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ULLRICH v. LINOTYPE-HELL CO.

February 7, 2002

WALTER ULLRICH, PLAINTIFF,
V.
LINOTYPE-HELL CO. AND HEIDELBERG USA, INC., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

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.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

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

LEGAL STANDARD

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

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. ...


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