Babin v. Quality Energy Services, Inc. et al
ORDER AND REASONS granting 24 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying as moot 27 Motion for Entry of Judgment under Rule 54(b). Signed by Judge Jay C. Zainey on 12/22/2016. (cg)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
TODD M. BABIN
QUALITY ENERGY SERVICES, INC., ET AL.
ORDER AND REASONS
The following motions are before the Court:
Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 24) filed by defendant Quality Energy
Services, Inc. Plaintiff Todd Babin opposes the motion.
Motion for Rule 54(b) Judgment and Stay Pending Appeal (Rec. Doc. 27) filed by
plaintiff Todd Babin. Defendant Quality Energy Services, Inc. opposes the motion.
The motions, submitted to the Court on December 14, 2016, are before the Court on the
briefs without oral argument.
This case arises out of plaintiff Todd Babin’s claim for ERISA benefits pertaining to his
former employment with defendant Quality Energy Services, Inc. The sole issue before the Court
is whether Plaintiff has a pending and viable claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Quality
Energy. All other claims in this case have been disposed of.1 (Rec. Doc. 22 & n.1).
Plaintiff contends that paragraph 8 of the Complaint constitutes an independent claim for
breach of fiduciary duty under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). Factually, this fiduciary duty claim is
Plaintiff had asserted a claim for failure to pay benefits under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) but that
claim has been resolved amicably in Plaintiff’s favor. The compromise resulted in the dismissal of Standard
On September 27, 2016, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Quality Energy on
Plaintiff’s § 1132(c) claim for failure to provide requested information. (Rec. Doc. 22). The Court found that
the claim was prescribed. That ruling is the subject of Plaintiff’s Rule 54(b) motion.
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grounded on omissions by Quality Energy — while acting as plan fiduciary — that caused
Plaintiff to be denied both short and long-term disability benefits under policies issued by onetime
defendant Standard Insurance Co.
The Court notes that the structure and formatting in the Complaint suggest that only two
ERISA causes of action were being asserted: 1) “claims under 29 USC 1132 (b) [sic] - failure to
pay benefits,” and 2) “claims under 29 USC 1132 (c) - failure to provide requested information.”
(Rec. Doc. 1 at 3). Paragraph 8 of the Complaint is not only firmly imbedded in the “failure to pay
benefits” section of the pleading, it is one of only two paragraphs that flesh out that cause of
action. Section 1132(c) is never mentioned. Nonetheless, the Court will give the Complaint the
broadest of readings and will assume for purposes of this motion that Babin has successfully
pleaded a breach of fiduciary duty claim against Quality Energy.
Quality Energy moves for summary judgment on the breach of fiduciary duty claim
arguing that 1) under controlling law a plaintiff cannot pursue both a claim for benefits and a claim
for breach of fiduciary duty, and 2) Plaintiff released his claim for breach of fiduciary duty when he
settled his benefits claim earlier this year with Quality Energy and Standard Insurance Co.
The Court has studied all of the controlling decisions that impact whether Babin could
pursue both a claim for plan benefits and a claim for breach of fiduciary duty. It is clear that a
plaintiff can plead the claims in the alternative but a § 1132(c) fiduciary duty claim is designed to
provide equitable relief in situations where a § 1132(a)(1)(B) claim for benefits is not available.
Undoubtedly Babin’s situation places him squarely within the class of persons that an equitable
claim was intended to protect because through no fault of his own — and according to Babin
through fault solely attributable to Quality Energy — he was not entitled to receive either short-
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term or long-term plan benefits from Standard Insurance under the terms of its policies.2 Thus, it
is clear that Babin could sue Standard Insurance for benefits under its policies, and he could sue
Quality Energy for the omissions that cost him benefits coverage, which is exactly what he did.
And even though the measure of damages on the two claims might be the same, and even
though double recovery would surely not be permissible, the causes of action are distinct. The
actual underlying legal question presented by Quality Energy’s motion is whether settling the
benefits claim with Standard Insurance served to deprive Babin of his equitable claim against
Quality Energy under § 1132(c).3 The Court need not address this legal question because the
Court is persuaded that regardless of the answer to the legal question, the scope of release that
Babin signed forecloses the § 1132(c) claim. In other words, Quality Energy’s second argument
pertaining to the scope of the settlement agreement has merit.
