Keith v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER (Signed by Judge Sim Lake) Parties notified. (aboyd, 4)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE
COMPANY, CENTRAL BANK, and
CENTRAL BANK WELFARE BENEFIT
CIVIL ACTION NO. H-15-1030
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Linda Keith, brought this action against defendants,
Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"), Central Bank, and
Central Bank Welfare Benefit Plan,
for breach of fiduciary duty
under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act
§§ 1001, et seg.
and May 16, 2017.
The case was tried to the court on May 15
After carefully considering the evidence and the
parties' arguments, the court makes the following findings of fact
and conclusions of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
52 (a) (1).
Factual Backqround 1
Linda Keith met John P. White in 1995.
White was a customer
restaurant Keith then owned and operated.
The two became
Unless otherwise indicated, these facts are taken from the
Admissions of Fact section of the Joint Pretrial Order, Docket
Entry No. 53, pp. 11-15, or from trial testimony.
close friends and remained so until White's death in 2013.
was a regular at Keith's restaurant and sought Keith's occasional
assistance in an unsuccessful business venture.
After White closed his business he was hired by Advantage
employees, and Central Bank had fewer than 100 employees.
As part of his job White was required to pre-
qualify customers, which involved reading and understanding complex
Welfare Plan, which provided Central Bank employees with a number
of benefits -- including health insurance, supplemental insurance,
Descriptions of these benefits were made available to employees
A life insurance
online and at annual open enrollment meetings.
policy covering up to two times the employee's salary was provided
From 2008 to 2013 White designated Keith as the beneficiary of
his life insurance policy several times.
In 2012 White did not
Certificate of Insurance, Plaintiff's Ex. 4, p. 19.
designated his checking account payable on death to her.
his employment with Central Bank White never purchased supplemental
insurance, participated in the employer-matched§ 401(k) plan, or
elected to increase his life insurance coverage at his own expense.
In 2010 White began to complain of difficulties using his left
White was eventually diagnosed as suffering from monoplegia
and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
commonly known as Lou
As White's physical condition deteriorated, he
could no longer perform his job duties at the bank, and a mutual
decision was made for White to take a leave of absence.
last workday at the bank was March 7, 2013, after which he began a
Central Bank continued to make premium payments for White's group
insurance coverages, including his life insurance, while White was
Central Bank's long-term disability (LTD)
and claims administrator was MetLife.
On March 17,
applied for LTD benefits under MetLife's policy.
On March 18,
application, requested additional information needed to perfect the
Security disability (SSD) benefits.
Guardian Insurance Application, Central Bank's Ex. 5, p. 2.
President and Human Resources Manager, Judy Rogers, to discuss his
Rogers confirmed that White wanted to make no changes to
beneficiary of his life insurance policy.
Rogers discussed with
White the option of maintaining his life insurance policy after
termination at his own expense.
Rogers told White that Central
Bank would make premium payments on the policy through June 1,
2013, after which White would need to make the payments. 4
said that he was not interested in maintaining his life insurance
policy after his termination, and Rogers therefore did not provide
him with the paperwork necessary to do so. 5
Central Bank did not
then or at any later time provide White with individual written
notice of his right to maintain his life insurance policy.
Rogers advised White that after June 30,
2013, he would be responsible for his own health insurance but made
no further mention of life insurance. 6
After White ceased working Rogers continued to assist him with
claims for LTD benefits and SSD benefits.
On March 20, 2013, White
Documents and testimony establish to the court's satisfaction
that White's monthly cost to convert the Policy to an individual
policy was $448.93.
The court finds credible Rogers' account of the March 19,
2013, meeting with White and her stated basis for not providing
White with the paperwork for porting or converting his policy.
Plaintiff's Ex. 47.
was interviewed by a MetLife Claim Specialist. 7
about the MetLife representative to Rogers, who then complained to
MetLife and White, instructing MetLife to communicate through her
to avoid burdening White. 8
White was in frequent contact with both Rogers and MetLife in
the months before his death.
