Newton v. Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 3/30/2015. (AVC)
2015 Mar-30 PM 02:05
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
PAMELA A. NEWTON,
HARTFORD LIFE AND ACCIDENT
Case No.: 7:14-cv-02210-RDP
This matter is before the court on Hartford Life And Accident Insurance Company’s
Motion to Dismiss Count II of Plaintiff’s Complaint. (Doc. # 11). The matter has been fully
briefed. (Docs. # 11, 13, 17, 20, and 21). For the reasons discussed below, the court concludes
the motion is due to be denied, but Plaintiff must replead her allegations to remove shotgun
Plaintiff Pamela Newton was a participant in an employee welfare benefit plan maintained
by her former employer, The TJX Companies, Inc. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges that she is
disabled under the terms of the Plan, and argues Defendant Hartford wrongfully terminated her
claim for long term disability benefits. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 34, 49-51). Plaintiff has asserted two claims
under ERISA. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 50). Count One seeks benefits pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)
based on the termination of her claim for disability benefits, and seeks to recover LTD benefits
allegedly due under the Plan. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 49-51). Count Two is a claim for injunctive relief
under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) and for penalties under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c). (Doc. # 1
at ¶¶ 52-59). Count Two also states a breach of fiduciary duty claim. (Doc. # 1 at ¶ 54).
Defendant’s Motion only seeks dismissal of Count Two. (Doc. # 11).
Standard of Review
In most instances, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require only that a complaint
provide “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Nevertheless, to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must “state a claim
to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). The complaint must include enough facts “to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Pleadings that contain nothing
more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” do not meet Rule 8
standards, nor do pleadings suffice that are based merely upon “labels or conclusions” or “naked
assertion[s]” without supporting factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. To be
plausible on its face, the claim must contain enough facts that “allow  the court to draw the
reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at
The court must construe pleadings broadly and resolve inferences in a plaintiff’s favor.
Levine v. World Fin. Network Nat’l Bank, 437 F.3d 1118, 1120 (11th Cir. 2006). However, the
court need not accept inferences that are unsupported by the facts asserted in the complaint. Snow
v. DirecTV, Inc., 450 F.3d 1314, 1320 (11th Cir. 2006). Ultimately, the well-pleaded complaint
must present a reasonable inference from the facts it alleges that show a defendant is liable. Reese
v. Ellis, Painter, Ratterree & Adams, LLP, 678 F.3d 1211, 1215 (11th Cir. 2012). To survive
Defendants’ Motion, the allegations of Plaintiffs’ second amended counterclaim must permit the
court based on its “judicial experience and common sense . . . to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct.” Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.
Defendant argues that Count Two of Plaintiff’s Complaint should be dismissed because
(1) Plaintiff cannot state a viable claim for statutory penalties against Hartford, and (2) her
breach of fiduciary duty claim fails as a matter of law. (Doc. # 11).
Plaintiff’s “Shotgun” Pleading
Before addressing Defendant’s arguments for dismissal, the court notes that Count Two
attempts to state claims under three different sections of ERISA: 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), §
1132 (a)(3), and § 1132(c).
Shotgun pleadings are those that assert multiple claims for relief in single counts and
incorporate every antecedent allegation by reference into each subsequent claim for relief or
affirmative defense. Wagner v. First Horizon Pharm. Corp., 464 F.3d 1273, 1279 (11th Cir. 2006);
Anderson v. Dist. Bd. of Trs. of Cent. Fla. Cmty. Coll., 77 F.3d 364, 366 (11th Cir. 1996) (stating
that multiple claims should be presented separately in adherence to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
10(b)); see also Kennedy v. Bell South Telecommunications, Inc., 546 Fed.Appx. 817, 819–20
(11th Cir . 2013). The Eleventh Circuit has discouraged district courts from considering “shotgun”
pleadings. Wagner, 464 F.3d at 1279. “When faced with a shotgun pleading, the trial court, whether
or not requested to do so by the party's adversary, ought to require the party to file a repleader.” U.S. ex
rel. Atkins v. McInteer, 470 F.3d 1350, 1354 n.6 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Byrne v. Nezhat, 261 F.3d
1075, 1133 (11th Cir.2001)). Thus, although Count Two of Plaintiff’s Complaint should not be
dismissed solely because it constitutes shotgun pleading, for this reason alone, it must, at least, be
Plaintiff’s Statutory Penalties Claim
Defendant argues that it cannot be held responsible for statutory penalties under 29 U.S.C.
§ 1132(c) resulting from a failure to provide documents pursuant to 29 USC §1024(b)(4) because it
is not the “named” Plan Administrator of the Plan. (Doc. # 11). Plaintiff responds by pointing out
that the Eleventh Circuit has imposed liability against parties acting as the plan administrator even
when they were not identified as the plan administrator in the plan documents. (Doc. # 13).
Plaintiff asserts that the Plan document furnished clearly reflects that plan administrator duties
were delegated to Hartford. Defendant further contends that Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged
that Defendant is a de facto plan administrator. (Doc. # 17).
