CONE et al v. WALMART STORES INC et al
ORDER denying 22 Motion for Joinder; denying 6 Motion to Dismiss; denying 6 Motion for Summary Judgment; lifting the stay; resetting scheduling/discovery deadlines. Discovery deadline is 11/29/2012; dispositive motion deadline is 1/14/2013. Defendant MetLife to respond to 18 Motion to Amend not later than 6/19/2012. Ordered by Judge Hugh Lawson on 5/30/2012. (nbp)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
BILLY I. CONE, SR., as Administrator of
the Estate of Linda D. Cone, deceased,
and BILLY I. CONE, SR., BILLY I. CONE,
JR., ANGELA CONE, and ANGELA CONE
as the Natural Guardian of AC, a Minor,
Civil Action No. 7:12-cv-29 (HL)
WALMART STORES, INC. ASSOCIATES’
HEALTH AND WELFARE PLAN,
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE
COMPANY, as the Administrator of the
Employee Benefit Plan for Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., and METROPOLITAN LIFE
Before the Court is Defendant Walmart Stores, Inc. Associates’ Health and
Welfare Plan’s (“Defendant Plan”) Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative, Motion
for Summary Judgment (Doc. 6-1), as well as Plaintiffs’ Motions to Amend (Docs.
18, 20) and Plaintiffs’ Motion for Joinder (Doc. 22). These Motions are discussed
in turn below.
Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary
When reviewing a Motion to Dismiss, the court’s review is “limited to the
four corners of the complaint.” Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949,
959 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing St. George v. Pinellas Cnty., 285 F.3d 1334, 1337
(11th Cir. 2002)). “A court may consider only the complaint itself and any
documents referred to in the complaint which are central to the claims.” Id.
In this case, the Court has found that a Motion to Dismiss is not
appropriate. Defendant Plan has attached two exhibits to its Motion (Docs. 6-2,
6-3), which indicates that the Motion cannot be considered as a Motion to
Dismiss. The Plaintiffs evidently did not interpret the Motion as a Motion to
Dismiss because they submitted additional exhibits along with their response.
(Doc. 17-1.) The submission of this additional evidence by both parties means
that the Motion cannot be considered as a proper Motion to Dismiss, and
therefore, the Motion to Dismiss is denied.
As for the Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court finds that the Motion
does not conform to the procedural standards for a summary judgment motion.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, as well as Local Rule 56, requires a
statement of material facts to be submitted to the Court with a motion for
summary judgment. Local Rule 56 states that the moving party in a motion for
summary judgment “shall attach to the motion a separate and concise statement
of the material facts to which the movant contends there is no genuine issue to
be tried.” In this case, Defendant Plan did not submit the requisite statement of
material facts. For lack of procedural compliance, the Court denies Defendant
Plan’s Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court orders Defendant Plan to
replead the arguments in this Motion in proper summary judgment form. When
the Motion is properly submitted in the correct form, Defendant Plan’s
substantive arguments will be evaluated.
The Court’s denial of the Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion
for Summary Judgment resolves the pending Motion and lifts the current stay on
the case. The amended deadlines for this case are as follows:
Discovery shall now expire on November 29, 2012. Plaintiffs must disclose
the identity of any expert witnesses on or before August 27, 2012, that being no
more than 90 days after discovery begins. Defendants must disclose the identity
of any expert witnesses on or before September 26, 2012, that being no more
than 120 days after discovery begins. If defendant designates an expert where
the plaintiff has not previously designated an expert, the plaintiff shall have 30
days form the designation of the defendant’s expert within which to designate a
rebuttal witness. Any supplemental expert reports must be provided to the
opposing counsel on or before November 5, 2012, that being no more than 160
days after discovery begins.
All motions to join other parties or to otherwise amend the pleadings shall
be filed on or before December 28, 2012, that being no more than 30 days after
the expiration of discovery in this case. All dispositive motions shall be filed on or
before January 14, 2013, that being no more than 45 days after the expiration of
discovery in this case. All Daubert motions must be filed on or before December
28, 2012, that being no more than 30 days after the expiration of discovery in this
case. The parties are instructed not to file Daubert motions as part of dispositive
II. Motions to Amend/Correct
Plaintiffs filed two Motions to Amend/Correct the Complaint on April 19,
2012. (Doc. 18, Doc. 20.) Plaintiffs filed these Motions requesting to add claims
for a breach of fiduciary duty against Defendant MetLife (Doc. 18) and Defendant
Plan (Doc. 20). Defendant Plan has filed a response, but Defendant MetLife has
yet to respond. Based on the similar arguments contained in the Motions, the
Court finds it necessary for MetLife to respond to the Motion to Amend before
making a ruling as to either Defendant. Thus, the Court orders Defendant MetLife
to file a response to Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend (Doc. 18) no later than June 19,
2012. Plaintiffs will then have an opportunity to respond. After a response is filed
by Defendant MetLife and Plaintiffs are given the chance to respond, the Court
will evaluate the Motions and issue a ruling.