Specialist spoke with White. 9
On March 22, 2013, a MetLife Claim
Rogers emailed White
White emailed Rogers on March 25, 2013, to notify her that
he would be "visiting with Social Security" that week and that he
had received the paperwork from MetLife. 11
On March 26,
MetLife approved White's application for LTD benefits and advised
White that his LTD benefits would begin on June 6, 2013, after a
three-month elimination period. 12
although not actively
was to remain employed by Central Bank through June 5,
During this time he used the remainder of his vacation and
MetLife Claim Activity Record, Plaintiff's Ex. 34, pp. 7-14.
°Central Bank's Ex. 17 -A.
Central Bank's Ex. 19.
MetLife Claim Activity Record, Plaintiff's Ex. 34, p. 33.
On April 9,
MetLife internally generated a claim for
continuation of group life insurance for White. 13
On May 9, 2013,
MetLife sent a letter (uthe May 9th letter") to White acknowledging
ureceipt" of the April 9, 2013, claim. 14
MetLife' s May 9th letter
stated that White's group life insurance plan included ua provision
that continues your coverage while you are not actively at work,"
advised White that a representative umay be in contact" and that
u [n] o action" was required from White at the time.
not send the May 9th letter to Central Bank.
On May 21, 2013, MetLife again wrote to White (uthe May 21st
letter"), this time copying Rogers, stating that his insurance plan
consecutive months before he would be eligible for continuation of
Plaintiff's Ex. 26, p. 1.
Despite admitting in its earlier briefing, and in the
Admissions of Fact section of the Joint Pretrial Order (Docket Entry
No. 53, p. 14), that MetLife usent" letters to White, MetLife now
contends that Keith failed to prove the letters were actually mailed
The Fifth Circuit uha [s] recognized that ' [p] lacing
letters in the mail may be proved by circumstantial evidence,
including customary mailing practices used in the sender's
business.'" Custer v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., 503 F.3d 415, 420 (5th
Cir. 2007) (citing Wells Fargo Business Credit v. Ben Kozloff, Inc.,
695 F.2d 940,
(5th Cir. 1983)).
The court finds the
circumstantial evidence in this case, including MetLife's system
notes (Plaintiff's Ex. 33) and Rogers' receipt of a copy of the
May 21st letter, sufficient to prove that both letters were sent and
therefore, presumptively, received by White.
See United States v.
Ekong, 518 F.3d 285, 287 (5th Cir. 2007) (citing Beck v. Somerset
Technologies, Inc., 882 F.2d 993, 996 (5th Cir. 1989)).
group life insurance coverage during his absence from work. 16
May 21st letter also stated that MetLife would defer making a
decision on White's claim for continuation of group life insurance
Neither the May 9th nor the May 21st letter mentioned
the need to convert White's life insurance policy or that White
because he had not become totally disabled before reaching the age
of 60. 18
On May 28,
MetLife contacted White regarding his LTD
day Rogers 20
understanding of the meaning" of the May 21st letter and was told
individual policy in order to maintain coverage during the waiting
Rogers did not provide this information to White,
there is no evidence that White inquired about either the May 9th
Plaintiff' s Ex. 26, p. 2.
See Certificate of Insurance, Plaintiff's Ex.
("Total disability must start before You attain age 60
MetLife Claim Activity Record, Plaintiff's Ex. 34, p. 42.
The court's earlier Memorandum Opinion and Order (Docket
Entry No. 48) at page 14 mistakenly stated that "White" contacted
MetLife on May 28.
MetLife Claims Comment List, Plaintiff's Ex. 33, p. 5.
or the May 21st MetLife letter or about any options pertaining to
his life insurance policy. 22
White was formally terminated from his position with Central
Bank at the end of his FMLA leave on June 5, 2013.
made its final payment on White's life insurance policy on June 1,
White's life insurance coverage ended on June 30,
first LTD payment to White was made by check in the
latter part of June 2013.
