Perera v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 8 Motion to Strike. Signed by Magistrate Judge Monte C. Richardson on 10/11/2017. (ADM)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
CHINTA M. PERERA, individually
and as a parent and legal guardian of
J.R.P. and A.L.P., minor children,
Case No: 3:17-cv-195-J-39MCR
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE
COMPANY, a New York corporation,
THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendant’s Motion to Strike Plaintiffs’
Demand for Jury Trial (“Motion”) (Doc. 8), Plaintiffs’ Response in Opposition
thereto (“Response”) (Doc. 14), and Defendant’s Reply (Doc. 18).1 For the
reasons stated herein, the Motion is GRANTED to the extent Plaintiffs’ demand
for a jury trial is STRICKEN.
On February 21, 2017, Plaintiff Chinta Perera, individually and as parent
and legal guardian of J.R.P. and A.L.P., commenced this action against
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (“MetLife”), pursuant to the Employment
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”), as amended, 29 U.S.C. §
The Reply was filed pursuant to a Court Order (Doc. 17).
1132(a)(1)(B),2 alleging breach of two employee benefit insurance contracts.
(Doc. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that her husband, Charith Perera, was a participant in,
and Plaintiffs were beneficiaries under, a Basic Accidental Death and
Dismemberment Life Insurance Plan and a Voluntary Accidental Death and
Dismemberment Life Insurance Plan (collectively, the “Plans”), pursuant to 29
U.S.C. § 1002(7)-(8). (Id.) Pursuant to the Plans, MetLife (the Plans’
administrator and fiduciary) allegedly agreed to pay, in the event of Mr. Perera’s
accidental death while traveling in a common carrier, a common carrier benefit in
the total amount of $1,750,000. (Id.)
The Complaint alleges that Mr. Perera lost his life on July 8, 2016 due to an
accidental injury on a common carrier while the family was vacationing at
Summer Island Maldives, a government regulated entity providing lodging,
transportation, and other accommodations to the general public. (Id.) On that
day, the family used a vessel operated by the resort to travel to a snorkeling
location. (Id.) The Complaint alleges that Mr. Perera drowned after being struck
by the vessel while attempting to board it. (Id.) Plaintiffs sought to recover
insurance benefits for the loss of Mr. Perera’s life, but MetLife denied their
Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B): “A civil action may be brought . . . by a
participant or beneficiary . . . to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan,
to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits
under the terms of the plan.”
claims.3 (Id.) In this action to recover plan benefits under the two Plans, Plaintiffs
demand a trial by jury. (Id.)
MetLife moves to strike Plaintiffs’ demand for a jury trial, arguing there is no
right to a jury trial for claims brought under ERISA, which are equitable in nature.
(Doc. 8.) Plaintiffs agree that the majority of claims arising under ERISA are
equitable, but assert that some claims under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) are legal,
entitling Plaintiffs to a jury trial. (Doc. 14.) In this action, Plaintiffs “seek a
determination that [Mr. Perera] died on a common carrier and an award of the
resulting benefits under [his] contracts with MetLife.” (Id. at 1.) Plaintiffs assert
that these claims are legal and, as such, the Seventh Amendment right to a jury
trial applies. (Id.) Plaintiffs explain:
Mrs. Perera’s claims seek relief at law. Here, like Gangitano, Mrs.
Perera’s claims are tantamount to breach of contract claims to
recover the $1.75 million common carrier benefit. The fact finder will
determine nothing more than whether MetLife breached its duty to
pay Mrs. Perera the benefits owed to her and her children as a result
of Mr. Perera’s death and, if so, the dollar amount due to them.
Gangitano is not an outlier.
(Id. at 4.)
In the Reply, Defendant re-affirms its position that “an action under section
502(a)(1)(B) is for enforcement of the ERISA plan” and equitable in nature. (Doc.
As explained in the Response, “MetLife paid the life and basic accidental death
insurance claims, but denied the common carrier benefit, arguing that the vessel
causing Mr. Perera’s death was not a common carrier and, in the alternative, that he
died by drowning and not technically on the vessel.” (Doc. 14 at 2.)
18 at 1 (citing Blake v. Unionmutual Stock Life Ins. Co. of Am., 906 S.2d 1525,
1526 (11th Cir. 1990) (per curiam)).) Defendant asserts that “Plaintiff’s
characterization of her ERISA claim as one for breach of contract seeking money
damages is not dispositive of the issue.” (Doc. 18 at 4.) Defendant explains: “No
matter how Plaintiff describes her claim, Plaintiff is in fact ‘claiming benefits [she
is] allegedly entitled to under the plan,’ a form of equitable relief.” (Id. (citing
Blake, 906 F.2d at 1526).)
