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Leroy A. Boison, Jr v. Insurance Services Office

December 17, 2011

LEROY A. BOISON, JR.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
INSURANCE SERVICES OFFICE, INC. DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

The Plaintiff in this case, Leroy A. Boison, Jr. ("the Plaintiff" or "Boison") commenced this action against his former employer, Insurance Services Office, Inc. ("the Defendant" or "ISO") under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq., to recover payments he is allegedly entitled to under the Defendant's retirement benefits plan. The Defendant has now moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)" or "Rule 12(b)(6)") for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons that follow, the Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from the Plaintiff's complaint and the documents that were incorporated by reference in the complaint. See Doherty v. Am. Home Prods. Corp., 216 F.3d 1071, No. 99 Civ. 9533 (Table), at *2 (2d Cir. 2000) ("We also consider the Option Plans and April 11 letter because they are referenced in the complaint and form the sole basis for the complaint."); Steger v. Delta Airlines, 382 F. Supp. 2d 382, 385 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) ("Because the Plan is directly referenced in the complaint and is the basis of this action, the Court may consider the Plan in deciding the motion to dismiss.").

The Plaintiff was employed by the Defendant beginning on approximately June 1, 1970, until his retirement on November 17, 2000. During his employment, the Plaintiff claims he was an eligible or vested participant in the Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan ("SERP"), which was created in December 1994 and was terminated as of December 31, 2001. Once SERP was terminated and after the Plaintiff had left the employment of the Defendant, ISO initiated another retirement plan, which is central to this dispute. The Supplemental Cash Balance Plan ("the Plan") became effective beginning January 1, 2002, and was amended and restated on January 1, 2009.

The Plaintiff has not collected benefits under either plan, but as of August 1, 2010, he had received benefits under the Defendant's Pension Plan for Insurance Organizations (the "Qualified Plan"). Both SERP and the Plan are examples of "Top Hat Plans", which are created to provide additional retirement benefits to select employees with earnings that exceed the limits on earnings that factor into the calculation of benefits under the Defendant's Qualified Plan. These plans are governed by ERISA.

The 2009 Plan, which is the plan the Plaintiff now seeks to recover benefits under, defines an "Employee" as "a common law employee of [ISO and its subsidiaries] who was hired by [ISO or one of its subsidiaries] before March 1, 2005." (Ex. 2 to Gilman Aff. at Art. II § 2.8.) Under the terms of the Plan, "[a]n Employee shall become a participant in the Plan during the first year in which the Employee's Compensation exceeds the limitations under Code Section 401(a)(17) for that year . . ." (Ex. 2 to Gilman Aff. at Art. III § 3.1.) It also provides that benefits are to be payable "upon the later of the Participant's Separation from Service or attainment of age 62." (Ex. 2 to Gilman Aff. at Art. VI § 6.1.)

The Defendant serves as the Plan Administrator. As the Plan Administrator, ISO has "the exclusive right and discretionary authority to construe the terms of the Plan, to resolve any ambiguities, and to determine any questions which may arise in connection with the Plan's application or administration including, but not limited to, determination of eligibility for benefits and the amount of any benefit." (Ex. 2 to Gilman Aff. at Art. VIII § 8.1.) Notably, as the employer, the Defendant is also the payor of the benefits under the unfunded Plan.

On or about July 29, 2010 and August 19, 2010, the Plaintiff filed a claim for retirement benefits under the Plan. On August 23, 2010, the Defendant sent a letter to the Plaintiff, denying his claim. The letter stated the reason for the denial, namely that the term "employee" did not include former employees of ISO or its subsidiaries, so that only employees as of January 1, 2002 or becamehired after that date were potentially eligible to participate. The letter further stated that because the Plaintiff was not a common law employee of ISO or any of its subsidiaries on January 1, 2002 or any point thereafter, he was not eligible to participate in and accrue benefits under the Plan. Finally, it responded to Boison's claim that he was entitled to benefits by stating that, if "taken to its extreme, [Boison's argument] would mean that ISO created a new benefit plan, effective as of January 1, 2002, that covered an unknown number of former employees." (Ex. 4 to Gilman Aff. at 2.)

By letter dated September 27, 2010, Boison appealed the Plan Administrator's determination. On October 21, 2010, the Defendant again denied the Plaintiff's appeal. However, pursuant to the Plan, the Defendant provided the Plaintiff with an opportunity to attend a hearing to address his claim. As part of this hearing, the Plaintiff was allowed to make an oral presentation in support of his appeal and to submit any written comments, documents, records, and other information in support of his claim for eligibility. (Ex. 4 to Gilman Aff. at 3.) The hearing took place on November 19, 2010. On December 16, 2010, the Defendant once again denied giving the benefits to the Plaintiff.

On March 1, 2011, the Plaintiff filed a Complaint with this Court, alleging that he was entitled to retirement benefits under the Plan that is both offered and administered by the Defendant. He brought this claim pursuant to Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA, which states that "a civil action may be brought by a participant . . . 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)(1)(B).

II. THE DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

On April 6, 2011, the Defendant ISO filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Defendant's motion raises two main arguments. First, the Defendant argues that the Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this lawsuit because he is not entitled to receive retirement benefits under the Plan and thus cannot qualify as an ERISA beneficiary. Second, the Defendant argues that its interpretation of "employee" under the Plan- to not include a former employee such as the Plaintiff-was not arbitrary or capricious so that the Plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

III. DISCUSSION

A.Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

Under the now well-established Twombly standard, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514 F.3d 184, 188 (2d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 1974, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)); see ECA, Local 134 IBEW Joint Pension Trust of Chicago v. JP Morgan Chase Co., 553 F.3d 187, 196 (2d Cir. 2009). The Second Circuit has explained that, after Twombly, the Court's inquiry under Rule 12(b)(6) is guided by two principles. Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009)).

"First, although 'a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint,' that 'tenet' 'is inapplicable to legal conclusions,' and '[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949). "'Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss' and '[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950). Thus, "[w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and ... determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950.

In considering a motion to dismiss, this Court accepts as true the factual allegations set forth in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in the Plaintiff's favor. Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118, 110 S. Ct. 975, 979, 108 L. Ed. 2d 100 (1990); In re NYSE Specialists Secs. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 91 (2d Cir. 2007). Only if this Court is satisfied that "the complaint cannot state any set of facts that would entitle the plaintiff to relief" will it ...


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