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REID v. LOCAL 966 PENSION FUND

RONALD REID, Plaintiff,
v.
THE LOCAL 966 PENSION FUND and THE PLAN ADMINISTRATOR OF THE LOCAL 966 PENSION FUND, Defendants.



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

OPINION

On November 20, 2003, Plaintiff Ronald Reid ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint ("Complaint" or "Compl.") against defendants The Local 966 Pension Fund (the "Plan") and The Plan Administrator of the Local 966 Pension Fund (the "Administrator") (collectively, "Defendants") pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as Amended ("ERISA") § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), to enforce Plaintiff's alleged statutory right of access to the Plan's claims procedure and pursuant to ERISA § 502(a)(1)(A), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(A), to obtain certain documents from the Administrator in order to establish whether Plaintiff is entitled to pension benefits under the Plan. Before this Court are Defendants' motion, dated January 23, 2004, to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and Fed.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim and Plaintiff's cross-motion, dated April 7, 2004, for summary judgment.

I. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

  "A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it." Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). "[T]he plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists. Luckett v. Bure, 290 F.3d 493 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113). In considering challenges to subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a court may consider evidence extrinsic to the pleadings, such as affidavits. See Antares Aircraft, L.P. v. Fed. Republic of Nigeria, 948 F.2d 90, 96 (2d Cir. 1991), vacated for reconsideration on other grounds, 505 U.S. 1215 (1992), reaff'd on remand, 999 F.2d 33 (2d Cir. 1993). The consideration of such materials does not convert the motion to one for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. See United States v. Vazquez, 145 F.3d 74, 80 (2d Cir. 1998).

  As the Court of Appeals has explained, "[w]hether a federal court possesses federal-question subject matter jurisdiction and whether a plaintiff can state a claim for relief under a federal statute are two questions that are easily, and often, confused." Carlson v. Principal Fin. Group, 320 F.3d 301, 305-06 (2d Cir. 2003) (citations omitted). "In order to sustain federal jurisdiction, the complaint must allege a claim that arises under the Constitution or laws of the United States and that is neither made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction nor wholly insubstantial and frivolous." Carlson, 320 F.3d at 306. "[T]he question of whether a federal statute supplies a basis for subject matter jurisdiction is separate from, and should be answered prior to, the question of whether the plaintiff can state a claim for relief under that statute." Id. "`In cases where the asserted basis for subject matter jurisdiction is also an element of the plaintiff's allegedly federal cause of action, [the court] ask[s] only whether — on its face — the complaint is drawn so as to seek recovery under federal law or the Constitution. If so, then [the court] assume[s] or find[s] a sufficient basis for jurisdiction, and reserve[s] further scrutiny for an inquiry on the merits.'" Id. at 307 (quoting Nowak v. Ironworkers Local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1189 (2d Cir. 1996)). In other words, "[t]he pertinent question in the subject matter jurisdiction context is whether a plaintiff has asserted a non-frivolous federal claim, not whether Plaintiff will ultimately be able to obtain relief under the relevant statute." Vengurlekar v. HSBC Bank, No. 03 Civ. 243, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6838, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. May 14, 2004) (citing Carlson, 320 F.3d at 306).

  Here, Defendants move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because they argue that Plaintiff is not a "participant" in the Plan as required under ERISA § 502(a) and 502(e)(1), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a) and (e)(1). (See Defs' Br.*fn1 at 4-7.) However, the jurisdictional inquiry is not whether Plaintiff can state a claim for relief under ERISA, but whether the Complaint, on its face, "clearly seeks relief under that statute." Carlson, 320 F.3d at 306.

  The Complaint alleges that this Court has jurisdiction under ERISA §§ 502(e)(1), 502(a)(3), 502(a)(1)(A) and under 28 U.S.C. 1331(a) because this action arises under the laws of the United States, namely ERISA. (Compl. ¶ 2.) Further, the Complaint alleges that the declaratory and injunctive relief sought are authorized by ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(3). (Compl. ¶ 3.) Thus, the Complaint seeks relief under ERISA because it alleges both that federal jurisdiction is based on ERISA and that the declaratory and injunctive relief that Plaintiff seeks are authorized by ERISA as well. Because "it cannot be said that [the] [C]omplaint is `plainly insubstantial' or that it fails to present any issue worthy of adjudication," Nowak, 81 F.3d at 1190, this Court will assume subject matter jurisdiction and evaluate Plaintiff's claims under Rule 12(b)(6). Because Defendants' argument regarding "participant" qualification is more properly framed as an argument that Plaintiff fails to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), it will be evaluated as such.*fn2

  II. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

  A. Legal Standards

  In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 237 (1974); Yoder v. Orthomolecular Nutrition Inst., Inc., 751 F.2d 555, 562 (2d Cir. 1985). All well-pleaded factual allegations of a complaint must be accepted as true. City of Los Angeles v. Preferred Communications, Inc., 476 U.S. 488, 493 (1986); Mireee v. DeKalb County, 433 U.S. 25, 27 n. 2 (1977) (referring to "well-pleaded allegations"); Mills v. Polar Molecular Corp., 12 F.3d 1170, 1174 (2d Cir. 1993). "The complaint is deemed to include any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit or any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference." Int'l Audiotext Network, Inc. v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 62 F.3d 69, 72 (2d Cir. 1995) (quoting Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 94 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991)). In order to avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must do more than plea mere "conclusory allegations or legal conclusions masquerading as factual conclusions." Gephardt v. Allspect, Inc., 96 F. Supp. 2d 331, 333 (S.D.N.Y. 2000) (quoting 2 James Wm. Moore, Moore's Federal Practice P 12.34[a][b] (3d ed. 1997)). Dismissal is proper only when "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); accord Cohen v. Koenig, 25 F.3d 1168 (2d Cir. 1994).

  B. Factual Background

  Except where noted, the following facts are drawn from the Complaint and documents attached to affidavits submitted by both parties which are incorporated in the Complaint by reference. See Cortec Industries, Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991) ("[T]he complaint is deemed to include any written instrument attached to it as an exhibit or any statements or documents incorporated in it by reference.").

  Plaintiff was employed by Royaltone, Inc. for the period 1955 through 1970, inclusive. (Compl. ¶ 6.) The Plan is an "employee pension benefit plan" within the meaning of ERISA § 3(2)(A), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(2)(A), a "defined benefit plan" within the meaning of ERISA § 3(35), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(35), and, specifically, is a "multiemployer plan" within the meaning of ERISA § 3(37)(A), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(37)(A). (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 10.) The purpose of the Plan is to provide pension benefits for participants in the Plan and their beneficiaries. (Compl. ¶¶ 7, 10.) The Administrator is the Plan's "administrator," within the meaning of ERISA § 3(16)(A), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(16)(A), and is a Plan "fiduciary" within the meaning of ERISA § 3(21)(A), 29 U.S.C. § 1002(21)(A).

  On July 15, 2003, Plaintiff's counsel wrote by certified letter (the "July letter") to the Administrator informing the Plan that she had been retained by Plaintiff to make a claim for benefits on Plaintiff's behalf and requesting copies of the current full governing Plan instrument, the Plan instrument in effect in 1970, each summary plan description of the Plan in effect from 1990 to the present, the summary plan description of the Plan in effect in 1970, the collective bargaining agreements between Royaltone, Inc. and Teamsters Local 966 in effect from 1955 to 1970, and various other documents and records. (Compl. ¶ 11.) After receiving no response to the July letter, Plaintiff's counsel again wrote by certified letter dated September 25, 2003 (the "September letter") to the Administrator reiterating her request and advising Defendants that in the event of their failure ...


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