The Eleventh Circuit has held that “the statute only permits an award of penalties against
the plan administrator.” Byars v. Coca–Cola Co., 517 F.3d 1256, 1270 (11th Cir. 2008). However,
a de facto plan administrator -- i.e., one who assumes responsibility for or controls the provision of
plan documents and information -- can be made a proper defendant. See Rosen v. TRW, Inc., 979
F.2d 191, 193–194 (11th Cir. 1992) (“[I]f a company is administrating the plan, then it can be held
liable for ERISA violations, regardless of the provisions of the plan document.”); Hunt v.
Hawthorne Assocs., Inc., 119 F.3d 888, 914 (11th Cir. 1997) (reaffirming the possibility that an
entity not named as plan administrator by a plan document may still act in that role). “Proof of
who is the plan administrator may come from the plan document, but can also come from the
factual circumstances surrounding the administration of the plan, even if these factual
circumstances contradict the designation in the plan document.” Hamilton v. Allen–Bradley Co.,
244 F.3d 819, 824 (11th Cir. 2001). The question of whether a defendant is acting as plan
administrator is fact intensive and better decided at a later stage of this litigation.” Till v. Lincoln
Nat. Life Ins. Co., 2014 WL 6895285 * 6 (M.D. Ala. 2014).
The court’s analysis above would normally end the inquiry required to address this aspect
of the motion to dismiss. However, here, although Plaintiff purportedly bases her argument on
certain facts which could support the allegation that Defendant was the “de facto” plan
administrator, those facts are not sufficiently alleged in the Complaint. The court agrees with
Defendant that the allegations in the Complaint that Defendant was the “de facto” plan
administrator are merely conclusory. Accordingly, Plaintiff must amend her Complaint. In
repleading the claims she has asserted in Count Two, Plaintiff should remedy this factual pleading
deficiency or face dismissal of this claim. Plaintiff should also bear in mind that statutory
penalties are not available for all documents a plaintiff may wish to review; therefore, to the extent
she seeks statutory penalties for any documents not specifically listed in Section 1024, she should
include specific factual allegations to support her claim that statutory penalties are available and
appropriate for the documents she sought from Defendant.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim
Count Two of Plaintiff’s Complaint asserts a breach of fiduciary duty claim, either in
addition to or as an alternative to her claim for statutory penalties. (Doc. # 1 at ¶¶ 54-59). But her
pleading is not clear. That is, her complaint does not sufficiently indicate whether the claim is
plead in the alternative (or in addition) to her statutory penalty claim. This alone counsels in favor
of requiring a repleading of this claim.
Defendant argues that Plaintiff’s claim must be dismissed because a breach of fiduciary
duty claim is not available where other avenues to obtain relief are available, such as Plaintiff’s
claims for benefits under Count One. (Doc. # 11). To be sure, claims for equitable relief under §
1132(a)(3) are available only when a plaintiff has no other claim for relief under ERISA. See
Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 515 (1996); Ogden v. Blue Bell Creameries U.S.A., Inc., 348
F.3d 1284 (11th Cir. 2003) (stating that the central focus is “whether Congress has provided an
adequate remedy ... elsewhere in the ERISA statutory framework”).
Nevertheless, we are at the pleading stage. In certain circumstances, some courts have
allowed ERISA plaintiffs to plead dual claims where the claims have different factual predicates,
even though the plaintiffs would ultimately be barred from recovering under both (a)(1)(B) and
(a)(3) at summary judgment or trial. See Silva v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 762 F.3d 711, 726 (8th
Cir.2014); Poole v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 984 F.Supp.2d 1179, 1188 (M.D. Ala. 2013).
However, when the (a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) claims are based upon the same factual predicate, it is
appropriate to dismiss the duplicative (a)(3) claim. See Till v. Lincoln Nat. Life Ins. Co., 2014 WL
6895285 * 4-5 (M.D. Ala. 2014). Thus, the question is whether those claims are actually based
upon the same factual predicate.
Plaintiff’s primary claim, contained in Count One, seeks an award of plan benefits under §
1132(a)(1). The factual predicate of that claim is that Plaintiff is, in fact, physically disabled, and
thus her benefits were wrongfully discontinued. (Doc. # 1 at pp. 3-9). Under Count Two,
Plaintiff asserts a breach of fiduciary duty claim seeking to have her claim reopened and
reconsidered as relief for the alleged breach of fiduciary duty. (Doc. # 1 at 19). Although the
requested relief in the two claims appears somewhat similar, the factual predicate for her claim
under Count Two is Defendant’s alleged failure to produce requested documents. (Doc. # 1,
generally). Because the factual predicate underlying Count Two is distinct from the factual
predicate for Count One, Count Two may be pled and maintained alternatively, at least at this stage
of the case. At the end of the day, however, Plaintiff will not be able to recover under both
For the foregoing reasons, Defendant Hartford Life And Accident Insurance Company’s
Motion to Dismiss Count II of Plaintiff’s Complaint (Doc. # 11) is due to be denied. However,
the court will require Plaintiff to replead her claims in order to eliminate the shotgun aspect of her
pleadings. The rule is one claim in each count. In addition, each claim must have a sufficient
factual basis. The court will enter a separate order in accordance with this memorandum opinion.
DONE and ORDERED this March 30, 2015.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?