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Medeiros v. Wells Fargo & Company Long Term Disability Plan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 1, 2014

Sharyn A. Medeiros, Plaintiff,
v.
Wells Fargo & Company Long Term Disability Plan, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

JOHN Z. BOYLE, Magistrate Judge.

Pending before the Court are (1) Defendant Liberty Life Assurance Company of Boston's ("Liberty") Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 13), and (2) Defendants Wells Fargo & Company Long Term Disability Plan ("the Plan") and Wells Fargo & Company's ("Wells Fargo") Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 27). Both Motions are fully briefed and no party has requested oral argument. For the reasons below, the Court will deny both Motions.

I. Background

Plaintiff was an employee of Wells Fargo. (Doc. 1 ¶ 10.) While employed, Plaintiff participated in the Plan. ( Id. ) The Plan "is a purported ERISA benefit plan established and maintained by Wells Fargo for the benefit of its employees. The Plan is a welfare benefit plan that offers long-term disability (LTD') benefits." ( Id. ¶ 2.) Wells Fargo is the Plan Administrator, Plan Sponsor and Employer for the Plan. ( Id. ¶ 4.) The Plan is insured by Liberty. ( Id. ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff "sustained a work injury to her left rib cage and spine in January 2010. She had persistent pain, which has only worsened and spread to other areas of her body, including her left arm and shoulder, back, hip, groin, and leg. The persistent pain she felt caused [her] to become depressed and anxious." ( Id. ¶ 36.) Plaintiff "completed 25 weeks of short-term disability (STD') benefits from January 17, 2011 through July 18, 2011 at 100% of her covered salary." ( Id. ¶ 39.) On August 9, 2011, Liberty approved Plaintiff's claim for LTD benefits. ( Id. ¶¶ 40-41.) However, Liberty terminated Plaintiff's LTD benefits two months later. ( Id. ¶ 42.) Plaintiff subsequently appealed that decision and her claim was referred to the Appeals Review Unit ("ARU"). ( Id. )

On December 8, 2011, after the ARU review, Liberty reinstated Plaintiff's LTD benefits. ( Id. ¶ 44.) Liberty subsequently terminated Plaintiff's LTD benefits on June 27, 2012. ( Id. ¶ 45.) After Plaintiff appealed the second termination of her LTD benefits, Liberty reinstated them effective June 28, 2012, in a letter dated March 14, 2013. ( Id. ¶¶ 46-47.)

On May 2, 2013, Liberty terminated Plaintiff's LTD benefits for a third time. ( Id. ¶ 48.) On November 13, 2013, Plaintiff timely appealed the decision. ( Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff claims that Liberty was required to make a decision regarding her appeal within 45 days and, if it could not do so, it was obligated to notify Plaintiff beforehand of the need for an extension. ( Id. ¶ 50.) The 45-day deadline expired on December 30, 2013 without a response from Liberty. ( Id. ¶¶ 51-52.) Plaintiff sent a letter dated January 23, 2014, in which she asked Liberty to provide a status update on its review of her appeal. ( Id. ¶ 53.) To date, Liberty has not provided Plaintiff with a response. ( Id. ¶ 54.) Since her last day worked, Plaintiff asserts that she remains "totally disabled" and eligible for LTD benefits under the Plan. ( Id. ¶¶ 55, 61.)

II. Discussion

In her Complaint, Plaintiff asserts three causes of action under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"): (1) recovery of plan benefits pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) against Liberty and the Plan; (2) failure to disclose and maintain plan documents pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(c) against Wells Fargo; and (3) breach of fiduciary duty pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) against Liberty and Wells Fargo. On June 20, 2014, Liberty filed a Motion to Dismiss Count III of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 13.) Liberty argues that in light of the Supreme Court's holding in Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489, 512 (1996), Plaintiff's § 1132(a)(3) breach of fiduciary duty claim in Count III is precluded by her § 1132(a)(1)(B) claim for benefits in Count I. ( Id. ) On July 23, 2014, Wells Fargo and the Plan filed a separate Motion to Dismiss, incorporating by reference the arguments Liberty made in its Motion. (Doc. 27.)

In Response to Liberty's Motion, Plaintiff argues that the relief she seeks in Count III of her Complaint is distinct from her claim for payment of benefits in Count I and, therefore, under CIGNA Corp. v. Amara, 131 S.Ct. 1866 (2011), she can proceed with all of her claims. (Doc. 23 at 5-6.) Plaintiff further claims that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allow her to plead inconsistent claims and alternative theories of relief. ( Id. at 6-7.) In Response to Wells Fargo and the Plan's Motion, Plaintiff argues that she does not seek duplicative relief by bringing her claim for breach of fiduciary duty against Wells Fargo because Wells Fargo is not named in Count I of the Complaint.[1] (Doc. 28.)

On July 17, 2014, Liberty filed a Reply in support of its Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 24.) In its Reply, Liberty argues that the facts in Amara are distinguishable from the facts here, and Wise v. Verizon Comms., Inc., 600 F.3d 1180, 1190 (9th Cir. 2010), requires dismissal of Plaintiff's claims in Count III against Liberty. ( Id. ) On August 18, 2014, Wells Fargo and the Plan filed their Reply, arguing that Plaintiff's claim for breach of fiduciary duty in Count III is duplicative of her claim against Wells Fargo in Count II, and Plaintiff has failed to allege facts sufficient to state a claim for relief. (Doc. 29.)

a. 12(b)(6) Standard for Dismissal

To survive dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, (2007)). "The plausibility standard... asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully, " demanding instead sufficient factual allegations to allow "the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009); see also OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 699 F.3d 1053, 1078 (9th Cir. 2012) ("But where the claim is plausible-meaning something more than a sheer possibility, ' but less than a probability-the plaintiff's failure to prove the case on the pleadings does not warrant dismissal.") ( citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-68). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere ...


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