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Powers v. Corn Products International

May 2, 2008

PAUL POWERS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CORN PRODUCTS INTERNATIONAL, INC., JOHN SUROWEIC, UNITED STEEL, PAPER AND FORESTRY, RUBBER MANUFACTURING, ENERGY, ALLIED INDUSTRIAL AND SERVICE WORKERS INTERNATIONAL UNION, AND JAMES KRAMER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Paul Powers ("Plaintiff") filed a four count amended complaint against Corn Products International, Inc. ("Corn Products"), John Suroweic ("Suroweic"), United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union ("Union"), and James Kramer ("Kramer"). In Count I, Plaintiff seeks the equitable remedy of specific performance, including an order directing Corn Products to allow Plaintiff to participate in the Health Care Plan for Hourly Employees of Corn Products International, Inc. (the "Plan" or "Health Care Plan"). In Count II, Plaintiff seeks to clarify his rights to future benefits under the Health Care Plan in accordance with 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). In Count III, Plaintiff seeks to recover damages from Corn Products and Suroweic based on alleged misrepresentations made by Suroweic to Plaintiff with respect to the Plaintiff's eligibility to participate in the Health Care Plan upon retirement. Corn Products and Suroweic move to dismiss all three counts pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

Corn Products and Surowiec are not named as defendants in Count IV. The Union and Kramer filed a separate motion to dismiss, which is being ruled upon in a separate opinion. Oral argument was held on April 22, 2008. For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss Counts I, II, and III against Corn Products and Suroweic is granted.

I. BACKGROUND FACTS

Plaintiff has been employed by Corn Products since October 16, 1970. (Am. Compl. Introduction ¶ 1). Plaintiff began his employment at Corn Products as an hourly employee and a member of the Union. (Am. Compl. Count III ¶¶ 9-10, 13). In 2000, however, Plaintiff left the Union and accepted a salaried management position with Corn Products. (Am. Compl. Count III ¶ 9 and 13). Plaintiff alleges that before he agreed to leave the Union and accept the salaried position, Suroweic, Corn Products' Director of Benefits, informed Plaintiff that he would still be eligible to participate in the Health Care Plan upon retirement. (Am. Compl. Count III ¶ 9). Plaintiff claims he relied on Suroweic's representation, and as a result, accepted the salaried position. (Am. Compl. Count III ¶ 13).

After accepting the salaried position, however, Corn Products informed Plaintiff that he is not eligible to participate in the Health Care Plan upon retirement. (Am. Compl. Introduction ¶ 6). As a result, Plaintiff alleges that he has been "constrained from retiring" due to the later advice that he will not be eligible to receive benefits under the Health Care Plan upon retirement. (Am. Compl. Introduction ¶ 8).

Union employees of Corn Products may participate in the Health Care Plan if they meet certain requirements. (Ex. A at 22).*fn1 As stated in Article 12 of the collective bargaining agreement between Corn Products and the Union ("Labor Agreement"), eligibility is "subject to the terms and provisions" of the Health Care Plan. (Ex. A at 22). Additionally, Union employees may be eligible to participate in the Health Care Plan upon retirement pursuant to the requirements specified in Article 14, Section 1C of the Labor Agreement. (Ex. A at 24). The gravamen of Plaintiff's claim is to have Corn Products guarantee his eligibility to receive benefits from the Health Care Plan upon retirement or to be awarded damages for the alleged misrepresentations made by Suroweic regarding his eligibility to participate in the Health Care Plan.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW FOR MOTION TO DISMISS

Under Rule 12(b)(6), to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the complaint must contain only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); EEOC v. Concentra Health Services, Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007). The complaint must "describe the claim in sufficient detail to give the defendant 'fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Concentra, 496 F.3d at 776 (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ---- U.S. ----, ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007)). The "plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65. Additionally, the complaint "must plausibly suggest that the plaintiff has a right to relief [by providing allegations that raise a right to relief] above a 'speculative level.'" Concentra, 496 F.3d at 776 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965). If the allegations do not suggest such a right to relief, "the plaintiff pleads itself out of court."Id. In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court takes "as true all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint and make[s] all plausible inferences from those allegations in the plaintiffs' favor." Disability Rights Wisc., Inc., v. Walworth County Bd. of Supervisors, -F.3d -, 2008 WL 1701837 (7th Cir. 2008)

III. DISCUSSION

A. Count I - Specific Performance

Corn Products moves to dismiss Count I for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Specifically, Corn Products asserts that Plaintiff's action for specific performance is precluded under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1004-1461, in light of his claim in Count II.

In Count I, Plaintiff seeks specific performance under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3) ("section 502(a)(3)") of ERISA "to require Corn Products and the Union to . . . enroll [P]laintiff in the Plan for retiree health benefits." (Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss ("Response") at 7).*fn2 In Count II, Plaintiff seeks to clarify his rights to future benefits ...


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