Rodrigues v. Bank of America, NA et al

Filing 21

ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION TO STRIKE by Judge Claudia Wilken granting 8 Motion to Dismiss; granting 8 Motion to Strike. (napS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 7/1/2016)

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1 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 3 4 MICHAEL L. RODRIGUES, 5 Plaintiff, 6 7 No. C 16-1390 CW ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS AND MOTION TO STRIKE v. 8 BANK OF AMERICA, NA; BANK OF AMERICA PENSION PLAN and DOES 150, 9 Defendants. United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 (Docket No. 8) ________________________________/ 11 12 Defendants Bank of America, NA (BOFA) and Bank of America 13 Pension Plan (Plan) filed this motion to dismiss Plaintiff Michael 14 L. Rodrigues's Complaint and to strike his request for a jury 15 trial. The Court vacates the hearing and GRANTS this motion. 16 17 18 BACKGROUND I. Rodrigues's Allegations Rodrigues worked at BOFA from July 5, 1982 to June 30, 1988. 19 Under the terms of his employment, Defendants "provided" Rodrigues 20 with a pension plan, which granted him retirement benefits, 21 including shares of BOFA stock. 22 "beneficiary" of the Plan. 23 Complaint ¶ 9. He is a Id. ¶ 7. On November 9, 2015, Rodrigues requested the following 24 documents from Defendants: a summary plan description, all 25 financial information showing the balance of Rodrigues's interest 26 in the Plan, and Rodrigues's vested and unvested balances in the 27 Plan, both in number of shares and dollar value. 28 one provided the requested information or documents relating to Id. ¶ 10. No 1 the Plan. 2 Rodrigues that they "can't locate any record of your employment 3 with the bank." 4 Id. ¶ 11. Instead, “representatives at BOFA” told Id. Rodrigues filed this Complaint on March 22, 2016. It contains three causes of action, all under the Employment 6 Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et seq.: 7 denial of benefits, breach of fiduciary duty and failure to 8 provide requested documents. 9 interests, the documents he requested, statutory damages, 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 5 restitution, a “declaration of Plaintiff's and Defendants’ 11 respective rights and duties” and attorneys’ fees. 12 6-7. 13 II. 14 He seeks payment of his vested Complaint at The Plan The Bank of America Pension Plan for Legacy Bank of America 15 is the Bank of America Corporation's pension plan.1 16 Plan at 7. 17 Committee is the Plan Administrator. 18 71. RJN Ex. A, The Bank of America Corporation Corporate Benefits RJN Ex. B, Summary at 69, 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 Under the "incorporation by reference" doctrine, the Court may consider documents of undisputed authenticity on which a plaintiff's claim depends. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1076 (9th Cir. 2005) (citing Parrino v. FHP, Inc., 146 F.3d 699, 706 (9th Cir. 1998) (holding that the district court properly considered undisputed documents attached to a motion to dismiss that described terms of a group health insurance plan where plaintiff alleged membership in the plan)). Rodrigues does not dispute the authenticity of the documents attached to Defendants' Request for Judicial Notice (RJN), Docket No. 8-1. The Court GRANTS the request as to Exhibits A and B, following Knievel, and as to Exhibit C as a matter of public record, see MGIC Indem. Corp. v. Weisman, 803 F.2d 500, 504 (9th Cir. 1986). 2 1 The Plan contains a procedure that claimants must follow 2 before filing suit in any other forum. 3 23-24. 4 for benefits. 5 decision, a claimant has a right to appeal. 6 claimant has one year following a final decision to file a civil 7 suit. Under this procedure, a claimant must file a written claim Plan at 82. After the Committee renders a Id. From there, a Id. at 84. 8 9 Plan at 82-84; Summary at LEGAL STANDARD A complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” 11 Civ. P. 8(a). 12 state a claim, dismissal is appropriate only when the complaint 13 does not give the defendant fair notice of a legally cognizable 14 claim and the grounds on which it rests. 15 Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). 16 complaint is sufficient to state a claim, the court will take all 17 material allegations as true and construe them in the light most 18 favorable to the plaintiff. 19 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986). 20 to legal conclusions. 21 cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements,” are not 22 taken as true. 23 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). 24 Fed. R. On a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to Bell Atl. Corp. v. In considering whether the NL Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d However, this principle is inapplicable “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) When granting a motion to dismiss, the court is generally 25 required to grant the plaintiff leave to amend, even if no request 26 to amend the pleading was made, unless amendment would be futile. 27 Cook, Perkiss & Liehe, Inc. v. N. Cal. Collection Serv. Inc., 911 28 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990). In determining whether amendment 3 1 would be futile, the court examines whether the complaint could be 2 amended to cure the defect requiring dismissal "without 3 contradicting any of the allegations of [the] original complaint." 