal of the Amended Complaint as to Tony W. Crosby under Rule 12(b)(5).
The Court GRANTED Plaintiff LEAVE TO AMEND his Amended Complaint, Doc. 12, to allege a claim for health benefits against the Local No. 79 Health Fund within eleven (11) days of the hearing, if he is inclined to do so. If so inclined, Defendants SHALL have eleven (11) days to respond to the newly amended complaint.
As to Defendants' Rule 26(1) Motion, the Court WITHHELD ruling pending further briefing by the parties. The parties were ORDERED to submit briefs on the issue of standard of review. Defendants were provided fifteen (15) days from the date of the hearing to file their initial brief. Plaintiff was provided eleven (11) days to file a response, and Defendants were provided three (3) days thereafter to file a rebuttal.
As to Defendants' Motion for Protective Order, the Court DENIED the Motion and declines to enter a protective order at this time. The Court PERMITTED discovery in the areas outlined by Plaintiff's counsel at the March 19, 2015 hearing, and such discovery is permissible under either applicable standard of review. As such, the permitted discovery SHALL run concurrently with the parties briefing deadlines regarding the applicable standard of review.
The Court now issues this Opinion and Order explaining its reasoning and detailing its rulings.
A. Factual Allegations
This is an action for recovery of benefits and equitable relief under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"). Plaintiff was a member of the International Association of Bridge, Structural, Ornamental and Reinforcing Ironworkers Local No. 79 ("Local 79") labor organization from 1974 until 2013. Am. Compl. at 3. Plaintiff was a participant in Local 79's pension benefit plan ("Pension Plan") at all times during his membership in the organization. Id . On July 1, 2008, Plaintiff took early retirement under the Pension Plan, which permitted him to work full-time for five years while still receiving benefits. Id . Before those years expired, the Pension Plan was amended to discontinue eligibility for retirement benefits for those, such as Plaintiff, who continued to work full-time. Id . As such, Plaintiff stopped receiving retirement benefits in March 2011. Id.
Plaintiff continued to work full-time subject to a collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") between Local 79 and the Virginia Association of Contractors, Inc., as well as the Pension Plan, until April 1, 2013. His employers continued to make contributions to the Pension Plan during that time. Id. at 3, 4. From April 1, 2013 forward, Plaintiff worked part-time for a new employer that was not subject to the CBA, and accordingly, all further contributions for pension benefits under the Pension Plan ceased. Id. at 4. Plaintiff applied for benefits under the Pension Plan, in accordance with ERISA requirements, around April 1, 2013. Id . Defendants', however, denied Plaintiff benefits under the Pension Plan, stating that he was engaged in disqualifying work. Defendants' denied Plaintiff's appeal. Id . Plaintiff has exhausted all administrative remedies in regards to the Pension Plan and appeals to this Court for relief.
B. Procedural History
Plaintiff has made two claims against Defendants. Count One of the Amended Complaint seeks benefits wrongfully denied pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) ("Section 1132(a)(1)(B)"), and Count Two seeks equitable remedies pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) ("Section 1132(a)(3)"). Id. at 5. This matter was referred for a Rule 16(b) Scheduling Conference on November 19, 2014, and the Amended Complaint was filed on December 1, 2014. Doc. 12. On December 18, 2014, Defendants' filed their Motion to Dismiss. Doc. 16. Two days before the Scheduling Conference, Defendants' filed the Rule 26(0 Motion, Doc. 24, stating, in essence, that discovery and trial are inappropriate in this case as Plaintiff's claims are brought under Section 1132(a)(1)(B) of ERISA. Id. at 1.
While the Rule 26(0 Motion was pending, the February 27, 2015 deadline for Defendants to object to Plaintiff's discovery was looming, so Defendants filed the Motion for Protective Order to postpone discovery deadlines until after the Court rules on the Rule 26(0 Motion and relieve them from all future discovery obligations beyond the administrative record. Doc. 27 at 2. A hearing was held on Thursday March 19, 2015 at 2:30 p.m, and each Motion was addressed in turn.
II. MOTION TO DISMISS
A. Procedural History
In their Motion to Dismiss, Defendants sought (1) dismissal of Count One pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) as to individual Defendants Thomas Bell, Tony W. Crosby, William B. Kuhlman, and Brian S. Olson ("Trustees"); (2) dismissal of Count Two pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) as to all Defendants; and (3) dismissal of Counts One and Two pursuant to Rule 12(b)(5) as to Defendant Tony W. Crosby for lack of service of process. As to Count One, Defendants alleged that "[t]he Fourth Circuit has adopted the position that only the plan itself or a party with control over the administration of the plan is a proper defendant under § 1132(a)(1)(B)." Doc. 17 at 3. As to Count Two, Defendants alleged that it is merely "an attempt to recast a claim for benefits" as an equitable claim under Section 1132(a)(3), which is improper if the relief sought can be redressed by Section 1132(a)(1)(B). Id. at 5-7.
In response to the first claim, Plaintiff contended that because the "Trustees are fiduciaries under the Plan, are the sole individuals empowered to make rules and prescribe procedures for the administration of the Plan, and have the final decision-making authority as to the administration of the Plan, " they are proper Defendants. Doc. 20 at 1-2. In response to the second claim, Plaintiff alleged that the relief sought under Section 1132(a)(3), prejudgment interest, restitution for lost retiree health benefits, and other make whole relief, is different ...