the denial of summary judgment, including references to the affidavits, parts of the record, and other supporting materials relied upon." Local Rule 12(N)(3)(b); Curde, 912 F. Supp. at 338. If either the movant or the non-movant in a summary judgment motion fails to respond properly to the facts set out by the opponent, the court may deem those facts to be admitted. Local Rules 12(M), 12(N)(3)(b). The Seventh Circuit consistently has upheld this strict application of Local Rule 12(N). Zoltek v. Safelite Glass Corp., 884 F. Supp. 283, 285 (N.D. Ill. 1995) (collecting cases).
The court notes that plaintiffs did not file a Rule 12(N) statement of additional facts. The court further notes that many of plaintiffs' responses to defendants' Rule 12(M) statement of facts violate "the rigorous requirements of specificity and documentation that Rule 12(M) imposes." Tapy, 896 F.2d at 1103. For example, some of plaintiffs' responses are simply nonsensical, as where Mrs. Coker admits but Mr. Coker denies that Mrs. Coker is Mr. Coker's wife, (Local Rule 12(N) Statement P 4), or where Mrs. Coker admits but Mr. Coker denies that Mr. Coker was represented by the IAM. (Id. P 5.) Other responses admit in part and deny in part the Local Rule 12(M) statement, but fail to specify what part is admitted and what part is denied. (See, e.g., id. P 16.) Yet other responses deny the undeniable, such as where plaintiffs deny the literal text of the CBA. (See, e.g., id. P 12.) In other responses, plaintiffs deny what they expressly acknowledge in their depositions. (See, e.g., id. PP 13(b), 14(b).) Finally, many responses either consist wholly of or contain a legal argument rather than a factual statement. (See, e.g., id. PP 2, 4, 5, 9, 22.)
In short, plaintiffs' Local Rule 12(N) responses to defendants' Local Rule 12(M) statement of facts seem calculated to confuse the factual issues in this case rather than clarify them. In accordance with Local Rules 12(M) and 12(N), the court may deem admitted the Local Rule 12(M) statements to which plaintiffs failed to respond properly, which would be a majority of the statements. However, in order not to punish plaintiffs for the defective Local Rule 12(N) responses prepared by their counsel, the court will not strike any of plaintiffs' Local Rule 12(N) responses or deem admitted the Local Rule 12(M) statements to which plaintiffs did not respond properly. The court was able to glean the relevant facts partly from the Local Rule 12(M) and 12(N) statements and primarily from the depositions and exhibits submitted by the parties, and will decide the motion for summary judgment based on those facts.
C. Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Count I
As a preliminary matter, the court notes that Count I is not directed at the Retirement Plan and contains no allegations implicating the Retirement Plan. Therefore, Count I is dismissed with prejudice as to the Retirement Plan. When the court refers to "defendants" in the following discussion, it refers only to TWA and the Group Benefit Plans.
Defendants contend that they deserve summary judgment on plaintiffs' promissory estoppel claim because plaintiffs cannot establish any of the elements of such a claim. Plaintiffs counter that based on the communications they received from defendants, they assumed that their post-furlough medical benefits were still in effect as late as February 1995, and therefore that they are entitled to receive payment for Mrs. Coker's hospital bills. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that TWA's letters in November 1993 and November 1994, which implied that plaintiffs were covered under TWA's group medical insurance, and the Group Benefit Plans' certifications, through Aetna, of Mrs. Coker's hospital admissions in January and February 1995 essentially created a promise of plaintiffs' continued coverage under TWA's medical insurance.
Courts are split as to whether a federal common law doctrine of promissory estoppel even exists under ERISA, because there is some concern that promissory estoppel contradicts the policy against oral modifications of ERISA plans. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 1102(a)(1), 1102(b)(3) (mandating that ERISA plans be in writing and amended pursuant to procedures set forth in the plans); Schoonmaker v. Employee Savings Plan of Amoco Corp., 987 F.2d 410, 412 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing Musto v. American General Corp., 861 F.2d 897 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1020, 109 S. Ct. 1745, 104 L. Ed. 2d 182 (1989); Cefalu v. B.F. Goodrich Co., 871 F.2d 1290 (5th Cir. 1989)) (oral representations or other informal statements cannot be used to contradict or supersede terms of an ERISA plan). However, the Seventh Circuit has recognized that promissory estoppel is part of the common law that courts of appeals are required to create in order to plug gaps in ERISA, and so has recognized a federal common law cause of action for promissory estoppel under ERISA. See Miller v. Taylor Insulation Co., 39 F.3d 755, 758 (7th Cir. 1994) (citing Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 110, 109 S. Ct. 948, 954, 103 L. Ed. 2d 80 (1989); Thomason v. Aetna Life Ins. Co., 9 F.3d 645, 647, 649-50 (7th Cir. 1993); Black v. TIC Investment Corp., 900 F.2d 112, 114-15 (7th Cir. 1990)). The Seventh Circuit has limited its holding to written promises that modify ERISA plans, and has indicated that the policy against oral modifications of ERISA plans "may bar using the concept of estoppel to modify the terms of a written plan on the basis of an oral promise." Miller, 39 F.3d at 759 (citations omitted). Nonetheless, the Miller court expressly noted that the issue remains unresolved in this circuit. Id.
Though the Seventh Circuit has not yet decided whether or not a promissory estoppel claim can be based on oral promises modifying an ERISA plan, ERISA itself seems to indicate that an oral promise cannot effectively modify an ERISA plan. See 29 U.S.C. §§ 1102(a)(1), 1102(b)(3). Consequently, to the extent that plaintiffs contend that defendants made any oral misrepresentations to plaintiffs, such as that an Aetna representative told Mr. Coker by telephone that Mrs. Coker's hospitalization would be covered under the Group Benefits Plan, (see D. Coker Dep. at 68), the court finds that such oral representations cannot form a basis of plaintiffs' promissory estoppel claim.
In the Seventh Circuit, a plaintiff bringing a promissory estoppel claim must show that
1) the opposing party knowingly misrepresented or concealed a material fact; 2) the complaining party, not knowing the truth, reasonably relied on that misrepresentation or concealment; 3) the complaining party suffered detriment; and 4) the complaining party had no knowledge or convenient means of ascertaining the true facts which would have prompted it to react otherwise.