4 Reddy v. Litton Indus., Inc., 912 F.2d 291, 296 (9th Cir. 1990). 5 6 7 DISCUSSION I. Denial of Benefits Rodrigues first alleges a claim for denial of benefits. 8 claimant must avail himself of a plan’s own internal review 9 procedures before bringing suit in federal court. A Diaz v. United United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 Agric. Emp. Welfare Benefit Plan & Trust, 50 F.3d 1478, 1483 (9th 11 Cir. 1995). 12 Rodrigues does not argue that he followed the Plan’s review 13 procedures. 14 claimed administrative procedures had BOFA responded to his 15 requests and provided him with the procedures he was required to 16 follow.” 17 duty to inform themselves of the details of their plan. 18 Fed. Express Corp., 116 F.3d 1005, 1016 (3d Cir. 1997); Emerson v. 19 Bank of Am., N.A., 2011 WL 3844105, at *3 (N.D. Cal.). 20 Rodrigues’s lack of knowledge about the Plan’s review procedures 21 does not negate the exhaustion requirement. 22 Rather, he argues that he “would have followed the Docket No. 19, Opp. Br. at 3. Plan participants have a Jordan v. Additionally, BOFA, Rodrigues's former employer, is not the 23 proper defendant for Rodrigues' claim for benefits. 24 ITT Long Term Disability Plan for Salaried Emps., 914 F.2d 1279, 25 1287 (9th Cir. 1990) (explaining that ERISA permits suits to 26 recover benefits only against the plan and dismissing claim 27 against plaintiff's employer). 28 4 See Madden v. 1 Rodrigues appears to believe that he can exhaust his 2 administrative remedies by July 19, 2016. 3 procedure, Rodrigues cannot exhaust this quickly. 4 reason, the Court will give Rodrigues 180 days to amend his 5 Complaint. 6 Given the Plan's For this The Court dismisses this claim against BOFA, without leave to 7 amend, because amendment against BOFA would be futile. 8 Rodrigues has not exhausted his administrative remedies, the Court 9 GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss this claim against the Plan, United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 Because with leave to amend. II. Breach of Fiduciary Duties Defendants argue that the allegations supporting this claim 13 are deficient for several reasons: Defendants are not Rodrigues's 14 fiduciaries; Defendants’ alleged actions cannot support a breach 15 of fiduciary duty claim; and Rodrigues could not obtain the relief 16 he seeks in this claim under any of ERISA’s relief provisions. 17 A. Fiduciaries 18 “ERISA permits suits for breach of fiduciary duty only 19 against persons who act as a fiduciary with respect to a plan 20 . . . covered by ERISA.” 21 617 (9th Cir. 1992) (as amended). 22 anyone who exercises discretionary authority over the plan’s 23 management, anyone who exercises authority over the management of 24 its assets, and anyone having discretionary authority or 25 responsibility in the plan’s administration.” 26 Assocs., 948 F.2d 607, 610 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing 29 U.S.C. 27 § 1002(21)(A)). Acosta v. Pac. Enters., 950 F.2d 611, An ERISA fiduciary “includes Mertens v. Hewitt A person’s “actions, not the official designation 28 5 1 of his role, determine whether he enjoys fiduciary status.” 2 Acosta, 950 F.2d at 618. 3 The Plan cannot be liable for breach of fiduciary duty here. 4 See id. (“A plan covered by ERISA cannot, as an entity, act as a 5 fiduciary with respect to its own assets. 6 itself cannot be sued for breach of fiduciary duty.”). 7 Therefore, a plan Nor are Rodrigues’s allegations sufficient to hold BOFA 8 liable. 9 liable as an ERISA fiduciary.” Its “status as employer does not automatically make it Lea v. Republic Airlines, Inc., United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 903 F.2d 624, 631 (9th Cir. 1990). 11 interaction between BOFA and the Plan that would warrant labeling 12 BOFA a fiduciary of the Plan. The Complaint alleges no See Mertens, 948 F.2d at 610. 13 B. Alleged Breaches of Fiduciary Duty 14 The Complaint alleges that Defendants breached their 15 fiduciary duties in two ways: failing to provide Rodrigues with 16 information and withholding his vested interest in the Plan. 17 ERISA's fiduciary duty provisions are "primarily concerned with 18 protecting the integrity of the plan, which in turn protects all 19 beneficiaries, rather than remedying each wrong suffered by 20 individual beneficiaries." 21 757, 768 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). 22 breaches cannot serve as bases for a breach of fiduciary duty 23 claim because any recovery would not benefit the plan as a whole. 24 See id. ("Although individual beneficiaries may bring a breach of 25 fiduciary duty claim against an ERISA plan administrator, they 26 must do so for the benefit of the plan."). 27 // 28 // Parker v. BankAmerica Corp., 50 F.3d 6 Rodrigues's alleged 1 C. Relief for Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim 2 Rodrigues alleges that he is entitled to relief under 29 3 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and (a)(3) for his breach of fiduciary duty 4 claim. 