Throughout the month of June, White,
White's LTD payments.
White continued to participate in the benefits process.
White drove to the bank to drop off papers for
White emailed Rogers the following day to say that he had
communication with White was on September 5,
reduction of his SSD insurance payment. 24
Keith notified MetLife of White's death and MetLife
On November 25,
MetLife denied Keith's claim for life insurance benefits. 25
instructed her to submit a death claim.
The court finds credible Rogers' testimony that she continued
to operate under the belief that White was not interested in paying
for life insurance benefits.
Plaintiff' s Ex. 50.
MetLife Claim Activity Record, Plaintiff's Ex. 34, p. 59.
MetLife denial letter to Linda Keith, Plaintiff's Ex. 27.
appealed the denial of her claim.
On May 1, 2014, MetLife denied
Keith's appeal because White's coverage ended on June 30,
following the last premium payment on June 1,
White was not eligible for continuation of his insurance since he
old when he
Original Complaint against defendants on April 21, 2015. 27
An individual plan beneficiary may bring suit for equitable
for breach of a
fiduciary duty under ERISA' s
"catch-all" provision, which provides:
A civil action may be brought . . . (3) by a participant,
beneficiary, or fiduciary (A) to enjoin any act or
practice which violates any provision of this subchapter
or the terms of the plan, or (B) to obtain other
appropriate equitable relief
to redress such
violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this
subchapter or the terms of the plan[.]
1132 (a) (3).
To recover "appropriate equitable relief,"
"must establish that
(c) that such a breach caused the plaintiff's injury, and (d) that
the equitable relief sought is indeed appropriate."
Transocean Offshore Deepwater. Inc., Civil Action No. 4:10-cv-1500,
2011 WL 3418405, at *5 (S.D. Tex. Aug. 3, 2011)
(citing Brosted v.
MetLife denial-of-appeal letter to Linda Keith, Plaintiff's
Docket Entry No. 1.
Unum Life Insurance Company of America, 421 F.3d 459, 465 (7th Cir.
(other citations omitted).
Fiduciary Status 28
fiduciary duty "is not whether the actions of some person employed
120 S. Ct. 2143, 2152-53 (2000).
"[T]he issue of ERISA fiduciary
status is a mixed question of fact and law."
but whether that person was acting as a
taking the action subject to complaint."
Reich v. Lancaster,
fiduciary to the extent that:
any discretionary authority or
discretionary control respecting management of such plan
or exercises any authority or control respecting
management or disposition of its assets, (ii) he renders
investment advice for a fee or other compensation, direct
or indirect, with respect to any moneys or other property
of such plan, or has any authority or responsibility to
do so, or (iii) he has any discretionary authority or
discretionary responsibility in the administration of
1002 (21) (A)
fiduciary within the
meaning of ERISA must be someone acting in the capacity of manager
The court is aware that fiduciaries under the Plan owe a duty
to both participants and non-participant beneficiaries.
the alleged harm is the loss of benefits under a life insurance
policy issued to White for the benefit of Keith, their benefits
were aligned, and no further distinction need be made between
acting for White's benefit or for Keith's.
performing administrative duties as required by the plan is not a
See 29 C.F.R.
492 F. App'x 559,
2509.75-8; Walker v. Federal
Lockheed Martin Corp., 287 F.3d 202, 207 (1st Cir. 2002); Plumb v.
Fluid Pump Service, Inc., 124 F.3d 849, 854-55 (7th Cir. 1997).
Breach of Fiduciary Duties
discharge his duties with respect to a plan solely in the interest
exclusive purpose of:
(i) providing benefits to participants; and
(ii) defraying reasonable expenses of administering the plan."
1104 (a) (1) (A).
Such duties shall be discharged "with the
care, skill, prudence, and diligence under the circumstances then
1104 (a) (1) (B) .
