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BRENNAN v. METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY

May 8, 2003

DOUGLAS BRENNAN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, AGAINST METROPOLITAN LIFE INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shira A. Scheindlin, United States District Judge

OPINION AND ORDER

On September 27, 2002, Douglas Brennan and six other plaintiffs*fn1 sued Metropolitan Life Insurance Company ("MetLife"), six MetLife insurance plans,*fn2 and the administrators of those plans ("defendants") to recover retroactive employee benefits under section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.*fn3 Defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b) on the ground that it is time-barred. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.

I. FACTS*fn4

MetLife is a leading provider of insurance and other financial services to a broad spectrum of individual and institutional customers. See 2/25/03 Affidavit of Christina Teufel, Assistant Vice President of Facilities and Services at MetLife ("Teufel Aff."), ¶ 2. MetLife hires various service providers and consultants who work as independent contractors. See id. MetLife does not offer its independent contractors the opportunity to participate in any of its employee benefit plans, which are reserved for "employees". See Second Amended Complaint ("Compl."), Ex. A to 2/26/03 Affidavit of Katherine H. Parker, counsel for MetLife, ¶ 28; 2/26/03 Affidavit of Linda Hogan, Assistant Vice President of Human Resources at MetLife ("Hogan Aff."), ¶ 2. Since January 1996, most of MetLife's employee benefit plans have expressly provided that the term "employee" does not include "any individual who is classified by the Employer as an independent contractor notwithstanding that such person is later determined by a court of competent jurisdiction or the Internal Revenue Service to be a common law employee." Compl. ¶ 36; Hogan Aff. ¶ 2.

Plaintiffs worked for MetLife in the 1980s and 1990s in freelance capacities, assisting with the development of advertising and marketing materials. Compl. ¶¶ 3-10, 25; Teufel Aff. ¶ 3. Their dates of employment follow: Ozsust 1983-1993; Griffin 1982-1994; Francis 1984-1998; Roy 1986-1994; Sandstrom 1989-1999;*fn5 and Brennan 1987-1999.*fn6 Compl. ¶¶ 5-10, 25.

Throughout their tenure at MetLife, plaintiffs were classified as freelancers and paid as independent contractors. Id. ¶¶ 25, 26. Plaintiffs were required to sign standard form independent contractor agreements.*fn7 Teufel Aff. ¶ 5. The Agreements expressly provided that plaintiffs were not entitled to benefits under any of MetLife's employee benefit plans:

For all purposes of this Agreement, Supplier shall have the status of an independent contractor and shall in no sense be considered an employee of MetLife while performing services under this Agreement. It is understood that supplier shall not be entitled to or be eligible to participate in any benefits or privileges given to or extended by MetLife to its employees including, but not limited to, participation in Insurance and Retirement Programs, Social Security Coverage, Worker's Compensation, or any state disability benefits.
Independent Supplier Agreement, Ex. C to Teufel Aff.; see also Technical Assistance Agreement, Ex. A to Teufel Aff.; Independent Consultant Agreement, Ex. B to Teufel Aff.

On October 16, 2000, several of the plaintiffs complained about their denial of benefits while at MetLife. See Compl. ¶ 37; 10/16/00 Letter from Raymond Nardo, counsel for plaintiffs, to MetLife's Plan Administrator ("Claim Ltr."), Ex. 1 to 3/19/03 Declaration of Raymond Nardo in Opposition to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss ("Nardo Dec."). Plaintiffs claimed in particular that MetLife had mis-classified them as independent contractors rather than employees.*fn8 See Compl. ¶ 29; Claim Ltr. at 1. Plaintiffs also requested documentation from MetLife regarding its benefit plans. See Compl. ¶ 39; Claim Ltr. at 2.

MetLife denied plaintiffs' claims for benefits, as well as their requests for plan documents. See Compl. ¶¶ 41-42; 2/12/01 Letters to plaintiffs from James N. Heston, Senior Vice President of Compensation and Benefits, and Susan Berger, Vice President of Employee Relations, Ex. 2 to Nardo Dec. Plaintiffs requested reconsideration of MetLife's determinations. See Compl. ¶ 43; 4/9/01 Letter from Nardo to Mark A. Schuman, Senior Counsel for MetLife, Ex. 3 to Nardo Dec. Plaintiffs' appeals were denied by MetLife in June 2001. See 6/7/01 Letters to plaintiffs from Christine V. Burden and Lawrence S. Craven, Assistant Vice Presidents of Benefits, Ex. 4 to Nardo Dec.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' Claims Under Section 502(a)(1)(B) Are Dismissed as Time-Barred
Plaintiffs allege that MetLife violated section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, which reads, in pertinent part, as follows:
(a) Persons empowered to bring a civil action A civil action may be brought —
(1) by a participant or beneficiary —
(A) for the relief provided for in subsection (c) of this section, or
(B) to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan.
29 U.S.C. § 1132 (a). Defendants contend that plaintiffs' claims under section 502(a)(1)(B) are time-barred.

Although ERISA does not prescribe a statute of limitations for violations of section 502(a)(1)(B), the appropriate statute of limitations is six years — the limitations period specified in the most analogous state statute. See Miles v. New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Ret. Fund, 698 F.2d 593, 598 (2d Cir. 1983) (holding that the six-year limitations proscribed by section 213 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules applies in ERISA actions) (citations omitted). A plaintiff's ERISA cause of action accrues "upon a clear repudiation by the plan that is known, or should be known, to the plaintiff — regardless of whether the plaintiff has filed a formal application for benefits." Carey v. International Bhd. of Elec. Workers Local 363 Pension Plan, 201 F.3d 44, 49 (2d Cir. 1999). To hold otherwise, as the Second Circuit has recognized, "`would require all pre-benefits claims against an employee's pension fund to be delayed until a formal application for benefits is filed,'" which could have enormous "`negative effects.'" Id. (quoting Martin v. ...


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