5 "to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to 6 enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his 7 rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan." 8 1132(a)(3) permits a participant or beneficiary to bring a civil 9 action for injunctive or equitable relief. Section 1132(a)(1)(B) permits a participant or beneficiary Section These sections do not United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 relate to claims for breach of fiduciary duty to the Plan. 11 Section 1109(a), which establishes liability for breach of 12 fiduciary duty, permits relief only for a plan itself and not for 13 beneficiaries of the plan. 14 473 U.S. 134, 139-44 (1985) ("the entire text of § [1109] 15 persuades us that Congress did not intend that section to 16 authorize any relief except for the plan itself"). 17 Mass. Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Russell, The Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss this claim 18 against BOFA, with leave to amend to allege, if true, that BOFA is 19 a fiduciary of the Plan and to seek a remedy that would benefit 20 the Plan as a whole. 21 the Plan, without leave to amend, because amendment would be 22 futile--the Plan cannot be sued for breach of fiduciary duty to 23 itself. 24 25 26 The Court also dismisses this claim against III. Failure to Provide Plan Documents under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1024(b)(4) and 1132(c)(1) Title 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1) provides that any 27 “administrator” who fails or refuses to comply with a request for 28 information “which such administrator is required by this 7 1 subchapter to furnish to a participant or beneficiary” is 2 personally liable for up to one hundred dollars per day. 3 1024(b)(4) requires an administrator to furnish a copy of the 4 “latest updated summary” and “the latest annual report,” among 5 other documents, upon written request of any participant or 6 beneficiary. 7 Section As explained above, neither Defendant is the Plan’s 8 administrator; the administrator is the Committee. 9 Complaint fails to allege that Rodrigues submitted any written Moreover, the United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 request to the Plan’s administrator. 11 clear from the Complaint or the briefing that an administrator 12 would be required to give to Rodrigues each document he requested 13 aside from the summary plan document. 14 Additionally, it is not For these reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to 15 dismiss this claim against both BOFA and Bank of America Pension 16 Plan, without leave to amend, because amendment would be futile. 17 Leave to amend is granted to bring this claim against the Plan 18 Administrator, if the facts support such a claim. 19 20 IV. Jury Trial Defendants argue that Plaintiff is not entitled to a jury 21 trial under ERISA. 22 available to a participant or beneficiary under ERISA are 23 equitable in nature and the Seventh Amendment does not require 24 that a jury trial be afforded for claims made by participants or 25 beneficiaries.” 26 (9th Cir. 2000). 27 28 Under Ninth Circuit law, the “remedies Thomas v. Or. Fruit Prods. Co., 228 F.3d 991, 997 Rodrigues argues that he is entitled to a jury trial for his breach of fiduciary duty claim, citing Hellman v. Cataldo, 2013 WL 8 1 4482889 (E.D. Mo.), and Minnesota Power & Affiliated Cos. 2 Retirement Plan A v. Capital Guardian Trust Co., 2008 WL 2891057 3 (D. Minn.). 4 the Ninth Circuit, which holds that jury trials are not required 5 for ERISA claims. 6 were “Plans, their administrators, and the trustee,” who “filed 7 suit against a co-fiduciary for damages caused by breach of 8 fiduciary duty.” 9 which was legal in nature and therefore gave rise to a jury trial Unlike those courts, however, this Court is bound by Further, in Minnesota Power, the plaintiffs Id. at *5. The court distinguished that suit, United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 right, from suits in which claimants seek benefits, that is, 11 equitable claims. 12 13 This analysis undermines Rodrigues’s argument. The Court GRANTS Defendants’ motion to strike Rodrigues’s demand for a jury trial. 14 CONCLUSION 15 The Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss all three 16 claims and GRANTS their motion to strike the request for a jury 17 trial. 18 benefits claim against BOFA, the breach of fiduciary claim against 19 the Plan and the plan documents claim against both Defendants. 20 The Court grants leave to amend the claim for benefits against the 21 Plan, after exhaustion, and the breach of fiduciary duty claim 22 against BOFA, and to allege the documents claim against the Plan 23 Administrator, if Rodrigues makes a request for documents from the 24 Plan Administrator and it is denied. 25 It dismisses, without leave to amend, the denial of Rodrigues may file an amended complaint within 180 days of 26 the date of this order. 27 pleading or a motion to dismiss within fourteen days of the date 28 an amended complaint is filed. Defendants must file a responsive If Defendants file a motion to 9 1 dismiss, Rodrigues will have fourteen days from the date the 2 motion is filed to respond. 3 Defendants will have seven days to file a reply. 4 Management Conference set for July 19, 2016 is vacated, to be 5 reset if needed. 6 If Rodrigues files a response, The Case IT IS SO ORDERED. 7 8 9 Dated: July 1, 2016 CLAUDIA WILKEN United States District Judge United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 10

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