Pearson v. FirstEnergy Corp. Pension Plan et al
Opinion and Order: Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, in part, and denied, in part. Plaintiff's claim for refusal to furnish documents is dismissed with prejudice. (Related Doc # 9 ). Judge Sara Lioi on 12/31/2014. (P,J)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
FIRSTENERGY CORP. PENSION
PLAN, et al.,
CASE NO. 5:14CV634
JUDGE SARA LIOI
OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Marc Pearson (“plaintiff” or “Pearson”) brought this action under
the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) against defendant FirstEnergy
Corp. Pension Plan (“the Plan”) and defendant FirstEnergy Corp. Retirement Board, Plan
Administrator (“the Plan Fiduciary”), asserting that he was improperly denied pension
benefits. In his complaint, plaintiff raises three claims: (1) a denial of benefits claim,
under 29 U.S.C. § 1132; (2) a breach of fiduciary duty claim, also under 29 U.S.C. §
1132; and (3) a refusal to provide information and documents claim, under 29 U.S.C. §§
1024(b)(4) and 1132(c)(1)(B). Defendants move for dismissal of the breach of fiduciary
duty claim and the refusal to provide documents claim (Doc. No. 9 [“MTD”]). Plaintiff
opposes the motion (Doc. No. 10 [“Opp.”]), and defendants have filed a reply (Doc. No.
According to the complaint, in mid-1998, Duquesne Light Company
(“DLC”), a predecessor in interest to FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Company
(“FENOC”), recruited plaintiff for employment at its Beaver Valley generation plant.
(Doc. No. 1 [“Compl.”] ¶ 7.) Because a change in employment would require plaintiff to
relocate his family and abandon his consulting business, plaintiff negotiated an
arrangement whereby he would obtain ten (10) years of pension credit at DLC after five
(5) years of employment. It was plaintiff’s understanding that he would receive a full
pension from DLC upon attaining the age of 60, and that he would also receive a oneyear severance package when he left the company. (Compl. ¶ 8.)
In July 1998, plaintiff commenced his employment with DLC, serving as
the “Technical Assistant to the President, Generation Group and Chief Nuclear Officer.”
(Id. ¶ 9, internal quotation marks omitted.) “In relation to his DLC employment, Pearson
was promised and provided a ‘special retirement program’ by DLC, which DLC
explained to Pearsonwas the vehicle for ensuring Pearson received two (2) years of
service credit to be used to calculate his DLC pension.” (Id. ¶ 10.) The special retirement
program required plaintiff to work for DLC for 5 years (until July 2003) in order to
receive 10 years of service credit. (Id. ¶ 11.)
In 1999, DLC and FirstEnergy Corp. (“FE”) agreed to a transfer of certain
power generating assets, including the Beaver Valley Power Station where plaintiff was
employed. (Id. ¶ 14.) As part of the asset transfer, FE, through its subsidiary FENOC,
provided written employment agreements to plaintiff and the other DLC employees
affected by the transfer. The employment offer extended to plaintiff referenced the 2-for2
1 service credit arrangement offered by DLC. Specifically, the agreement provided that if
plaintiff was employed with FENOC until December 31, 2001, plaintiff would be vested
with 7 years of service with FENOC. The agreement further provided that if plaintiff’s
employment with FENOC continued after December 31, 2001, plaintiff would earn
service credit at the rate of 2 years for each year served, similar to the original agreement
plaintiff had with DLC. (Id. ¶¶ 15-17.)
When negotiating with FENOC, plaintiff alleges that he advised FENOC
that he had originally negotiated with DLC that he would reach 10 years of service credit
upon his 5th anniversary with DLC (July 13, 2003). Plaintiff complained to FENOC
representatives that the amount of service credit offered by FENOC would yield less than
10 years as of plaintiff’s 5th anniversary. The FENOC representatives agreed with
plaintiff that the current arrangement would only yield 9 years and 11 months of service
credit as of July 13, 2003. Nonetheless, plaintiff was advised that the Plan contained an
annual bonus that, even without the full 10 years of service, would earn plaintiff more
than he would have earned under the DLC pension plan with 10 full years of service. (Id.
