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Dawn Smith v. Stockwell Construction Co.

December 10, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Skretny United States District Court Chief Judge



In this case, Plaintiff Dawn Smith alleges that Defendants, as the administrators and fiduciaries of a profit sharing plan improperly denied Plaintiff's claim for payment of benefits, as well as neglected to provide various documents, records, and other information as required under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B) and 1109(a), as well as § 1132(c)(1)(B). Plaintiff has named as defendants Stockwell Construction Co., Inc., Stockwell Construction Co., Inc. as administrator of Stockwell Construction Co., Inc. Profit Sharing Plan (collectively "Stockwell"), Harry Stockwell, Jr., TPSI Welfare, LLC, as Third Party Administrator of Stockwell Construction Co., Inc. Profit Sharing Plan, and the Individual, Association, Corporation, Limited Liability Corporation, Company, or other entity doing business as TPSI, as Third Party Administrator of Stockwell Construction Co., Inc. Profit Sharing Plan (collectively "TPSI"). Presently before this Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss various claims in the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn1 For the following reasons, Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


A. Factual History

In adjudicating Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, this Court assumes the truth of the following factual allegations contained in Plaintiff's Complaint. See Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740, 96 S. Ct. 1848, 1850, 48 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1976); see also Hamilton Chapter of Alpha Delta Phi, Inc. v. Hamilton Coll., 128 F.3d 59, 63 (2d Cir. 1997). Decedent was employed by Stockwell Construction Co., Inc, and accrued benefits under the Stockwell Construction Co., Inc. Profit Sharing Plan ("the Plan"). (Amended Complaint ("Comp."), Docket No. 11, ¶ 10.) Pursuant to the Plan, Decedent designated his spouse, Dawn Smith, Plaintiff in this case, as the beneficiary of his Plan benefits. (Id. ¶ 12.) Decedent did not amend this designation, even after he and Plaintiff divorced. (Id.) Decedent subsequently died on January 31, 2007, at which time Plaintiff made a claim for payment of benefits. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.) Plaintiff's claim and subsequent appeal were denied. (Id. ¶ 14.) Benefits were instead paid to Decedent's father. (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff alleges that this payment was in error. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants sent her a notice of denial that failed to inform her of her right to receive reasonable access to and copies of all documents, records, and other information relevant to claim benefits, and that the Plan required inclusion of this information. Plaintiff further alleges that the notice of denial failed to include a description of the Plan's appeal procedures, including her right to bring an action under ERISA § 502(a).

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff commenced this case on July 23, 2010, by filing a Complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of New York. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on September 28, 2010. Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on October 20, 2010. Briefing concluded on December 3, 2010, at which time this Court time took the matter under advisement without oral argument.


A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) allows dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6). Federal pleading standards are generally not stringent: Rule 8 requires only a short and plain statement of the claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). But the plain statement must "possess enough heft to show that the pleader is entitled to relief." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,127 S. Ct. 1955, 1966, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). When determining whether a complaint states a claim, the court must construe it liberally, accept all factual allegations as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. ATSI Commc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007); Goldstein v. Pataki, 516 F.3d 50, 56 (2d Cir. 2008).

Legal conclusions, however, are not afforded the same presumption of truthfulness. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009) ("[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 1945 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). Labels, conclusions, or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Facial plausibility is present when the factual content of the complaint allows for a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. The plausibility standard is not, however, a probability requirement; the pleading must show, not merely allege, that the pleader is entitled to relief. Id. at 1950; Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Well-pleaded allegations in the complaint must nudge the claim "across the line from conceivable to plausible." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

As noted above, all well-pleaded factual allegations contained in the Complaint are assumed true and construed in the non-moving party's favor. See Still v. DeBuono, 101 F.3d 888, 891 (2d Cir. 1996). "[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." Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F.2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991). If a plaintiff does not attach or incorporate by reference documents that are integral to the Complaint, the court may consider those documents without converting the motion to one seeking summary judgment. See Int'l Audiotext Network, Inc. v. AT & T, 62 F.3d 69, 72 (2d Cir. 1995) (per curiam).

Although Plaintiff did not attach a copy of the Plan to her Complaint, she references the Plan therein, and it is clearly essential to this Court's analysis. (Compl., ΒΆΒΆ 7, 8, 9, 23, 30). Accordingly, this Court will consider the Plan, which is attached to the Affidavit of Gary F. Kotaska, in rendering its decision on the instant motion to dismiss. See McCarthy v. Dun & Bradstreet ...

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