"Other than including these general dictates,
not expressly enumerate the particular duties of a
fiduciary, but rather relies on the common law of trusts to define
the general scope of a fiduciary's responsibilities."
338 F.3d 407,
quotation marks omitted) .
"A trustee has a duty in dealing with a
beneficiary to deal fairly and to communicate to the beneficiary
all material facts the trustee knows or should know in connection
With the rna t ter.
7 8 ( 2 0 0 7) .
participants may owe a duty to "do so in a manner calculated to
See Switzer v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 52 F.3d 1294,
1298-1299 (5th Cir. 1995)
(holding that the Fifth Circuit "d[id]
not necessarily disagree" with the district court's implication).
performance of [its] duties,
'materially mislead those to whom the
duties of loyalty and prudence are owed.'"
Corp. 204 F.3d 475, 492 (3d Cir. 2000).
Adams v. Freedom Forge
Fiduciaries have "not only
a negative duty not to misinform, but also an affirmative duty to
inform when the
silence might be harmful."
Unisys Corp. Retiree Medical Benefits Erisa Litigation v. Unisys
Corp., 579 F.3d 220, 227 (3d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Bixler v. Central
Pennsylvania Teamsters Health & Welfare Fund, 12 F.3d 1292, 1300
If a fiduciary breaches a fiduciary duty, the plaintiff must
prove that the breach caused the plaintiff's injury in order to be
entitled to equitable relief.
2011 WL 3418405 at *5.
beneficiary must establish to recover for misrepresentations by a
fiduciary, but . . . to recover under an equitable estoppel theory,
an ERISA beneficiary 'must establish a material misrepresentation,
reasonable and detrimental reliance upon the representation, and
123 F. 3d 281,
law consistently and
2017 WL 1196857,
"strongly suggest [s]
detrimental reliance are required in the Fifth Circuit for an ERISA
beneficiary to recover for a breach of fiduciary duty."
Seventh Circuit has held that "a plaintiff must demonstrate that:
the defendant was
'acting in a fiduciary capacity;'
adequately inform plan participants and beneficiaries;'
(4) the plaintiff detrimentally relied on the misrepresentation or
Unisys, 579 F.3d at 228.
communication with him regarding that claim.
MetLife argues that
it was acting merely as claims administrator for the Central Bank
administrator who merely performs ministerial duties or processes
claims is not a fiduciary."
Reich, 55 F.3d at 1047.
who performs purely ministerial functions such as
policies, interpretations, rules, practices and procedures made by
other persons is not a fiduciary."
"because such person does
not have discretionary authority or
discretionary control respecting management of the plan, does not
disposition of the assets of the plan."
MetLife argues that
the April 9, 2013, internal claim was generated automatically on
White's behalf as a result of the determination of White's LTD
MetLife's representative testified that its policy is to
generating the internal claim for continuation of White's life
In doing so MetLife acted in its discretion on behalf of
a plan participant.
MetLife presented no evidence that the plan
documents required it to generate a claim on White's behalf or that
practices and procedures made by other
The evidence indicates that it was MetLife's own internal
determination of an LTD claim.
MetLife appears to have taken a
By exercising its discretion to assist White
MetLife therefore owed White a fiduciary duty to act in his best
interest and to avoid misinforming him. 29
Breach of Fiduciary Duties
MetLife owed White a statutory duty under ERISA to perform its
duties with respect to a plan solely in White's interest and to do
so with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence called for by the
It also owed White a duty to communicate with him
in a manner calculated to avoid confusion and misunderstanding, and
not to materially mislead him.
The court finds that MetLife did
not breach these fiduciary duties.
The evidence establishes that
MetLife was acting solely in White's interest by generating the
claim for continuation of coverage.
MetLife initiated the claims
process on White's behalf to make a potential benefit available to
him, notwithstanding that White was ultimately ineligible for the
benefit described in MetLife's letters.
The court has previously held that MetLife did not act as a
fiduciary in other respects. Memorandum Opinion and Order, Docket
Entry No. 48, pp. 10-11.