In late 2003, a restructuring at the Beaver Valley plant resulted in the
reduction of the number of directors (the title held by plaintiff), and plaintiff entered into
negotiations with FENOC regarding his separation package. Plaintiff accepted a
separation package from FENOC, and his last day of employment was on or around
November 22, 2003. In 2004, plaintiff signed a separation agreement, which provided for
one year of separation pay. There is no dispute that plaintiff received his separation pay
from FENOC. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.)
Approximately six months after signing the separation agreement (still in
2004), plaintiff received a letter from FE informing plaintiff that he had met the pension
plan requirements and would be receiving a full pension at age 60 due, in part, to the fact
that plaintiff had achieved 10 years of eligible service credit. (Id. ¶ 23.) Beginning the
following year (2005), plaintiff contacted the FE pension department on multiple
occasions to determine the amount of his monthly pension benefit with FENOC at age
60. Each time he was advised that the pension department was too busy to make the
calculation, and that the calculation would not be made until plaintiff was closer to his
actual benefit commencement date in 2013. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.)
It was not until January 25, 2013 that plaintiff was advised by letter from a
representative of the Plan of the monthly pension amount. According to the letter, the
amount was calculated assuming a benefit starting date of March 1, 2013. “Pearson took
issue with FE’s apparent effort to avoid the service credit enhancement it had promised
him in 1999. In effect, FE wanted to apply the service credit enhancement to some
pension plan previously unknown to Pearson, and short him his credit under the FE
pension plan by not giving him credit for his service with DLC in addition to the credit
for his service with FENOC.” (Id. ¶¶ 27-28, emphasis in original.) Plaintiff objected by
letter to the calculation of service credit. William Meader, who held himself out as the
Plan Administrator, denied plaintiff’s request for additional service credit under the Plan.
(Id. ¶ 30.)
Plaintiff appealed Meader’s decision to the Plan Fiduciary. In connection
with his appeal, plaintiff sent an email to the Plan Fiduciary (via Meader) requesting
“certain documents and information . . . .” (Id. ¶ 53.) Meader refused to provide the
requested material, which included “a copy of the Plan Fiduciary’s prior decisions in the
same or similar cases where a pension plan participant has alleged he was missing service
credit under the Plan.” (Id. ¶ 54.) By letter dated September 25, 2013, the Plan Fiduciary
issued its final denial decision to plaintiff. On March 23, 2014, plaintiff filed the present
lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 32.)
In their motion to dismiss, defendants argue that plaintiff has “improperly
attempted to re-package his benefits claim as one alleging a breach of fiduciary duty[.]”
(MTD at 57.)1 Under these circumstances, defendants insist that plaintiff’s breach of
fiduciary claim (count two) must be dismissed. They further assert that plaintiff cannot
maintain his refusal to furnish documents claim (count three) because the documents
plaintiff requested—copies of prior decisions involving appeals by other participants
from service calculations under the Plan—are not among the categories of documents a
plan or plan administrator is required to provide under ERISA. (Id. at 58.)
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
In reviewing a complaint in the context of a motion to dismiss under Fed.
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to
the plaintiff and accept all well-pleaded material allegations in the complaint as true. Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007).
Although a complaint need not contain “detailed factual allegations[,]” it does require
more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause
of action[.]” Id. at 555. Thus, a complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it “contain[s]
All page number references are to the page identification number generated by the Court’s electronic
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)
(quotation marks and citation omitted). And, “‘[a] claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.’” Hensley Mfg. v. ProPride, Inc., 579
F.3d 603, 609 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.)
Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim
Plaintiff’s complaint merely cites 29 U.S.C. § 1132 as the source for his
denial of benefits claim (count one) and his breach of fiduciary claim. Section
1132(a)(1)(B) provides for a civil action by a plan participant or beneficiary “to recover
benefits due 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[.]” 29 U.S.C. §
1132(a)(1)(B). Section 1132(a)(3) provides for an action by a plan participant,
beneficiary, or fiduciary “to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of
this subchapter or the terms of the plan,” or “to obtain other appropriate equitable relief to
redress such violations or to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the terms of the
plan[.]” (internal numerals and letters omitted).
