United States District Court, N.D. Illinois
February 17, 2004.
CATHERINE JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
LONG TERM DISABILITY PLAN and IMC GLOBAL, INC., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT GETTLEMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Catherine Johnson filed a complaint against her former,
employer IMC Global Inc. ("IMC") and its Long Term Disability Plan (the
"Plan") seeking disability income benefits pursuant to the Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ER SA").
29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Plaintiff has demanded a jury trial.
Defendants have moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.112(b)(6), and to strike the
jury demand. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is to dismiss is
denied, and the motion to strike the jury demand is granted.
Plaintiff was employed by IMC from June 9, 1988, until January 16,
2001, when she ceased working due to multiple medical impairments
including fibromyalgia and other autoimmune disorders. Due to her
condition, plaintiff has been continuously unable to perform
the material duties of her occupation or any other occupation since
January 16, 2001. Plaintiff was covered by the Plan and she applied for
benefits subsequent to ceasing her employment. The Plan defines
. . . the inability to perform all of the important
duties of your job or another job offered by IMC, due
to illness or injury. You must also not be working at
any other job. This definition applies during the
first 30 months of an period of disability.
By the express terms of the Plan, IMC is the designated plan
administrator (the "Plan Administrator") and has discretionary authority
to determine benefits eligibility throughout the Plan's administrative
claims and appeal process. Plaintiff initially supported her claim for
benefits with numerous medical records and reports, and other evidence
certifying her disability. Benefits were approved both for short-term
disability and, eventually, long-term disability. However, despite the
continued submission of proof of ongoing disability, her benefits were
terminated as of August 31, 2002.
Following the termination of her disability benefits on August 31,
2002, plaintiff submitted an appeal for benefits to IMC, which included
medical and vocational evidence supporting her ongoing disability. In
addition, IMC required that plaintiff undergo two examinations by
physicians selected by IMC, both of whom reported that plaintiff was
incapable of working. Despite the doctors' reports, her claim for
benefits was denied.
Defendants have moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6),
arguing that the complaint fails to allege that the decision to deny
benefits was arbitrary and capricious. For the purposes of a motion to
dismiss, the court accepts all well-pleaded allegations as true and draws
all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Travel All Over the
World, Inc. v. Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 73 F.3d 1423, 1428 (7th Cir.
1996). The consideration of Rule 12(b)(6) motion is generally restricted
to the pleadings, which include the complaint and, any attached
exhibits. Thompson v. Illinois Dep't of Prof. Regulation, 300 F.3d 750,
753 (7th Cir. 2002).
Defendants argue that because the Plan gives "the administrator
discretionary authority to determine eligibility for benefits" this court
may overturn that decision only if it was arbitrary and capricious.
Firestone Tire & Rubber Co. v. Bruch, 489 U.S. 101, 11 (1989). Citing
Armbruster v. Benefit Life Trust Ins. Co., 687 F. Supp. 403, 406 (N.D. II
1988), defendants argue that plaintiff is required to plead the standard
of review. The complaint does not allege that the decision to deny
benefits was "arbitrary and capricious." However, under the notice
pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), the complaint is sufficient of
it alleges facts sufficient to support a conclusion that the decision was
arbitrary and capricious. The instant complaint alleges that benefits
were denied despite the fact that defendant's own doctors reported that
plaintiff is totally incapable of working, thus meeting the Plan's
definition of disability. Assuming these facts to be true, the trier of
fact could conclude that the decision was arbitrary and capricious.
Accordingly, defendants' motion to dismiss is denied.
Defendants also move to strike plaintiffs demand for a jury trial. The
Seventh Circuit has consistently held that because suits for benefits
under 502(a)(1)(B) are equitable in nature plaintiffs bringing such
actions are not entitled to a jury trial. Wardle v. T'ent, States,
Southeast and Southwest Area Pension Fund, 627 F.2d 820, 829 (7th Cir.
1980) cert. denied, 449 U.S. 1112 (1981); see also Brown v. Retirement
Com. Of Briggs & Stratton Ret. Plan, 797 F.2d 521, 527 (7th Cir. 1986)
cert. denied, 479 U.S. 1094 (1987). Other Courts of Appeal agree that a
unavailable in this type of case. See Thomas v. Oregon Fruit Producers
Co., 228 F.3d 991, 996 (9th Cir. 2000); Adams v. Cyprus Amax Minerals
Co., 149 F.3d 1156, 1162 (10th Cir. 1998); DeFelice v. Am. Int'l Life
Assur. Co. of N.Y., 112 F.3d 61, 64 (2d Cir. 199 7); Borst v. Chevron
Corp., 36 F.3d 1308, 1324 (5th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1066
(1995); Cox v. Keystone Carbon Co., 894 F.2d 647, 649 (3d Cir. 1990);
Howard v. Parisian, Inc., 307 F.2d 1560, 1567 (11th Cir. 1987); Berry v.
Ciba-Geigy Corp., 761 F.2d 1003, 1006-07 (4t Cir. 1985); In re Vorpahl,
695 F.2d 318, 321-22 (8th Cir. 1982).
Although plaintiff argues that her claim is similar to a breach of
contract claim, she brings her claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). As
defendants correctly note, "the prevailing weight of authority has been
to disallow juries in ERISA benefit claims characterizing such actions as
equitable in nature." See Wardle, 627 F.2d at 829. This court will follow
the prevailing weight of authority and strike the jury demand.
For the reasons stated above, defendants' motion to dismiss is de: ed
and their motion to strike the jury demand is granted. Defendants are
directed to file their answer to the complaint on or before March 8,
2004. The parties are directed to prepare and file their joint status
report (using this court's standard form) on or before March 8, 2004. The
status having been previously set for February 18, 2004, is continued to
March 11, 2004, at 9:00 a.m.