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Priest v. Fireman's Fund Insurance Co.

February 5, 2007

ROBERT PRIEST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
FIREMAN'S FUND INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John T. Elfvin S.U.S.D.J.

MEMORANDUM and ORDER*fn1

Plaintiff Robert Priest commenced this action pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") seeking the payment of severance benefits allegedly due him upon the termination of his employment by defendant Fireman's Fund Insurance Company ("FFIC"). Priest's Complaint alleges a cause of action under §502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. §1132(a)(1)(B), for benefits, declaratory relief and attorney's fees. Pending before the Court are competing motions: FFIC's motion for summary judgment as to Priest's claim for benefits under §502(a)(1) and Priest's motion to amend or correct his complaint to allege an additional cause of action pursuant to §510 of ERISA.

FACTS

Priest commenced employment with FFIC in 1984 and was employed as a claims adjuster until his termination in 2004. At the time Priest's employment commenced, FFIC's Buffalo office employed approximately 250 people and at the time of his termination only 12 employees remained. While Priest was employed, FFIC maintained a Severance Allowance Program ("SAP"). In 2002, FFIC modified the terms of the SAP to preclude the issuance of benefits to employees who had been terminated for cause. Under the terms of the SAP, the determination of whether an employee had been terminated for cause was exclusively the function of FFIC.

Section 3.2 of the SAP states: "An Employee shall not be eligible for a Severance Allowance under this Plan if, including but not limited to, any of the following conditions pertain:

(a) if an Employee is involuntarily terminated for cause (as determined by the Employer in its sole discretion) either before or after the Employee has received notice of termination which creates eligibility under the Plan, including, but not limited to, misconduct, attendance deficiencies or performance that does not meet the standards established by the Employer %%% ."

From the time of his hire until some time in 2003, Priest's performance had always been rated as at least "satisfactory." In 2003, FFIC hired Judy Poskozim ("Poskozim") to be Priest's supervisor. Although she supervised a group of employees in the Buffalo office, Poskozim worked out of the Chicago office. Priest alleges that Poskozim subjected him to unnecessary and unrealistic performance standards in order to manufacture performance deficiencies on his part.

Under her supervision, Priest began to be cited for performance deficiencies. On March 30, 2004 Poskozim placed Priest on warning - commencing on April 10, 2004 - for performance deficiencies. Such warning was for a period of 60 days. On June 10, 2004, prior to the expiration of the initial 60-day warning period, Poskozim placed Priest on probation for a period of 30 days. Thereafter, on July 1, 2004, Poskozim terminated Priest's employment.

On August 13, 2004 Priest, through counsel, submitted a letter to FFIC's Employee Benefits Administration Committee ("the Committee"), which letter served as an application for severance benefits under the SAP. By letter dated September 8, 2004 the Plan Administrator denied Priest's application for benefits and instructed him as to how to appeal that denial. On November 5, 2004 Priest, again by letter, sought a review of the denial by the Committee. The appeal relied on all of the information before the Plan Administrator and Priest did not supply any additional information with his appeal. Priest's appeal was denied at a meeting of the Committee on December 2, 2004. Priest was notified of the determination by letter dated December 3, 2004. This lawsuit followed.

DISCUSSION

Priest commenced this action seeking review of the denial of his severance benefits and declaratory relief pursuant to §502(a)(1)(B). In response to FFIC's motion for summary judgment with respect to that claim, Priest now seeks to amend his complaint to add an additional claim under §510 of ERISA for FFIC's alleged interference with his ability to obtain severance benefits under the SAP.

A. Motion to Amend

Priest seeks to amend his complaint to assert a claim under §510 of ERISA.

Defendant opposes the motion arguing that Priest's proposed ...


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