“A fiduciary must discharge his duties with respect to the plan ‘solely in
the interest of the participants and beneficiaries.’” Haviland v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 730
F.3d 563, 570 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a)(1)). “Misleading
communications to plan participants ‘regarding plan administration (for example,
eligibility under a plan, the extent of benefits under a plan) will support a claim for
breach of fiduciary duty.’” Drennan v. Gen. Motors Corp., 977 F.2d 246, 251 (6th Cir.
1992) (quoting Berlin v. Mich. Bell Tel. Co., 858 F.2d 1154, 1163 (6th Cir. 1988)). “A
misrepresentation is material ‘if there is a substantial likelihood that it would mislead a
reasonable employee in making an adequately informed decision . . .’ [regarding ERISA
benefits.]” Stark v. Mars, Inc., 790 F. Supp. 2d 658, 669 (S.D. Ohio 2011) (quoting
Krohn v. Huron Mem. Hosp., 173 F.3d 542, 547 (6th Cir. 1999)).
While conceding the existence of such a claim under ERISA, defendants
insist that plaintiff cannot simultaneously maintain a denial of benefits claim under §
1132(a)(1)(B) and a breach of fiduciary claim under ERISA’s “catchall provision” in §
1132(a)(3). Indeed, it is true that “[t]he Supreme Court clearly limited the applicability of
§ 1132(a)(3) to beneficiaries who may not avail themselves of § 1132’s other remedies.”
Wilkins v. Baptist Healthcare Sys., Inc., 150 F.3d 609, 615 (6th Cir. 1998) (citing Varity
Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 512, 116 S. Ct. 1065, 134 L. Ed. 2d 130 (1996)). Thus, an
ERISA claimant cannot “simply characterize a denial of benefits as a breach of fiduciary
duty[.]” Id. at 616; see Tackett v. M & G Polymers, USA, LLC, 561 F.3d 478, 491 (6th
Cir. 2009) (relief under § 1132(a)(3) is not appropriate where plaintiff merely
“repackage[s]” a § 1132(a)(1)(B) benefits claim) (quoting Varity, 516 U.S. at 515).
Accordingly the Court must determine whether plaintiff’s fiduciary duty claim can
coexist with his denial of benefits claim.
In Stark, the plan participant alleged that she relied upon the
representation by the plan fiduciary as to the expected amount of her monthly benefit in
selecting the date she wished to begin receiving pension benefits. After receiving five
monthly payments at the represented amount, she was advised that her benefits had been
miscalculated, and that she was only entitled to a smaller amount as a monthly payout.
The plaintiff brought suit alleging, among other things, that her benefits were improperly
calculated under the plan, and that she relied on material misrepresentations concerning
her retirement benefits. Stark, 790 F. Supp. 2d at 661-63.
The court permitted the plaintiff to proceed simultaneously with both a
denial of benefits claim and a fiduciary duty claim, observing that “[w]hether plaintiff is
entitled to equitable relief based on the fact that plaintiff elected to begin receiving
retirement benefits when she did (prior to reaching age 65) based on the
misrepresentations [regarding the amount of the monthly benefit] involves issues
completely distinct from whether plaintiff was actually entitled to the greater benefit
under the terms of the Plan.” Stark, 790 F. Supp. 2d at 669; see Gore v. El Paso Energy
Corp. Long Term Disability Plan, 477 F.3d 833, 840 (6th Cir. 2007). Further, the court
emphasized that “[t]he allegations in plaintiff’s claim for breach of fiduciary duty do not
refer to any entitlement to the greater benefit under the terms of the Plan, and are not
sufficient to state a claim under § 1132(a)(1)(B). Thus, it is not simply a repackaged
benefits claim.”2 Stark, 790 F. Supp. 2d at 669.
In arriving at the conclusion that the fiduciary duty claim was viable, the
court relied, in part, on Jones v. Am. Gen. Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 370 F.3d 1065, 1071
(11th Cir. 2004). There, the plaintiffs brought a denial of benefits claim and a breach of
fiduciary duty claim based on alleged misrepresentations by the plan fiduciary. The court
In fact, the court went on to note that, “if plaintiff is correct when she states in her memorandum contra . .