Sealed Exhibit A to Defendant’s motion for summary judgment is a copy of the
confidential release that Plaintiff executed when he entered into a partial compromise with
Standard Insurance Co. and Quality Energy earlier this year. (Rec. Doc. 24-6 Exhibit A Sealed).
The release was executed on April 15, 2016, which was several months after this lawsuit had
been pending, and the release references this case by name and number. (Rec. Doc. 24-6 at 1).
It is beyond cavil that the compromise was intended to dispose of the first claim for failure to pay
benefits in its entirety. The release language could not be broader in this respect — it releases
The Court’s appreciation of a § 1132(c) equitable relief claim is that it would be similar in function
to a claim for unjust enrichment under Louisiana law, triggering only to remedy an injustice when the
plaintiff has no other remedy at law against the defendant.
The Court has not been informed of the amount of the settlement and whether it was an amount
that made Babin completely whole in terms of benefits and compensation for his counsel. The Court can
envision a situation where the plaintiff, aggrieved by his employer’s breaches of fiduciary duty, is forced to
settle with the insurer for a smaller amount than the benefits that he would otherwise be due but for the
breaches. In such a situation, the Court agrees with Babin’s argument that it makes little sense to absolve
the employer for its own damaging conduct based on a settlement with the insurer.
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both Standard Insurance and Quality Energy from “all rights, claims and causes of action,
whether known or unknown, suspected or unsuspected, claimed or unclaimed, asserted or
unasserted, that Babin may now have, ever had, or at any time in the future may have, against
[Standard Insurance and Quality Energy], arising directly or indirectly out of, from or in any
manner related to the disability claim.”
A single claim is excluded from this broad release: “Babin does not release any claims
against [Quality Energy] for penalties under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(c).” (Rec. Doc. 24-6 at 2).
This latter claim is of course the one that the Court found to be prescribed.
The construction of a settlement agreement is governed by principles of local law
applicable to contracts generally. In re Deepwater Horizon, 785 F.3d 986, 994 (5th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Fla. Educ. Ass'n, Inc. v. Atkinson, 481 F.2d 662, 663 (5th Cir.1973)). The confidential
release does not contain a choice of law provision. The Court therefore applies Louisiana law.
Contracts are interpreted based on the parties' intent. Sundown Energy, L.P. v. Haller,
773 F.3d 606, 611–12 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Prejean v. Guillory, 38 So. 3d 274, 279 (La. 2010)).
The reasonable intention of the parties to a contract is to be sought by examining the words of
the contract itself.” Id. If the contract is unambiguous and does not have absurd consequences,
the court must apply the ordinary meaning of the contractual language. Id.
The settlement agreement is not ambiguous and its language is clear. It releases both
Standard Insurance and Quality Energy for all claims (in the broadest of terms) related to the
benefits claim. The fiduciary duty claim is related to the benefits claim and it is even pleaded as
part of that claim. That the claims are distinct legally is insufficient to carve the claim out of the
exceedingly broad release language, and this is particularly true since the release operates in
favor of both defendants to the case. Moreover, the fact that the parties expressly identified the
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single claim that they intended to except from the settlement is telling. The failure to provide
requested information claim against Quality Energy was preserved by name even though it is far
less related to the benefits claim than the alternative fiduciary duty claim. Even if the Court found
it plausible that the fiduciary duty claim did not relate to the benefits claim, the Court is persuaded
that it was the parties’ intent — based on the clear language of the release — to preserve only a
single claim against Quality Energy. The fiduciary duty claim is subject to the release.
Accordingly, and for the foregoing reasons;
IT IS ORDERED that the Motion for Summary Judgment (Rec. Doc. 24) filed by
defendant Quality Energy Services, Inc. is GRANTED;
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Motion for Rule 54(b) Judgment and Stay
Pending Appeal (Rec. Doc. 27) filed by plaintiff Todd Babin is DENIED AS MOOT. The Clerk
will prepare a final judgment now that all claims are concluded.
December 22, 2016
JUDGE JAY C. ZAINEY
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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