Although MetLife's actions could potentially have confused or
sending the May 9th and May 21st letters did not
constitute a breach of fiduciary duty because they contained no
When read in conjunction with the Plan documents,
letters did not misstate
the circumstances regarding
White's coverage or the status of the claim.
When the letters were
sent, White was still employed and his premiums were still being
paid by Central Bank.
no action was
The letters therefore accurately stated that
then required by White in order to maintain his
And because MetLife was not the Plan Administrator, it
owed no duty to provide White with notice of his options
maintaining coverage upon termination.
The court therefore finds
that MetLife did not breach any fiduciary duty to White.
Even if MetLife had breached a fiduciary duty, the court finds
that Keith has not proven that MetLife's actions were the cause of
her alleged harm (i.e.,
the loss of benefits under White's life
insurance policy) .
actions, White would have maintained his life insurance policy.
MetLife's letters in failing to take action to maintain his life
Because premium payments were required during
9-month waiting period before
any determination of
eligibility would be made, Keith must prove that White would have
made the payments had he known that he needed to do so.
The court finds credible Rogers' testimony that White told her
he had no interest in maintaining the life insurance policy at his
Rogers testified that she discussed White's option to
maintain his life insurance policy after his termination with him
during the exit interview on March 19, 2013.
White replied that he
had no interest in doing so, and Rogers therefore did not provide
him with any further information or with the accompanying paperwork.
In addition to Rogers'
supports a finding that White would not have maintained the policy
at his own expense.
White declined to participate in a number of
including a matching § 401(k) plan
and supplemental insurance.
White often failed to attend annual
paperwork months later.
discussed and often completed
Moreover, although White designated Keith
as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy for several years,
subsidized life insurance.
Although White was fond of Keith and wanted her to receive the
benefit.of his life insurance policy in the event of his death, the
knowing how long he might need to do so. 3 ° Furthermore, Keith stood
Evidence offered at trial shows that White's expected Social
Security income was $1,797.10 for September of 2013 and $1,902.00
thereafter (Central Bank's Ex. 21).
Evidence also showed that
(continued ... )
to receive the balance of White's checking account upon his death,
then valued at over $74,000.
And Keith was,
according to her
The court concludes that White would
not have elected to deplete his limited resources indefinitely in
exchange for a benefit that Keith did not need.
insurance policy at his own expense,
Keith has not proven by a
preponderance of the evidence that he would have done so but for
The evidence of White's ongoing interactions
with Central Bank, MetLife, and other benefit providers shows that
he was both willing and able to act to secure his desired benefits,
as he did with his SSD and LTD benefits.
White's duties at the bank
involved interpreting complex financial documents, and there is no
evidence of mental impairment at the time the letters were sent.
contacted either Rogers or MetLife for clarification.
finds that White did not detrimentally rely on the MetLife letters.
An employer, such as Central Bank, acts as an ERISA fiduciary
to the extent that it acts in its capacity as plan administrator.
( • • • continued)
White's premium payment would have been $448.93 per month, or over
20% of White's income. The only other asset identified that White
could have used to pay the premiums was the checking account that
he had designated payable on death to Keith.
Breach of Fiduciary Duties
obligation to pay "up to 9 months" of premium payments after White
to provide White with the
failed to communicate to White the
obtained in her May 28th phone call with MetLife.
Keith first argues that because White left work due to his
illness, Central Bank was obligated under the terms of White's life
insurance policy to pay his life insurance premiums for up to nine
"When construing ERISA plan
contract its ordinary and generally accepted meaning if such a
Sharpless, 364 F.3d 634, 641 (5th Cir. 2004)
The provision in the policy on which Keith relies states in part:
The Employer has elected to continue insurance by paying
premiums for employees who cease Active Work in an
eligible class for any of the reasons specified below.
You will be notified by the Employer how much You will be
required to contribute.