. , that she is only entitled to [the recalculated monthly benefit] under the terms of the Plan, and she decides
to abandon her § 1132(a)(1)(B) claim completely, then the only other ERISA statute which could
conceivably afford her the relief she seeks is § 1132(a)(3), and dismissal of that claim at this stage of the
case would be premature.” Id.
allowed both claims to proceed, noting that the plaintiffs conceded, for purposes of the
fiduciary duty claim, that they were not entitled to the benefit they sought under the terms
of the plan. See Jones, 370 F.3d at 1074.
The court in Stark also found that the fact that the plaintiff stated in her
complaint that she was seeking to obtain the higher retirement benefit she claimed she
was wrongfully denied did not “automatically convert her equitable claim into a claim for
Plan benefits under § 1132(a)(1)(B).” Stark, 790 F. Supp. 2d at 670 (“The Sixth Circuit
has stated that in cases of misrepresentation, the court has ‘awarded equitable relief,
including denied benefits.’”) (quoting Del Rio v. Toledo Edison Co., 130 F. App’x 746
(6th Cir. 2005)); but see Donati v. Ford Motor Co. Gen. Ret. Plan, No. 13-14496, 2014
WL 3663966, at *2 (E.D. Mich. July 23, 2014) (rejecting a fiduciary duty claim as a
repackaging of a denial of benefits claim based, in part, on the fact that the plaintiff was
seeking the same relief in both claims—the wrongfully withheld benefit).
Like the plaintiff in Stark, plaintiff has conceded—for the purposes of his
fiduciary duty claim—that the material representations he relied upon “were false and
contrary to the Plan’s terms.” (Compl. ¶ 43.) Specifically, plaintiff has alleged that
defendants breached their fiduciary duty owed to him as a plan participant when they
knowingly and falsely represented that his DLC service credit would be added to his
FENOC service credit when calculating his pension benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 41, 43.) Thus,
the injury set forth in count two flows from the alleged misrepresentation and is separate
and distinct from the injury alleged in count one flowing from the alleged denial of
benefits under the Plan. (See Compl. ¶ 50 [“Based on the [allegations in count two], the
Plan and the Plan Fiduciary should be estopped from denying Pearson the additional
service credit that he was promised by FENOC.”], emphasis added.)
Moreover, access to a denial of benefits claim (alone) will not necessarily
provide plaintiff with relief. Because his wrongful denial of benefits claim hinges on a
determination of what plaintiff was actually entitled to receive under the Plan and the
attendant agreements relative to plaintiff’s employment, plaintiff will only recover under
§ 1132(a)(1)(B) if the alleged representations made to him were correct. If, as plaintiff
alleges in count two, the representations were false, plaintiff must look to the catchall
provision of § 1132(a)(3) for relief.
Of course, the fact that these alternatively pled claims are mutually
exclusive is of no consequence at the pleading stage. Under Rule 8, “[a] party may state
as many separate claims or defenses as it has, regardless of consistency.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(d)(3) (emphasis added); see Son v. Coal Equity, Inc., 122 F. App’x 797, 802 (6th Cir.
2004) (noting that “the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit pleading in the
alternative and even the pleading of inconsistent claims”) (citing former Fed. R. Civ. P.
8(e)(2)); Ajuba Intern, L.L.C. v. Saharia, 871 F. Supp. 2d 671, 688 (E.D. Mich. 2012)
(“Under Rule 8, a pleading does not become insufficient by reason of a party having
made alternative, or even contradictory, claims.”) (quotation marks and citations
omitted); Baumgardner v. Bimbo Ford Bakeries Dist. Inc., 697 F. Supp. 2d 801, 816
(N.D. Ohio 2010) (“And it is true that Rule 8 explicitly allows a party to plead
inconsistent claims.”) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(d)(3)).
As the record develops in discovery, plaintiff may be forced to abandon
one of his alternatively pled theories for recovery because no single set of facts will
simultaneously support both claims.3 However, at this stage of the proceedings, the Court
must conclude that plaintiff has successfully pled both types of individual actions
permitted under § 1132, and that his denial of benefits claim, alone, cannot necessarily
afford him complete relief. As such, dismissal of plaintiff’s fiduciary duty claim at this
time would be premature. See DePaepe v. Gen. Motors Corp., 141 F.3d 715, 719 (7th
Cir. 1998) (noting, under former Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(2), that “[i]nconsistent pleadings are
allowable, and the use of discovery to winnow or refine theories of liability should not be
discouraged”) (internal citation omitted).
