The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge.
Walter Ullrich ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against
Linotype-Hell Co. ("Linotype") and Heidelberg USA, Inc.
("Heidelberg") (Linotype and Heidelberg shall be referred to
collectively herein as "Defendants") alleging two causes of
action against Defendants. Plaintiffs first cause of action
alleges that Defendants violated the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1001, et. seq. ("ERISA") and
his second alleges that he was fraudulently induced, pursuant to
New York State law, to return to his position at Linotype.
Defendants have moved for summary judgment, pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs second claim
must be dismissed because it is preempted by ERISA. They further
argue that Plaintiffs first claim, seeking additional severance
benefits under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA must fail. The
Severance Plan for Salaried Employees of Linotype-Hell Company
(the "Plan") designates an administrator and grants the
administrator the discretion and authority to determine
eligibility under, and to construe the terms of, the
Plan.*fn1 Such designation, Defendants argue, mandates that
this Court review the Administrator's decision to determine only
whether such decision was arbitrary and capricious.
In early July of 1994, Plaintiff and two employees of
Linotype, Danny Herzka and Jack Bruger, met to discuss
Plaintiffs future employment opportunities at Linotype.
Plaintiff sought to be rehired "as if he had never left," in
terms of the benefit packages available to him, and he expressed
as much to Mr. Herzka. Id. at ¶¶ 13-16. Plaintiff claims that
he was told that "all benefit entitlements would be based on his
original start-up date." Comp. ¶ 10. Defendants deny this
statement in its entirety. See Answer and Aff. Def., ¶ 10. On
August 8, 1994, Plaintiff was rehired and recommenced employment
for Linotype in the same capacity as before his departure. See
id. at ¶ 17. Upon being rehired, but prior to commencing
employment, Plaintiff received two separate letters from the
personnel department at Linotype. The first letter, from
Elizabeth Allen-Banks, the Human Resources Manager, stated that
all benefit entitlements will be based on Plaintiff's Vesting
and Credited Service Dates, which are both December 8,
1975.*fn2 See id. at ¶ 16. The second letter, dated August
8, 1994 from Michelle Flaherty, Senior Benefits Administrator,
further defines the above mentioned dates and notes that such
dates are those upon which vesting is based for the Pension and
Savings Plan. See Defendants' Rule 56.1 Statement ¶ 18*fn3
Plaintiff worked for Linotype from the date of his rehire,
August 8, 1994, through December 31, 1997. Plaintiff was
terminated after Heidelberg merged with Linotype. Plaintiff was
offered the opportunity to relocate to Atlanta and to continue
working for the company, but declined and was paid severance
pursuant to the terms of the Plan of $34,319.0*fn4. The
package was comprised of the following payments: two weeks base
pay plus two weeks pay for each year of service from his most
recent date of hire plus an additional thirteen weeks pay
granted to him as an incentive to continue his employment with
Linotype until December 1997. Plaintiff claims that he is
entitled, pursuant to the terms of the Plan and based upon both
oral and written representations made to him prior to his
recommencement of employment, to a severance package based upon
his initial hire date of December 1975. If the calculation were
based upon the initial hire date, Plaintiff would be entitled to
receive an additional thirty eight weeks of pay. Plaintiff was
paid severance pay when he was initially terminated which
covered the period dating from his initial hire until the date
that the employment ceased. Plaintiff seeks payment for the same
period for which he was initially paid, but concedes that he
should not be credited for the period of time during which he
was not employed.
A district court may properly grant summary judgment only "if
the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and
admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show
that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that
the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The burden of proof is on the moving party
to show that there is no genuine issue of material fact, Gallo
v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d
Cir. 1994) (citing Heyman v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co.,
524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975)), and "all ambiguities must be
resolved and all inferences drawn in favor of the party against
whom summary judgment is sought." Id. (citing Eastway Constr.
Corp. v. City of New York, 762 F.2d 243, 249 (2d Cir. 1985));
see also Hayes v. New York City Dept. of Corrections,
84 F.3d 614, 619 (2d Cir. 1996). "Factual disputes that are irrelevant
or unnecessary will not be counted." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986)
(citing 10A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller, & Mary Kay
Kane, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2725, at 93-95 (1983)).
A party opposing a motion for summary judgment "may not rest
upon the mere allegations or denials of his pleading, but . . .
must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine
issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505
(quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253,
288-89, 88 S.Ct. 1575, 20 L.Ed.2d 569 (1968)). Under the law of
the Second Circuit, "when no rational jury could find in favor
of the nonmoving party because the evidence is so slight, there
is no genuine issue of material fact and a grant of summary
judgment is proper." Gallo, 22 F.3d at 1224 (citing Dister v.
Continental Group, Inc., 859 F.2d 1108, 1114 (2d Cir. 1988)).
Mere conclusory allegations, speculation or conjecture will not
avail a party opposing summary judgment. See Kulak v. City of
New York, 88 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 1996).
It is within this framework that the Court addresses the
present summary judgment motion.
(1) Preclusion of Plaintiffs fraud claim
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs second cause of action, state
inducement, must be dismissed because, as a matter of law, it is
preempted by ERISA. Plaintiff claims that "Linotype-Hell agreed
that all of [Plaintiff's] benefits entitlements would have a
vesting date of December 8, 1975" to induce him to work for
Linotype. Comp. ¶ 27. Plaintiff further claims that he decided
to recommence employment for Linotype "[i]n reliance upon
Linotype-Hell's promise to pay all benefits based on his
original start-up date." Id. at ¶ 28. Finally, Plaintiff
claims that statements were made by Elizabeth Allen-Banks
wherein he was promised that "his benefits would be calculated
and paid out on the basis of his original start date of December
8, 1975 without break and without limitation." Id. at ¶ 30.
Plaintiff argues that his second cause of action should not be
preempted by ERISA because the fraud claim is not based upon
provisions of the Plan or amendments thereto rather, it is
"based on the misrepresentation that if Plaintiff would return
to the Company, his original start date of December 8, 1975
would be reinstated." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in
Opposition to Defendants' Summary Judgment Motion, pg. 8.
The preemption section of ERISA provides that ERISA "shall
supercede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or
hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan."
29 U.S.C. § 1144(a). The language of the statute has been interpreted
broadly to preempt many state law causes of action and thereby
promote uniformity of laws regarding benefit plans. In
interpreting the preemption language of the statute, the Supreme
Court has held that "a state law `relates to' an ERISA plan `if
it has a connection with or reference to such a plan.'"
Egelhoff v. Egelhoff 532 U.S. ...