Collins v. 3M Company et al
ORDER granting 14 Partial Motion to Dismiss (Written Opinion) Signed by Senior Judge David S. Doty on 5/4/2017. (DLO)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civil No. 17-529(DSD/DTS)
3M Company, fka Minnesota Mining &
3M Disability Programs,
3M Disability and Leave Center, and
Sedgwick Claims Management
Megan A. Spriggs, Esq. and R.A. Williams Law Firm, 2400 County
Road D West, Suite 110, St. Paul, MN 55112, counsel for
Christopher M. Busey, Esq., Erin K. Fogarty Lisle, Esq. and
Berens & Miller, P.A., 80 South 8th Street, Suite 3720,
Minneapolis, MN 55402, counsel for defendants.
This matter is before the court upon the partial motion to
dismiss by defendants 3M Company, 3M Disability Programs, 3M
Based on a review of the file, record, and
proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants
Unless otherwise noted, the court will refer to defendants
collectively as “3M.”
This insurance benefit dispute arises out of 3M’s denial of
Collins is an employee of 3M through which she obtained short- and
long-term disability benefits.
Am. Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.
On June 16,
2016, Collins applied for short-term disability benefits for her
absence beginning June 15.
Id. ¶¶ 10-13.
On July 1, 3M denied
Collins’s claim because it had not received the required attending
physician statement from her medical provider.
Id. ¶ 19.
6, 3M received the attending physician statement, but did not alter
its previous denial.
appealed 3M’s decision.
See id. ¶¶ 22-23.
Id. ¶ 24.
On July 7, Collins
During the appeals process, 3M
sought a review of Collins’s claim by an independent physician
advisor (IPA) and informed Collins that the IPA would contact her
physician and therapist, or, alternatively, her physician and
therapist could call the IPA to schedule a phone conference.
Collins claims that her physician contacted the IPA on
July 19 but that the IPA never returned his calls or spoke with her
physician or therapist.
Id. ¶¶ 28-30.
On August 16, 3M denied
On February 2, 2017, Collins filed an amended complaint in
state court alleging that (1) 3M wrongfully refused to pay her
short-term disability benefits and (2) 3M breached its fiduciary
3M timely removed and now moves to dismiss the breach of
fiduciary duty claim.
Standard of Review
In order to survive a motion to dismiss, “a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Braden v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009) (citations and
internal quotation marks omitted). “A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff [has pleaded] factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556
Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual
allegations, it must raise a right of relief above the speculative
level. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[L]abels and conclusions or
a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” are
not sufficient to state a claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations
and internal quotation marks omitted).
3M argues that Collins’s breach of fiduciary claim should be
dismissed because it is duplicative of her claim for benefits
brought under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Collins brings her breach
of fiduciary claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), which provides
that a plan participant may bring an action to enjoin a violation
of ERISA or “obtain other appropriate equitable relief.”
A plaintiff may only bring a claim under this section, however, if
she is not “provided adequate relief by the right to bring a claim
for benefits under § 1132(a)(1)(B).”
Pilger v. Sweeny, 725 F.3d
922, 927 (8th Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted) (citing
Antolik v. Saks, Inc., 463 F.3d 796, 803 (8th Cir. 2006)).
In both counts one and two of her complaint, Collins seeks
payment of her short-term disability benefits in addition to
interest, costs, and attorney’s fees.
See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 48, 52.
Collins attempts to distinguish the breach of fiduciary duty claim
by arguing that she seeks separate equitable relief in the form of
a remand to 3M so that it can reconsider her appeal with the input
of her physician and therapist. But this relief is available under
See, e.g., King v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins.
Co., 414 F.3d 994, 1005-06 (8th Cir. 2005) (remanding case to
claims administrator under § 1132(a) as the proper remedy for an
improper denial of benefits). Collins also argues that she is
entitled to equitable relief under § 1132(a)(3), such as surcharge
or additional monetary penalties.
But she does not ask for this
relief in her complaint nor does she explain how those remedies
would be appropriate in this case.
Because Collins seeks the same
relief under both claims, § 1132(a)(1)(B) provides adequate relief.
Under these circumstances, Collins cannot simultaneously bring a
claim for relief under § 1132(a)(3).2
Relying on Silva v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 762 F.3d 711 (8th
Cir. 2014), Collins also argues that her fiduciary duty claim
should not be dismissed at the pleading stage because “it is
difficult for a court to discern the intricacies of the plaintiff’s
claims to determine if the claims are indeed duplicative, rather
than alternative, and determine if one or both could provide
Id. at 727.
But Silva is distinguishable.
that case, the plaintiff claimed that he was due payment under a
valid insurance policy and an alternative claim that, even if the
insurance policy was invalid, the defendant was liable to him for
a breach of fiduciary duty.
The court determined that discovery
was necessary to determine the validity of the insurance policy
before it could decide which of the alternate claims applied in the
See id. at 727-28; see also Spizman v. BCBSM, Inc., No. 14-
3568, 2015 WL 4569249, at *9 (D. Minn. July 27, 2015) (denying
distinguishable” from another claim and sought equitable remedies
outside the scope of a claim for benefits); Black v. Long Term
Disability Ins., 373 F. Supp. 2d 897, 902 (E.D. Wis. 2005) (denying
Collins also insists that because the complaint asks “for
such other and further relief as the Court deems just and
equitable,” she seeks relief that cannot be awarded in her claim
for benefits. But a prayer for equitable relief that is included
as a matter of form in nearly all complaints is insufficient to
warrant a different result.
motion to dismiss where plaintiff asserted a claim for benefits in
addition to a distinct claim for injunctive relief based upon
defendant’s alleged improper practices).
“intricacies” or distinctions. She has pleaded indistinguishable not alternative - claims based on the same facts and seeking the
Indeed, Collins concedes as much by arguing that
“the abuse of discretion resulted in the breach of fiduciary
Pl’s Opp’n Mem. at 6.
Accordingly, count two of the
complaint is duplicative and must be dismissed.5
Collins argues that her breach of fiduciary duty claim
should not be dismissed because, if proved, the court would apply
a less deferential standard of review to 3M’s denial of benefits.
The court disagrees. Collins is free to seek evidence establishing
a conflict of interest or procedural irregularity regardless of
whether her breach of fiduciary claim survives.
conflict of interest does not lower the standard of review. See
Hackett v. Standard Ins. Co., 559 F.3d 825, 830 (8th Cir 2009)
(internal quotations marks omitted) (quoting Metro Life Ins. Co. v.
Glenn, 554 U.S. 105, 115 (2008)) (“[A] conflict does not change the
standard of review applied by the district court.
conflict should be weighed as a factor in determining whether there
is an abuse of discretion.”).
Collins argues that discovery is required to determine
whether 3M systemically breached their fiduciary duties to all plan
participants, which would establish a plausible claim for equitable
relief not otherwise available. But Collins does not plead facts
that would make such allegations plausible, nor does she purport to
bring claims on behalf of a class.
Because the court finds that Collins’s breach of fiduciary
duty claim is duplicative, it need not address 3M’s argument that
she has failed to plead facts giving rise to such a claim.
Accordingly, based on the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. Defendants’ partial motion to dismiss [ECF No. 14] is
Count two of the complaint is dismissed with prejudice.
Dated: May 4, 2017
s/David S. Doty
David S. Doty, Judge
United States District Court
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