Equitable Estoppel Claim
Plaintiff posits that he has also successfully pled an equitable estoppel
claim.4 Though a fiduciary duty claim and an equitable estoppel claim may both rely on
material misrepresentations made by a plan fiduciary, they are distinct claims that require
separate analysis. In Bloemker v. Laborers’ Local 265 Pension Fund, 605 F.3d 436, 444
(6th Cir. 2010), the Sixth Circuit recognized the availability of equitable estoppel claims
in the context of ERISA pension plans, holding that:
a plaintiff can invoke equitable estoppel in the case of unambiguous
pension plan provisions where the plaintiff can demonstrate the traditional
elements of estoppel, including that the defendant engaged in intended
deception or such gross negligence as to amount to constructive fraud,
plus (1) a written representation; (2) plan provisions which, although
unambiguous, did not allow for individual calculation of benefits; and (3)
The Court makes no determination, at this time, as to whether (and how much) discovery will be
permitted in this litigation. Issues involving discovery will be discussed at the Case Management
It is true that count two is labeled “Breach of Fiduciary Duty[.]” (Compl. at 8.) However, the failure to
correctly label or categorize the legal theory giving rise to the cause of action is not fatal to the claim. See
Gean v. Hattaway, 330 F.3d 758, 765 (6th Cir. 2003) (analyzing complaint under the IDEA and the
Rehabilitation Act even though it specifically referred only to 42 U.S.C. § 1983) (citations omitted).
Instead, the complaint allegations must be reviewed to determine whether they support a claim.
extraordinary circumstances in which the balance of equities strongly
favors the application of estoppel.
Under the common law, the elements of an estoppel claim are: (1) conduct or language
amounting to a material representation; (2) awareness of the true facts by the party to be
estopped; (3) an intention that the representation be acted upon; (4) unawareness of the
true facts by the individual to whom the representations are made; and (5) detrimental
and justifiable reliance by the party asserting estoppel. Id. at 442 (citations omitted).
Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to set forth a claim for equitable
estoppel. He has alleged that defendants themselves, or through a predecessor in interest,
made material representations to plaintiff regarding the operation of an ERISA pension
plan and the impact that certain employment agreements would have on the Plan.
(Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10, 16-30, and 38-49.) He has further alleged that these representations
were false (Id. ¶ 43), that defendants intended for plaintiff to rely on these representations
(Id. ¶ 47), knowing that they were false (Id. ¶ 46), and that plaintiff did reasonably and
justifiably rely on those representations to his detriment. (Id. ¶ 8 [relocated family and
abandoned a consulting business], ¶ 13 [accepted employment subject to the
understanding that he would obtain 10 years of service in 5 years of employment], ¶ 42.)
The additional requirement that the misrepresentation be in writing is also satisfied, as it
is alleged that both the employment agreement and written correspondence contained
these material representations. (Id. ¶¶ 15-18, 23.)
With respect to the final requirements—that there are extraordinary
circumstances and that plaintiff justifiably relied on the unambiguous terms of the Plan—
plaintiff has alleged that defendants, or their predecessors in interest, repeatedly
represented that plaintiff would have sufficient service years to qualify for a full pension,
only to discover later that his service time was a month shy of the necessary 10 years.
Plaintiff has also alleged that he repeatedly and diligently attempted to ascertain the
correct amount of his monthly benefit but was thwarted by defendants’ representatives.
These facts set forth a plausible showing of extraordinary circumstances. See, e.g., Pell v.
E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., Inc., 539 F.3d 292, 304-05 (3d Cir. 2008) (“DuPont’s
repeated affirmative misrepresentations [regarding the plan participant’s beginning
service date], combined with Pell’s diligence, demonstrate that there are extraordinary
circumstances.”); Stark, 790 F. Supp. 2d at 671 (similar). Accordingly, the Court finds
that plaintiff has pled sufficient facts to set forth a claim of equitable estoppel.