III. Motion for Joinder
Plaintiffs have also filed a Motion for Joinder, requesting that Walmart
Stores, Inc. (“Walmart”) be added as a Defendant under Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 20 and 21. Walmart was originally named as a defendant to this
action, but was dismissed pursuant to a Joint Motion to Substitute Defendant
Walmart Stores, Inc. Associates’ Health and Welfare Plan. (Doc. 7.) At that time,
the parties agreed that Walmart was incorrectly named as a defendant and
Defendant Plan should be substituted for Walmart. Now, Plaintiffs contend that
Walmart should be added back into the lawsuit because Walmart, not Defendant
Plan, is actually the plan administrator.
The identity of the plan administrator is important in this case because
Plaintiffs have filed a claim for statutory penalties under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c).
Section 1132(c) provides for penalties against a plan administrator if the
administrator fails to supply requested information to ERISA participants within a
certain period of time. Thus, the identity of the plan administrator is central to the
outcome of the claim under § 1132(c).
Under ERISA, the plan administrator is defined as:
(i) the person specifically so designated by the terms of the
instrument under which the plan is operated;
(ii) if an administrator is not so designated, the plan sponsor; or
(iii) in the case of a plan for which an administrator is not
designated and a plan sponsor cannot be identified, such other
person as the Secretary may by regulation prescribe.
29 U.S.C. § 1002(16)(A). Plaintiffs argue that no person or entity is specifically
designated by the terms of the instrument as the plan administrator, and thus,
according to § 1002(16)(A)(ii), Walmart should be designated as the plan
administrator because Walmart is the plan sponsor.
The Court is unconvinced by Plaintiffs’ argument for two reasons. First,
Plaintiffs’ contention that the plan administrator is not named in the policy is
unsupported in the record. The policy to which Plaintiffs refer has not been filed
with the Court, and thus, the Court is unable to verify Plaintiffs’ argument.
Second, the Court disagrees with Plaintiffs that the identity of the plan
administrator is unaddressed in the plan instrument.
According to § 1002, the plan administrator must be named in “the terms of
the instrument under which the plan is operated.” Plaintiffs contend that this
phrase refers only to the formal policy issued to plan participants. However, the
Court finds that the plan instrument includes more than the formal policy. Without
explicitly naming all of the documents that should be considered part of the plan
instrument, it is sufficient to say in this case that the Summary Plan Description
(“SPD”), a document required under ERISA that informs plan participants of their
rights and obligations in an easily understandable way, should be considered
part of the plan instrument.1
The Eleventh Circuit has recognized that a SPD is a vital part of the ERISA
framework. “As this Court has acknowledged, the SPD is a critical feature of the
ERISA regulatory scheme because it ‘simplif[ies]a and explain[s] a voluminous
and complex document’ to plan participants and beneficiaries.” Heffner v. Blue
Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, Inc., 443 F.3d 1330, 1341-42 (11th Cir. 2006)
(citing McKnight v. So. Life and Health Ins. Co., 758 F.2d 1566, 1570 (11th Cir.
1985)). The Eleventh Circuit has also recognized that “where a plan participant or
beneficiary relies on a provision in the SPD that conflicts with the plan, he or she
may enforce the terms of the SPD over the terms of the plan.” Id.
For a full definition of a summary plan description under ERISA, as well
as a list of information that is required to be included in the summary plan
description, see 29 U.S.C. § 1022.
Other courts have acknowledged the importance of a SPD, recognizing
that a SPD can dictate the plan administrator for purposes of a statutory claim for
penalties under § 1132(c). See Castro v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co., No.
5:11-cv-446-Oc-34TBS, 2011 WL 4889174 at *6 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 14, 2011)
(finding that the entity listed in the SPD as the plan administrator was the
administrator for purposes of §1132(c)); Kennedy v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co.,
357 F. Supp. 2d 1346, 1349 (M.D. Fla. 2005) (determining that the party named
in the SPD was the plan administrator under § 1132(c) and declining to add an
In this case, the SPD identifies the plan administrator as the “Walmart
Administrative Committee Associates’ Health and Welfare Plan.” (Doc. 6-3, p. 5.)
The Court finds no reason to dispute this designation and considers this to be a
valid part of the plan instrument. Thus, Defendant Plan is the plan administrator
for purposes of § 1132(c), and there is no reason for Walmart to be added to this
lawsuit. Plaintiffs’ Motion for Joinder is denied.2
In sum, the Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary
Judgment (Doc. 6-1) is denied. Defendant Plan is ordered to refile the Motion as
a proper Motion for Summary Judgment if its substantive arguments are to be
In their Response, Defendant Plan makes an argument about attorneys’
fees under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(1). The Court does not find it necessary to
undertake the issue of attorneys’ fees at this time, and declines to address
Defendant Plan’s argument.
evaluated. The deadlines as set out above in Section I shall apply to the refiling
of this Motion and shall not be extended absent extenuating circumstances. As to
the Motions to Amend (Docs. 18, 20), Defendant MetLife is ordered to respond
by June 19, 2012 so that the Court can fully evaluate the Motions as applied to
both Defendant MetLife and Defendant Plan. Finally, as to the Motion for Joinder
(Doc. 22), the Motion is denied. Walmart shall not be added as a Defendant in
SO ORDERED, this 30th day of May, 2012.
HUGH LAWSON, SENIOR JUDGE
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