Lewellyan v. Red River Rehab L L C et al
ORDER AND REASONS granting 4 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; denying 4 Motion for More Definite Statement. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Plaintiff is authorized to amend her complaint within 7 days of this Order. Signed by Judge David C Joseph on 9/10/2020. (crt,Taylor, L)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 1:19-CV-01105
JUDGE DAVID C. JOSEPH
RED RIVER REHAB LLC ET AL
MAGISTRATE JUDGE PEREZ-MONTES
ORDER AND REASONS
Before the Court is Defendant The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America’s
(“Guardian”) Motion for Partial Dismissal and a More Definite Statement (the “Motion”) (Doc.
4). For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
Plaintiff Melanie Lewellyan was employed as an occupational therapist by Defendant Red
River Rehab LLC (“Red River”), which offered an ERISA-governed insurance plan to its employees
through Guardian. Plaintiff alleges that she elected short-term and long-term disability insurance
through the plan and that the cost of premiums was deducted from her pay from January 2017
through April 2018. In the spring of 2018, Plaintiff claims that she was diagnosed with EhlersDanlos syndrome and was released from employment at Red River due to her inability to work.
Plaintiff thereafter filed a claim for disability benefits with Guardian but her claim was denied.
Plaintiff brings this action against Red River and Guardian to recover short-term and longterm disability benefits, equitable relief, and attorney’s fees under the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1101 et seq. In addition, Plaintiff asserts pendent state
claims under Louisiana law, including bad faith breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant
of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, and detrimental reliance.
Guardian filed this Motion, contending that ERISA preempts Plaintiff’s state law claims and
Plaintiff’s Complaint is so vague and ambiguous that Guardian is unable to frame a responsive
Motion for Partial Dismissal
A. Legal Standard
Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows for dismissal of a claim when
a plaintiff “fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Such motions are also reviewed
with the court “accepting all well-pleaded facts as true and viewing those facts in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff.” Bustos v. Martini Club, Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461 (5th Cir. 2010). However,
“the plaintiff must plead enough facts ‘to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face’” to
survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. In re Katrina Canal Breaches Litig., 495
F.3d 191, 205 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955,
1974 (2007)). Accordingly, the court’s task in evaluating a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)
is “not to evaluate the plaintiff’s likelihood of success,” but instead to determine whether the claim
is both legally cognizable and plausible. Lone Star Fund V (U.S.), L.P. v. Barclays Bank PLC, 594
F.3d 383, 387 (5th Cir. 2010).
B. Law and Analysis
The rights and remedies created by ERISA “supersede any and all State laws insofar as they
may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan...” 29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). Supreme Court
precedent broadly construes § 1144(a), finding that “ERISA’s civil enforcement remedies were
intended be exclusive” such that relief available to ERISA beneficiaries is not “supplemented or
supplanted by varying state laws.” Pilot Life Ins. Co. v. Dedeaux, 481 U.S. 41, 56, 107 S. Ct. 1549,
1557, 95 L. Ed. 2d 39 (1987)). A state law “relates to” an employee benefit plan under § 1144(a) “if
it has a connection with or reference to such a plan.” Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Massachusetts, 471 U.S.
724, 739, 105 S. Ct. 2380, 2389, 85 L. Ed. 2d 728 (1985). The Fifth Circuit has held that state law
claims for breach of contract, breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing, and negligence in an
ERISA action to recover denied benefits “relate to” the employee benefit plan and thus are
preempted by ERISA. See, e.g., Hogan v. Kraft Foods, 969 F.2d 142, 144 (5th Cir. 1992).
In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts state law claims for bad faith breach of contract, breach
of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, negligence, and detrimental reliance (Doc.
1). These claims are analogous to those held to have been preempted by ERISA under Fifth Circuit
precedent. See, e.g., Hogan, 969 F.2d 142; Hermann Hospital v. MEBA Medical & Ben. Plan, 845
F.2d 1286 (5th Cir. 1988) (holding ERISA preempts claims for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence,
equitable estoppel, breach of contract, and fraud). Further, Plaintiff’s state law claims are not
protected under ERISA’s savings clause, which exempts state laws that “regulate[s] insurance,
banking, or securities” from preemption. 29 U.S.C. § 1144(b)(2)(A). See, e.g., Pilot Life, 481 U.S.
41, 50, 107 S. Ct. 1549,1554, 95 L. Ed.2d 39 (finding state law claims for breach of contract and
duty of good faith and fair dealing are not saved under ERISA’s savings clause).
In her Memorandum in Opposition to this Motion, Plaintiff in fact concedes that ERISA
preempts any state law claims and does not oppose Guardian’s Motion for Partial Dismissal (Doc.
9). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s state law claims are dismissed with prejudice.
Motion for a More Definite Statement
A. Legal Standard
A party may move for a more definite statement of “a pleading to which a responsive
pleading is allowed but which is so vague or ambiguous that the party cannot reasonably prepare a
response.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(e). The court must assess the pleading under Rule 8 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure’s notice pleading standard, which requires, in relevant part, “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2).
To comply with this standard, a complaint need not plead specific facts but must “give the defendant
fair notice of what the … claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007).
Rule 12(e) motions are disfavored, as “in view of the great liberality of Rule 8, permitting
notice pleading, it is clearly the policy of the Rules that Rule 12(e) should not be used to frustrate
this policy by lightly requiring a plaintiff to amend his complaint which under Rule 8 is sufficient
to withstand a motion to dismiss.” Mitchell v. E-Z Way Towers, Inc., 269 F.2d 126, 132 (5th Cir.
1959). Further, a party may not use a Rule 12(e) motion to assist in gathering facts in preparation
for trial. Id. The trial court is granted considerable discretion in ruling on a Rule 12(e) motion. See
Ditcharo v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 376 Fed. Appx. 432, 440 (5th Cir. 2010) (“We review orders
made pursuant to Rule 12(e) for abuse of discretion.”); Thurman v. Louisiana Dep't of Health &
Hosps., 2:12-CV-2426, 2013 WL 3146923, at *4 (W.D. La. June 14, 2013); Murungi v. Texas
Guaranteed, 646 F.Supp.2d 804, 811 (E.D. La. 2009).
B. Law and Analysis
While the Complaint may have been more artfully drafted, it is sufficient to meet the basic
notice pleading requirements of Rule 8. Plaintiff’s Complaint pleads facts that give rise to
cognizable claims under ERISA and is not so vague or ambiguous that Defendants cannot
reasonably prepare a response. It is evident from the Complaint that Plaintiff seeks benefits under §
1132(a)(1)(B), as she alleges that: (i) she elected to participate in her employer’s long-term and
short-term disability insurance plan, (ii) the cost of premiums was deducted from her pay during
employment, and (iii) Guardian denied her claim for disability benefits on the basis that she was not
enrolled in the plan (Doc. 1 ¶¶ 27-35). It is also clear from her claims of breach of fiduciary duty
and unjust enrichment that Plaintiff seeks equitable relief under § 1132(a)(3) in connection with the
withholding of premiums by her employer. Notwithstanding Plaintiff’s inability to ultimately
recover under both §§ 1132(a)(1)(B) and 1132(a)(3), 1 Plaintiff is entitled to plead them in alternative
and conduct discovery to ascertain the exact nature of her claim. 2
While Plaintiff’s Complaint is sufficient under Rule 8, it contains numerous typographical
errors 3 and names of persons unrelated to this action, which counsel apparently neglected to change
from a previously drafted pleading. 4 Moreover, Plaintiff’s Complaint fails to indicate the
subsections in § 1132(a) that correspond to her benefits and equitable relief claims. Accordingly,
the Court hereby authorizes and encourages Plaintiff to amend her Complaint to correct the
typographical errors and clarify the subsections in § 1132(a) under which she seeks relief consistent
with representations made in the Memorandum in Opposition to the Motion (Doc. 9).
For the foregoing reasons, IT IS ORDERED that Guardian’s Motion for Partial Dismissal is
GRANTED. The state-law claims asserted in the Complaint are hereby dismissed with prejudice.
Guardian’s Motion for a More Definite Statement is DENIED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Plaintiff is authorized to amend her complaint within 7
days of this Order.
THUS DONE in Chambers on this 10th day of September, 2020.
DAVID C. JOSEPH
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
An ERISA claimant generally may not recover equitable relief under § 1132(a)(3) when monetary relief is available
under § 1132(a)(1)(B). See, e.g., Innova Hosp. San Antonio, Ltd. P'ship v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Georgia, Inc., 892
F.3d 719, 733 (5th Cir. 2018) (affirming the trial court’s dismissal of Plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim under §
1132(a)(3) when § 1132(a)(1)(B) provided the plaintiff a remedy).
Id. at 730 (“when discoverable information is in the control and possession of a defendant, it is not necessarily the
plaintiff’s responsibility to provide that information in her complaint).
For instance, paragraph 22 states that Guardian denied her claim for long-term disability benefits on the basis that
Plaintiff was not enrolled in its short-term disability plan.
Paragraphs 31, 43, and 46 reference the names “Samuel,” “Sun Life,” “Angela,” and “Kenny.”
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