The Court agrees with Defendant. The Eleventh Circuit has held time and
time again that relief under ERISA is limited to equitable remedies and there is no
right to a trial by jury. See Broaddus v. Fla. Power Corp., 145 F.3d 1283, 1287
n.** (11th Cir. 1998) (holding that the district court was correct in striking plaintiff’s
demand for jury trial because relief under ERISA is limited to equitable remedies);
Stewart v. KHD Deutz of Am. Corp., 75 F.3d 1522, 1527 (11th Cir. 1996) (“[N]o
Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial exists in actions brought pursuant to
ERISA.”); Chilton v. Savannah Foods & Indus., Inc., 814 F.2d 620, 623 (11th Cir.
1987) (per curiam) (holding no right to jury trial exists under ERISA); see also
Jacobs v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Iowa, 835 F. Supp. 1381, 1382 (M.D. Fla.
1993) (striking plaintiff’s demand for a jury trial because there is no right to a jury
trial under ERISA); Catchpole v. Health 1st, Inc., 821 F. Supp. 1482, 1484 (N.D.
Ga. 1993) (“The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit has held
repeatedly that Plaintiffs are not entitled to a jury trial under ERISA when the
claim is made under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).”).
Relying heavily on Gangitano v. NN Investors Life Ins. Co., Inc., 733 F.
Supp. 342, 343 (S.D. Fla. 1990),4 and several decisions outside the Eleventh
Circuit, Plaintiffs assert that their claims under section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA (29
U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B)) are tantamount to a breach of contract claim, and,
therefore, are legal in nature. However, the cases Plaintiffs cite, including
Gangitano, are not binding on this Court. Moreover, several months after the
district court’s decision in Gangitano, the Eleventh Circuit held in Blake that the
plaintiffs were not entitled to a trial by jury even though they were claiming money
damages, because in effect they were claiming the benefits they were allegedly
entitled to under the plan pursuant to section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, which is a
traditionally equitable relief. Blake, 906 F.2d at 1526 . District courts in our Circuit
have followed this reasoning and rejected plaintiffs’ demand for a jury trial despite
plaintiffs’ characterization of their claims as breach of contract claims. See, e.g.,
In Gangitano, the plaintiff was denied medical insurance benefits on the sole
ground that his brain stem hemorrhage was the result of a pre-existing medical
condition. 733 F. Supp. at 342. The court noted that “[t]he fact finder will therefore be
determining nothing more than whether defendant’s pre-existing defense is or is not
applicable; and if it is not, the dollar amount of plaintiff’s damages.” Id. at 343. The
court determined that plaintiffs’ claims was thus “nothing more than a breach [of]
contract claim for the recovery of money damages.” Id. Because Plaintiffs’ cause of
action for benefits was essentially a contract action, the court held that plaintif fs were
entitled to a jury trial under the Seventh Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Id. at 344.
Taylor v. Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., Case No. CV 516-009, 2016 WL 6892083, *2
(S.D. Ga. Nov. 21, 2016) (“As in Blake, Plaintiffs characterize their ERISA claim
as one for breach of contract seeking money damages. However, they are in fact
claiming benefits they are allegedly entitled to under the plan, a form of equitable
relief. Furthermore, the medical benefits sought in Blake and the life insurance
benefits sought here are indistinguishable for purposes of this ERISA analysis.
Therefore, like the plaintiffs in Blake, Plaintiffs are not entitled to a jury trial
because their claim under ERISA is equitable rather than legal, and the Seventh
Amendment does not demand a different result.”) (internal citations and quotation
marks omitted); Frados v. Cont’l Cas. Co., 363 F. Supp. 2d 1349, 1355 (S.D. Fla.
2005) (holding there was no right to a jury trial under ERISA despite plaintiff’s
characterization of the action as a breach of contract claim and bare reference to
money damages). The Court finds the reasoning of these cases persuasive and
concludes that no right to a jury trial exists on Plaintiffs’ claims.
Accordingly, after due consideration, it is ORDERED:
The Motion (Doc. 8) is GRANTED to the extent Plaintiffs’ demand for a trial
by jury is STRICKEN.5
To the extent Defendant requests an award of attorneys’ fees and costs
incurred in bringing this Motion (see Doc. 18 at 5), this issue has not been briefed, and,
therefore, the request for fees and costs is DENIED without prejudice.
DONE AND ORDERED at Jacksonville, Florida, on October 11, 2017.
Counsel of Record
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?