Insurance will continue for the following periods:
for the period You cease Active Work in an eligible
class due to injury or Sickness, up to 9 months;
At the end of any of the continuation periods listed
above, Your insurance will be affected as follows:
if You resume Active Work in an eligible class at
this time, You will continue to be insured under
the Group Policy;
if You do not resume Active Work in an eligible
class at this time,
Your employment will be
considered to end and Your insurance will end in
accordance with the DATE YOUR INSURANCE ENDS
subsection of the section entitled ELIGIBILITY
PROVISIONS: INSURANCE FOR YOU. 31
Although the court agrees that White qualified for up to nine
months of employer-paid premiums while on leave, 32 this provision
longer applied after White
clearly deals with temporary absences from work.
ceasing "Active Work."
It refers to
"Active Work" is defined in the policy as
"performing all of the usual and customary duties of Your job on a
basis. " 33
ceasing Active Work and ending employment.
Moreover, the eligible
categories of "continuation periods" involve temporary conditions
including injury or sickness,
These "continuation periods" may end with either a return to Active
Work or the end of employment.
White was initially entitled to a continuation period of up to
nine months of employer-paid premiums because he ceased Active Work
Certificate of Insurance, Plaintiff's Ex. 4, p. 30.
The court finds that White left work due
"Sickness" is a defined term including "illness."
White's ALS clearly qualifies, and because he ceased
ALS-related symptoms, White ceased work "due to .
Id. at 23.
Id. at 23.
work due to
due to sickness on March 7, 2013.
But White's continuation period
ended because of his termination on June 5,
DATE YOUR INSURANCE ENDS
Your insurance will end on the earliest of:
the end of the period for which the last premium
has been paid for You; or
for Basic Life Insurance, the last day of the
calendar month in which Your employment ends; Your
employment will end if You cease to be Actively at
Work in any eligible class, except as stated in the
section entitled CONTINUATION OF INSURANCE WITH
PREMIUM PAYMENT .
The policy states that insurance will end on the earliest of the
White was terminated on June 5, 2013.
insurance therefore ended no later than June 30, 2013, the last day
of the calendar month in which his employment ended.
employment ended White was no longer eligible for insurance under
Central Bank's group life insurance policy. 35
as a matter of law,
The court concludes,
that Central Bank was not required under the
terms of the policy to pay White's life insurance premium after he
The court also finds that Central Bank met its fiduciary duty
to inform White of his options upon termination.
The court finds
Certificate of Insurance, Plaintiff's Ex. 4, p. 27.
White would have
Under the terms of the policy,
maintain coverage at his own expense.
testimony that she explained White's options to
him in the March 19, 2013, exit interview.
Rogers owed no duty to
provide White with written notice of his life insurance options
requirement that employers provide written notice to employees of
their COBRA right to continue health coverage, no such statutory
requirement applies to life insurance.
Accident Insurance Co.,
997 F. Supp.
Prouty v. Hartford Life and
Nor did Rogers breach a fiduciary duty under the terms of the Plan.
Although Plan documents indicate that the Plan Administrator should
provide participants with a Notice of Right to Convert, Rogers was
not obligated to do so in light of White's statement that he was
explained in the Plan documents made available to all employees.
In support of Keith's arguments that Central Bank breached a
information regarding his benefits, Keith relies on a decision from
the Western District of Pennsylvania:
WL 1383922, at *1 (W.D. Pa. April 13, 2017).
an employer failed
In the Erwood case,
to provide written notice of
individual policy or with the conversion forms with which to do so.
At a meeting with the director of human resources and a benefits
representative for life insurance and long-term disability,
employee showed signs of mental
repeating the same
question several times, and his wife was distraught.
Id. at *3.
The employee's wife repeatedly asked if their benefits and coverage
would remain the same and received assurances from the director.
Id. at *2-3.
The employer provided the employee with an FMLA leave
packet that did not include the information necessary to allow him
to convert or continue coverage after the FMLA period.
Id. at *3.
