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William Gabelman v. Mitchel Sher [Sic]

March 23, 2012

WILLIAM GABELMAN,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MITCHEL SHER [SIC], VANDEGRIFT FORWARDING COMPANY, INC., AND EXECUTIVE RETIREMENT PLAN OF VANDEGRIFT FORWARDING CO., INC.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge:

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff William Gabelman ("Plaintiff") commenced this action against his former employer Vandegrift Forwarding Co., Inc. ("Vandegrift") and President and CEO Mitchel Scher ("Scher," collectively "Defendants"), alleging violations of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. (2006), stemming from Defendants' denial of retirement benefits to Plaintiff after he was discharged from Vandegrift. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds that: (1) the retirement benefits agreement between Plaintiff and Defendants was not an ERISA covered plan; and (2) Plaintiff, therefore, has failed to allege a proper basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. (See Doc. Entry No. 15, Mem. of Law of Vandegrift Forwarding Company, Inc. and Mitchel Scher in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss ("Def. Br.") at 3.) For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is granted.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff was employed by Vandegrift as a General Office Manager from March 19, 1990 until June 22, 2010, during which time he worked primarily at Vandegrift's offices in Queens, New York. (See Doc. Entry No. 1, Complaint ("Complt.") ¶ 2.) On January 1, 1997, Plaintiff and Defendants mutually entered into a Salary Continuation Agreement ("Agreement"), which would provide Plaintiff with retirement benefits in the form of monthly post-retirement payments. (Complt. ¶ 12.) Specifically, the Agreement provided that if Plaintiff remained continuously employed with Vandegrift from January 1997 through age sixty-five, he would then retire and become entitled to salary continuation payments for ten years, payable in equal monthly installments. (Agreement ¶¶ 1--2.)*fn1 The Agreement, in pertinent part, provided:

(1) If Executive [Plaintiff] remains in the continuous employ of the Company [Vandegrift], he shall retire from active employment with the Company on the first day of the calendar month following the month in which he reaches age 65, unless by action of the board of Directors his period of active employment shall be shortened or extended.

(2) Upon said retirement the Company; [sic] commencing with the First day of the month following the date of such retirement shall pay Executive the sum of $40,000, a year for ten years. Payments of the sum specified shall be made in 120 equal monthly payments.

(Id.) Other pertinent provisions in the Agreement stipulated as follows: if Plaintiff died prior to age sixty-five, his spouse or other designee would become entitled to the 120 monthly installment payments (Id. ¶ 3); if Plaintiff died while receiving the salary continuation payments, Vandegrift would continue those payments to his spouse or other designee in satisfaction of the Agreement (Id. ¶ 4); and Vandegrift would not merge or consolidate with any organization or company that did not expressly assume the obligations set forth in the Agreement. (Id. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff and Vandegrift were the only parties to the Agreement, which on its face applied to no employees other than Plaintiff. (See generally Agreement.)

On or about June 22, 2010, Plaintiff was terminated from his position with Vandegrift and notified that he would not be eligible to receive the retirement benefits provided for in the Agreement. (Complt. ¶ 14, 19; Doc. Entry No. 16, Plaintiff's Mem. in Opp. to Defendant's Mot. to Dismiss ("Opp.") at 3.) Based on his termination and surrounding events, Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendants, claiming violations of ERISA under 29 U.S.C. §§ 1025(c), 1132, 1132(a)(4) and 1140. (Complt. ¶¶ 1, 22, 33, 39.) Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (respectively, "Rule 12(b)(6)" and "Rule (12)(b)(1)") alleging the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because, as a matter of law, the Agreement does not constitute an ERISA covered plan. (Def. Br. at 3.)

DISCUSSION

I.Legal Standard

A.Motion to Dismiss

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure states that a defendant may move, in lieu of an answer, for dismissal of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). To determine whether dismissal is appropriate, "a court must accept as true all [factual] allegations contained in a complaint" but need not accept "legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). For this reason, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice" to insulate a claim against dismissal. Id. Moreover, "[t]o 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. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint . . . has not shown that the pleader is entitled to relief." Id. at 1950 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

Generally, consideration of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss is limited to the complaint itself. Faulkner v. Beer, 463 F. 3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2006). However, "[c]onsideration of materials outside the complaint is not entirely foreclosed." Id. A court may consider statements and documents "incorporated in [the complaint] by reference," Cortec Indus., Inc. v. Sum Holding L.P., 949 F. 2d 42, 47 (2d Cir. 1991), as well as documents "integral" to the complaint, without converting a motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.*fn2 Int'l Audiotext Network, Inc. v. Am. Tel. & Tel. Co., 62 F. 3d 69, 72 (2d Cir. 1995).

B.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). "The plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence." Aurecchione v. Schoolman Transp. Sys., Inc., 426 F. 3d 635, 638 (2d Cir. 2005). "In determining the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, a district court may consider evidence outside the pleadings." Newton v. Bureau of Prisons, 2011 WL 1636259, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 28, 2011) (citing Makarova, 201 F. 3d at 113). Additionally, the court "must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint," but is "not to draw inferences from the complaint favorable to plaintiffs." J.S. ex rel. N.S. v. Attica Cent. Sch., 386 F. 3d 107, 110 (2d Cir. 2004). However, ...


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