Refusal to Provide Information and Documents Claim
In his third cause of action, plaintiff alleges that defendants failed to
provide copies of prior decisions involving challenges by other plan participants of
service credit calculations under the Plan. Plaintiff’s refusal to provide documents claim
is brought pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c)(1)(B), which authorizes pension plan
participants to sue ERISA plan administrators for a penalty if they fail to:
[C]omply with a request for any information which such administrator is
required by this subchapter to furnish to a participant or beneficiary
(unless such failure or refusal results from matters reasonably beyond the
control of the administrator) by mailing the material requested to the last
known address of the requesting participant or beneficiary within 30 days
after such request . . . .
Section 1132(c)(1)(B) must be read in connection with 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b), which
identifies the types of documents that must be produced by the plan administrator upon
request. Specifically, that section provides:
The administrator shall, upon written request of any participant or
beneficiary, furnish a copy of the latest updated summary, [sic] plan
description, and the latest annual report, any terminal report, the
bargaining agreement, trust agreement, contract, or other instruments
under which the plan is established or operated. . . .
§ 1024(b)(4). Because prior decisions involving the calculation of service credit are not
among the documents specifically mentioned in § 1024(b)(4), plaintiff can only prevail
on claim three if the documents he requested constitute “other instruments upon which
the plan is established or operated.”
The Sixth Circuit has held that the term “other instruments” in §
1024(b)(4) “is . . . properly limited to those class of documents which provide a plan
participant with information concerning how the plan is operated.” Allinder v. Inter-City
Prods. Corp. (USA), 152 F.3d 544, 549 (6th Cir. 1998) (emphasis in original).
Notwithstanding this attempt to define the scope of this term, the Sixth Circuit has also
emphasized that the “purpose of ERISA’s disclosure requirements is to ensure that ‘the
individual participant knows exactly where he stands with respect to the plan.’” Bartling
v. Fruehauf Corp., 29 F.3d 1062, 1070 (6th Cir. 1994) (quoting Firestone Tire & Rubber
Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 118, 109 S. Ct. 948, 103 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1989)). For this
reason, the court in Bartling noted that, “all other things being equal, courts should favor
disclosure where it would help participants understand their rights.” Id.
The documents at issue in Bartling were actuarial valuation reports.
Because such reports are required for every third plan year, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
1023(d), the court determined that they were “indispensable to the operation of the plan.
As such, they [were] ‘instruments under which the plan . . . operated,’ which must be
disclosed upon request upon the plain language of § 1024(b)(4).” Bartling, 29 F.3d at
1070 (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4)); but see Jordan v. Tyson Foods, Inc., 312 F.
App’x 726, 734-35 (6th Cir. 2008) (finding that the ruling in Bartling was not so broad as
to reach a request for copies of plaintiff’s enrollment forms).
While Bartling urges a rather expansive reading of the “other instruments”
category of documents, it remains true that a plan administrator is under no obligation to
provide documents not contemplated by the statute, no matter how helpful they might be
to the individual plan participant. See Hamilton v. Hartford Life and Acc. Ins. Co., No.
CV-06-417-TUC-DCB, 2009 WL 5872975, at *5 (D. Ariz. Apr. 14, 2009) (“There exists
a plethora of cases which establish the rule that ERISA sets a ceiling as to the disclosure
of information—overbroad requests for information need not be complied with.”)
(collecting cases), aff’d, 378 F. App’x 717 (9th Cir. 2010); Ames v. Am. Nat’l Can Co.,
170 F.3d 751, 758-59 (7th Cir. 1999) (“If it had meant to require production of all
documents relevant to a plan, Congress could have said so.”); see generally Dobson v.
Hartford, 389 F.3d 386, 401 (2d Cir. 2004) (noting in breach of fiduciary duty claim that
“[t]he authorities do not suggest that the disclosure obligation applies to every piece of
information a beneficiary might find useful in seeking a recovery from the plan”).
The parties have pointed to no case authority interpreting requests for copies
of prior decisions involving service time calculations, and the Court’s research has not
uncovered any. Nonetheless, plaintiff suggests that a fiduciary must take such prior
rulings into consideration if it is to fulfill its fiduciary role, and cites to 29 U.S.C. §
1104(a) for support. Section 1104(a), however, merely sets forth the fiduciary’s general
responsibility to execute his duties “with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence” of a
“prudent man,” and says nothing about the reference to prior decisions. § 1104(a)(1)(B).
