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O'NEIL v. GENCORP

May 6, 1991

SHANE O'NEIL AND ROBERT JOHNSON ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL THOSE SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GENCORP, INC., RETIREMENT PLAN FOR SALARIED EMPLOYEES OF RKO GENERAL, INC. AND CERTAIN SUBSIDIARY COMPANIES; AND RKO BOTTLERS, INC., RETIREMENT PLAN FOR NON-UNION EMPLOYEES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Martin, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

This matter is before the Court on defendant GenCorp's motion to dismiss plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages and defendant GenCorp, Inc. pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

GenCorp seeks dismissal from this action on two grounds: a) it claims that since the only remedy sought from it is punitive damages and this being unavailable to plaintiffs as a matter of law, GenCorp should be dismissed; and b) the Amended Complaint fails to allege a colorable claim for breach of fiduciary duty against GenCorp. For the reasons set forth below, the claims for punitive damages and against GenCorp are dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.*fn1

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs' argue that punitive damages are an appropriate remedy under ERISA for GenCorp's wilful misconduct. They hinge this argument on what can be characterized as a very thin reed.

In support of their proposition that punitive damages are available as a remedy for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA, plaintiffs cite Massachusetts Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Russell, 473 U.S. 134, 105 S.Ct. 3085, 87 L.Ed.2d 96 (1985). Russell held that recovery from a fiduciary for a violation of § 409(a) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1109(a), establishing liability for breach of fiduciary duty, inures to the benefit of the Plan as a whole. The Court stated that the drafters of that provision were primarily concerned with possible misuse that would protect the entire plan, rather than with rights of an individual beneficiary. Russell, 105 S.Ct. at 3089.

In discussing § 409(a), the Supreme Court in footnote 5 at 3088, stated "[b]ecause respondent relies entirely on § 409(a), and expressly disclaims reliance on § 502(a)(3), we have no occasion to consider whether any other provision of ERISA authorizes recovery of extracontractual damages." Plaintiffs grasp onto this footnote and claim that based on this, they are entitled to punitive damages under § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a) in this case. We disagree.

Plaintiffs also cite Ingersoll-Rand Co. v. McClendon, ___ U.S. ___, 111 S.Ct. 478, 112 L.Ed.2d 474 (1990), in support of their claim that punitive damages are available. They argue that Justice O'Connor's concluding paragraph reverses the existing case law that holds that punitive damages are not available under ERISA. For the reasons set forth below, Ingersoll-Rand is also inapposite to the case at bar.

In Ingersoll-Rand the Supreme Court had to decide whether ERISA § 510, 29 U.S.C. § 1140, preempts a state cause of action for wrongful discharge. The Court held that "ERISA's explicit language and its structure and purpose demonstrate a congressional intent to pre-empt a state common law claim that an employee was unlawfully discharged to prevent his attainment of benefits under an ERISA-covered plan." 111 S.Ct. at 480.

Section 510 prohibits the discharge, fine, suspension, expulsion, discipline or discrimination of a plan participant or beneficiary "for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan . . . or for the purpose of interfering with [his] attainment of any right to which such participat may become entitled under the plan. . . ." 29 U.S.C. § 1140.

Unlike the case at bar whereby plaintiffs claim entitlement to additional pension benefits under the terms of their pension plans, a § 510 plaintiff is usually not entitled to receive benefits from the plan. The plan is usually not a party in an action under § 510 because any recovery will not be from the plan.*fn2

The Court noted in Ingersoll-Rand, that § 502(a) (ERISA's civil enforcement mechanism), when invoked to enforce § 510, permits recovery from a non-plan entity. 111 S.Ct. at 485. In the last paragraph of the Court's opinion, Justice O'Connor stated:

  The preceding discussion also reponds to the
  Texas court's attempt to distinguish this case as
  not one within ERISA's purview. Not only is §
  502(a) the eclusive remedy for vindicating §
  510-protected rights, there is no basis in §
  502(a)'s language for limiting ERISA actions to
  only those which seek "pension benefits." It is
  clear that the relief requested here is well within
  the power of federal courts to provide.
  Consequently, it is no answer to a pre-emption
  argument that a particular plaintiff is not seeking
  recovery of pension benefits.

Had Justice O'Connor intended, as plaintiffs claim, that this analysis of ยง 510 was overruling the considerable amount of federal caselaw barring punitive and extra-contractual damages under ERISA (particularly the cases which specify that punitive damages are ...


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