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WEATHERLY v. ILLINOIS BELL TEL.

June 15, 1994

WILLETTA WEATHERLY, Plaintiff and Counter-Defendant,
v.
ILLINOIS BELL TELEPHONE, Defendant and Counter-Plaintiff.


Plunkett


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PAUL E. PLUNKETT

This matter is before us on Defendant Illinois Bell Telephone's ("Illinois Bell") Motion to Dismiss Counts III, IV, and V of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint at Law. For the reasons discussed below, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

 Background

 As set forth in the Complaint, the circumstances giving rise to this action are as follows. *fn1" Prior to September 1, 1992, Plaintiff Willetta Weatherly was employed full-time by Defendant Illinois Bell. As of June 1992, Weatherly was over fifty years old and had twenty-five years of service with Illinois Bell.

 Weatherly was a participant in Illinois Bell's Ameritech Pension Plan (the "Plan"). Her pension benefits were fully vested as of June 1992. The Plan permits participants to choose between several different pension pay-out methods, including one providing for a lump-sum distribution of pension benefits.

 Between September 1991 and June 1992, Weatherly experienced ill-health and apparently was not working full time. In June 1992, Weatherly returned to work full-time. She intended to work until she reached the age of fifty-five so that she could obtain the maximum retirement benefits available to her under the Plan.

 After her return to work in June 1992, Weatherly was advised by her manager that she was being placed on a "Final Warning" for taking extended sick leave. She was also advised that she would be terminated and would lose her pension if she took any more sick leave. Her manager asked whether she would consider taking early retirement and directed her to speak with an Illinois Bell pension benefit specialist by the name of Barbara Sloan.

 During communications that took place between June 1992 and September 14, 1992, Sloan represented to Weatherly that she would receive a $ 115,948.53 lump sum payment, a $ 11,558.86 pension enhancement, and a $ 1,923.39 bonus should she take early retirement. Sloan's representations regarding Weatherly's retirement benefits were incorporated in a September 1, 1992 letter to Weatherly. Illinois Bell did not inform Weatherly of the assumptions used in calculating her potential benefits. Weatherly was given until August 21, 1992, to accept the early retirement package.

 Weatherly accepted Illinois Bell's offer of early retirement on August 21, 1992, after consulting with financial planners at Citibank and American National Bank. According to Weatherly, she was concerned with her health and the possibility of losing her retirement benefits. Illinois Bell tendered a check in the amount of $ 115,948.53 to Weatherly.

 On September 14, 1992, Sloan advised Weatherly that a mistake had occurred in the calculation of Weatherly's retirement benefits. Weatherly was told that she would not receive the remaining $ 13,482.25, and in fact owed Illinois Bell over $ 18,000. According to Illinois Bell, Weatherly's pension benefits had been calculated based on the erroneous assumption that she had reached age fifty-five.

 Weatherly commenced this action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois on April 13, 1993. On that date, Illinois Bell removed the action to this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1441 on the basis that the action arises under section 1132 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.2 Weatherly filed her First Amended Complaint at Law on January 20, 1994.

 The five-count First Amended Complaint advances both federal and state law claims. Count I seeks to enforce Weatherly's rights, under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(b), to the pension benefits promised her by Illinois Bell and seeks payment by Illinois Bell of the remaining $ 13,482.25 allegedly owed her. Count II seeks a declaratory judgment clarifying her right to future health care benefits for herself and her son. Count III alleges a violation of ERISA section 1140 on the grounds that Illinois Bell intended to deprive Weatherly of future pension benefits through threats and coercion. Count IV is an estoppel claim. Count V is a state law claim for fraud in the inducement. Illinois Bell maintains that Counts III, IV, and V fail to state claims.

 Discussion

 We may not dismiss a complaint with prejudice unless "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 104 S. Ct. 2229, 2232, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59 (1984). "Nevertheless, a plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to outline the cause of action, proof of which is essential to recovery." Ellsworth v. City of Racine, 774 F.2d 182, ...


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