More to the point, plaintiff has failed to offer any support for his position that prior
rulings involving other plan participants would provide a plan participant with
information concerning how the plan is operated.
Thus, the Court turns to decisions addressing requests for information
regarding other plan participants. In Hughes Salaried Retirees Action Comm. v. Adm’r of
the Hughes Non-Bargaining Ret. Plan, 72 F.3d 686 (9th Cir. 1995), the court ruled that a
plan administrator was not required, under 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4), to honor a plan
participant’s request for the names and addresses of other retired plan participants,
finding that to rule otherwise would “strain the meaning” of this section. Id. at 689
(quotation marks omitted). The court reasoned that, “[u]nlike the documents specifically
listed in [29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4)]—plan descriptions, annual and terminal reports, and
bargaining and trust agreements—participants’ names and address provide no
information about the plan or benefits.” Id. at 690.
Similarly, in Sahlie v. Nolen, 984 F. Supp. 1389, 1403 (M.D. Ala. 1997),
the court rejected the plaintiffs’ denial of documents claim, which was premised upon a
failure to provide a list of the account balances of all participants in the plan. The court
found that such information was not necessary to ensure an understanding of how the
plan operated, nor would it clarify the benefits that were available to the plan
participant—Sahlie. In reaching this conclusion, the court underscored the fact that it was
“the calculation of Mr. Sahlie’s account, not those of the other Plan participants, that is at
issue here.” Id. See also Dobson, 389 F.3d at 402 (in connection with a breach of
fiduciary duty claim, plan participants were not entitled to examples of other plan
participants who had been paid delayed interest on their claims). The court also
specifically observed that such a result would be appropriate even under the more
“expansive” reading of the term suggested by the Sixth Circuit in Bartling, noting that
“the information requested by the plaintiffs would not fall within the purview of
‘instruments under which the plan . . . operated.’” Id. (quoting 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4)).
These cases stand in sharp contrast to those cases where the requested
documents related to the determination of the plaintiff’s benefits. For example, in Mondry
v. Am. Fam. Mut. Ins. Co., 557 F.3d 781, 800 (7th Cir. 2009), the court ruled that a plan
participant was entitled to receive the plan administrator’s internal guidelines because it
expressly relied on them in denying the participant’s claim for benefits. See, e.g., Arp v.
Whirlpool Corp., No. 3:12 CV 770, 2012 WL 2826972, at *3 (N.D. Ohio July 10, 2012)
(a request for information relating to the calculation of the plaintiffs’ service credit was
covered by 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4) because such information would help the plaintiffs
“understand their rights to benefits under the terms of the Plan.”) (emphasis added); Teen
Help, Inc. v. Operating Eng’rs Health and Welfare Trust Fund, No. C 98-2084 VRW,
1999 WL 1069756, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 24, 1999) (internal review criteria used to
calculate plaintiff’s benefits was subject to disclosure, upon request); see also Cataldo v.
U.S. Steel Corp., 676 F.3d 542, 556 (6th Cir. 2012) (disclosure limited to copies of
plaintiffs’ most recent benefit calculations satisfied plaintiffs’ general request for
Even affording an expansive interpretation to the catchall provision in 29
U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4), the Court concludes that the requested documents would not provide
plaintiff with information concerning how the Plan is operated. Nor could rulings on the
service calculations of other plan participants show plaintiff exactly where he stood with
respect to the Plan. This is especially true in plaintiff’s case because his service year
calculation under the Plan was allegedly modified by the side employment agreements he
entered into with DLC and FENOC—agreements that did not apply to other plan
participants. The treatment of service credit for other participants, under dissimilar
circumstances, would not clarify the benefits available to plaintiff or help him understand
his rights. Because the Court finds, as a matter of law, that plaintiff’s request fell outside
the purview of 29 U.S.C. § 1024(b)(4), defendants were not obligated to provide plaintiff
with the documents he requested, and their motion to dismiss claim three is granted.
For all of the foregoing reasons, defendants’ motion to dismiss is granted,
in part, and denied, in part. Plaintiff’s claim for refusal to furnish documents is dismissed
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: December 31, 2014
HONORABLE SARA LIOI
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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