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Omar Hakim v. Accenture United States Pension Plan

September 29, 2011

OMAR HAKIM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
ACCENTURE UNITED STATES PENSION PLAN, ACCENTURE LLP, ACCENTURE INC., ACCENTURE LLC, AND ACCENTURE LTD., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Robert M. Dow, Jr.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Currently before the Court is Defendants' motion for reconsideration [141] of the Court's August 16, 2010 Order [118] in light of the Seventh Circuit's decision in Howell v. Motorola, Inc., 633 F.3d 552 (7th Cir. 2011). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion [141] is granted.

I. Background*fn1

In its August 16, 2010 Order, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court granted Defendants' motion as to all of Plaintiffs claims except for Count IV. As to that count, the Court concluded that by virtue of the anti-alienation provision of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1056(d)(1), the release that Plaintiff executed did not bar his claim for additional benefits based on alleged violations of ERISA Section 204(h), 29 U.S.C. § 1054(h).

On January 21, 2011, in Howell v. Motorola, Inc., 633 F.3d 552 (7th Cir. 2011), the Seventh Circuit held that a similar release was enforceable as to an ERISA claim for additional ERISA plan benefits. Defendants' now ask the Court to reconsider its August 16 Order in light of the Howell decision.

II. Legal Standard

Because the Court's August 16, 2010 Order did not dispose of this case in its entirety, the Court reviews Defendants' motion for reconsideration under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b), which states in relevant part: "any order or other decision, however designated, that adjudicates fewer than all the claims or the rights and liabilities of fewer than all the parties does not end the action as to any of the claims or parties and may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating all the claims and all the parties' rights and liabilities." Accordingly, under Rule 54(b), the Court may exercise its inherent authority to reconsider its interlocutory orders because such orders may be revised at any time before the Court enters a final judgment. See Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. v. Mercury Const. Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 12 (1983) ("every order short of a final decree is subject to reopening at the discretion of the district judge"); Sims v. EGA Prods., Inc., 475 F.3d 865, 870 (7th Cir. 2007) ("non-final orders are generally modifiable").

However, it is well established in this district and circuit that "'[m]otions for reconsideration serve a limited function: to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence.'" Conditioned Ocular Enhancement, Inc. v. Bonaventura, 458 F. Supp. 2d 704, 707 (N.D. Ill. 2006) (quoting Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole v. CBI Indus., Inc., 90 F.3d 1264, 1269 (7th Cir. 1996)). In regard to the "manifest error" prong, the Seventh Circuit has explained that a motion to reconsider is proper only when "the Court has patently misunderstood a party, or has made a decision outside the adversarial issues presented to the Court by the parties, or has made an error not of reasoning but of apprehension." Bank of Waunakee v. Rochester Cheese Sales, Inc., 906 F.2d 1185, 1191 (7th Cir. 1990); see also Oto v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 224 F.3d 601, 606 (7th Cir. 2000) ("A 'manifest error' is not demonstrated by the disappointment of the losing party," instead it "is the 'wholesale disregard, misapplication, or failure to recognize controlling precedent.'"); Bilek v. American Home Mortg. Servicing, 2010 WL 3306912, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 19, 2010). And with respect to the second prong, the court of appeals has explained that a motion to reconsider may be appropriate if there has been "a controlling or significant change in the law or facts since the submission of the issue to the Court." Bank of Waunakee, 906 F.2d at 1191. Defendants argue that there has been a change in the law in light of the Seventh Circuit's opinion in Howell, and thus the Court proceeds under the second prong.

III. Analysis

A.Howell v. Motorola, Inc.

Howell was a former employee of Motorola. 633 F.3d at 558. While employed, he was enrolled in a defined-contribution plan. Id. at 556. When Motorola terminated Howell's employment as part of a general reduction in force, Howell received a severance package that included additional severance pay for employees willing to sign a general release. Id. at 558. The release essentially prohibited Howell from bringing any and all causes of action that he had or might have had against Motorola at the time that he signed the agreement. The Seventh Circuit found that while the plaintiff "remains entitled to sue to recover the money that was in his retirement account at the time he signed the release . . . he cannot now claim that his account would have been worth even more had the defendants not breached a fiduciary duty." Id. at 561.

The court went on to explain that the release Howell signed "settle[d], in advance, any claims that he might have brought against [defendant] arising out of his employment there or his participation in the Plan, with the exception of those benefits that were due to him under the Plan at the time he signed his release." Id.

Here, Defendants' argue that Plaintiff has been awarded all benefits to which he is entitled under the Plan and that his current claim seeks only additional benefits based upon purported violations of ERISA Section 204(h), which under Howell he relinquished when he signed the release. Plaintiff counters that Howell does not apply for several reasons: (1) Howell involved a defined contribution plan, whereas Plaintiff had a defined benefit plan; (2) Howell does not change the fact that under ERISA's anti-alienation provision Plaintiff cannot release pension entitlements; ...


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