While on leave, the employee's life insurance policy lapsed without
Id. at *11.
After the employee died, his wife's
claim for death benefits under the policy was denied.
Id. at *5.
information necessary to maintain his life insurance benefit and
that the employee and his wife relied to their detriment on the
employer's inadequate disclosures.
Id. at *12-13.
employee or his wife aware of their options either orally or in
Here Rogers explained White's options to him in the exit
interview and did not provide him with written notice based on his
In Erwood the employee and his wife clearly expressed a
desire to have their insurance benefits remain in effect.
expressed no interest in doing so when given the option by Rogers
at his exit interview. 36
The court in Erwood concluded that the
inaction that led to the lapse of coverage could only be explained
by a detrimental reliance on the employer's assurances.
court has previously explained,
there are other,
explanations for White's inaction.
Moreover, as the employer in
Erwood was aware, the employee was mentally impaired and his wife
By all accounts White's cognitive faculties were
unaffected by his illness, and he was actively involved in securing
his disability and health benefits up until the time of his death.
The court's holding in Erwood therefore does not support a finding
that Rogers breached any fiduciary duty to White.
Rogers did not breach a fiduciary duty to White by failing to
report to him the information she learned from MetLife regarding
his eligibility to convert his policy.
Rogers' communications with
MetLife did not yield any new, material information.
contacted MetLife to gain a clearer understanding of the May 21st
letter, she learned that White would need to convert his policy and
pay premiums in order to be eligible for a waiver.
Since White had
Keith argues that White's decision to continue with the same
designated beneficiary is evidence of White's intent to maintain
But maintaining Keith as beneficiary is only evidence
that White intended to maintain the status quo, with Central Bank
paying his premiums.
White's election is not evidence that he
would have maintained the policy at his own expense, and the court
has found otherwise.
already informed Rogers
maintain the life insurance policy, Rogers had no duty to advise
him that his options were unchanged since his exit interview.
There are two potential causes of harm based on the alleged
breaches by Central Bank.
If Central Bank owed a duty to continue
making payments on White's policy for nine months after he ceased
Active Work, the bank's failure to do so was unquestionably harmful
The court has explained why it concludes that Central
Bank owed no such duty.
raised by MetLife' s
Even if Central Bank's actions had constituted a breach
of fiduciary duty, the court finds that Keith has not proven that
those actions were the cause of her alleged harm (i.e., the loss of
benefits under White's life insurance policy).
Keith must prove
that but for Central Bank's actions White would have maintained his
Keith has failed to prove that Central Bank's actions
caused her alleged harm for
stated in Section III.A.3. above.
same reasons as
Based on Rogers' testimony and
the evidence of White's previous benefits elections,
that White knew he would have to pay for life insurance
benefits after June of 2013 and that he chose not to do so.
Attorneys' Fees and Costs
Defendants seek an award of costs, and Central Bank also seeks
Keith objects to an award of attorneys' fees.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that "[u]nless a
federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise,
Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) (1).
ERISA provides that
"the court in its discretion may allow a reasonable attorney's fee
and costs of action to either party."
1132 (g) (1).
"The Fifth Circuit has held that an award of costs in an ERISA case
is limited to those listed in 28 U.S.C.
United Way of Texas Gulf Coast, 802 F. Supp. 2d 847, 868 (S.D. Tex.
(citing Cook Children's Medical Center v.
New England PPO
Plan of General Consolidated Management, Inc., 491 F.3d 266, 275-76
(5th Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1180, 128 S. Ct. 1223, 170
L. Ed. 2d 6 0 ( 2 0 0 8) ) .
The United States Supreme Court has held that "a court 'in its
discretion' may award fees and costs 'to either party,' as long as
Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's Motion for
Costs and Brief in Support, Docket Entry No. 71; Defendants Central
Bank and Central Bank Welfare Benefit Plan's Motion for Recovery of
Attorneys' Fees and Costs and Brief in Support, Docket Entry
No. 72; Defendant Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's Supplement
to Its Motion for Costs, Docket Entry No. 74.
Plaintiff's Response to Defendant Central Bank and Central
Bank Welfare Benefit Plan's Motion for Recovery of Attorney's Fees
and Costs and Brief in Support, Docket Entry No. 73.
Reliance Standard Life
Insurance Co. ,
The Fifth Circuit
attorneys' fees under§ 1132(g) (1) in Iron Workers Local No. 272 v.
624 F.2d 1255,
Court's decision in Hardt,
Since the Supreme
the Fifth Circuit has held that the
Bowen test is no longer mandatory.
See, e.g., LifeCare Management
Services LLC v. Insurance Management Administrators Inc., 703 F.3d
Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., 428 F. App'x 394, 396
The court nevertheless finds
those factors helpful:
In deciding whether to award attorneys' fees to a party
under section 502(g), therefore, a court should consider
such factors as the following: ( 1) the degree of the
opposing parties' culpability or bad faith; (2) the
ability of the opposing parties to satisfy an award of
attorneys' fees; (3) whether an award of attorneys' fees
against the opposing parties would deter other persons
acting under similar circumstances; ( 4) whether the
parties requesting attorneys' fees sought to benefit all
participants and beneficiaries of an ERISA plan or to
resolve a significant legal question regarding ERISA
itself; and ( 5) the relative merits of the parties'
Bowen, 624 F.2d at 1266 (5th Cir. 1980)
The court finds that neither defendant breached a fiduciary
duty to Keith and that neither defendant's actions caused Keith's
degree of success on the merits.
therefore achieved some
The court therefore concludes
that an award of defendants' costs is appropriate. 39
At the conclusion of trial the court expressed its tentative
position that no attorneys'
fees would be awarded in this case.
Nothing has since persuaded the court to change its view.
dispute involved close questions that were well-suited to a trial
on the merits.
The result reached by the court was not a foregone
There is no culpability or bad faith on the part of
Keith in bringing this action.
Had the court not concluded at the
summary judgment stage that a reasonable factfinder could find in
favor of Keith, there would have been no trial.
Although the court
has no specific evidence as to whether Keith is able to satisfy an
award, even Central Bank's reduced fee request of $34,164.86 would
Keith's position, no such deterrence is warranted.
Keith did not
Each of the defendants has submitted a Bill of Costs and
MetLife has submitted further documentation in support of the costs
sought. These submissions are premature. Local Rule 54.2 states,
in part: "An application for costs shall be made by filing a bill
of costs within 14 days of the entry of a final judgment."
resolution of this case did not bring a substantial benefit to all
plan participants or resolve a significant question regarding ERISA
regarding the relative merits of the parties'
positions, the court notes that it took a trial during which the
court repeatedly questioned all parties, and the court's ultimate
resolution of disputed facts and murky law, to bring this matter to
The court concludes that no award of attorneys'
fees is warranted in this case.
If any finding of fact should more properly be characterized
as a conclusion of law,
it is hereby adopted as a conclusion of
If any conclusion of law should more properly be charac-
terized as a finding of fact, it is hereby adopted as a finding of
Based on the evidence, the court's credibility determinations,
entitled to relief under 29 U.S.C.
The court finds
that defendants did not breach any fiduciary duty to White or
either defendant breached a fiduciary duty
to White or Keith, the court finds that Keith provided no evidence
The fact that the court has not expressly addressed in this
Memorandum Opinion and Order any other arguments the parties may
have made reflects the court's conclusion that they lacked merit
and/or that the party asserting the argument failed to prove it at
that the alleged harm -- the loss of benefits -- was the result of
MetLife's action or Central Bank's inaction.
Consistent with the court's holding and findings,
will enter a final judgment that Keith take nothing from either
fees will be awarded.
Costs will be
taxed against Keith.
SIGNED at Houston, Texas, on this the 9th day of June, 2017.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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