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Stewart v. Caterpillar, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 18, 2014

KAREN J. STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
CATERPILLAR, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARIA VALDEZ, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Karen J. Stewart's Combined Rule 60(b) Motion for Relief from a Final Judgment and Rule 15 Motion to Amend the Complaint [Doc. No. 32]. For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's complaint alleged that Defendant breached its fiduciary duty to her, in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1104(a)(1). Caterpillar, the former employer of Plaintiff's ex-husband, administered a pension benefit plan in which Plaintiff had an interest following her divorce. Plaintiff claimed that Defendant misstated the amount of her ex-husband's pension before she signed pension election authorization forms. After receiving monthly benefits of $1, 225.17 for over three years, Caterpillar informed her that the original amount was calculated using an incorrect actuarial reduction factor, and thus she had been receiving an overpayment of $1, 058.32 per month. Plaintiff's complaint sought to reinstate the original amount of benefits based on the theory that Defendant's miscalculation was an affirmative misrepresentation, on which Plaintiff reasonably relied when purchasing a home and deciding to forego further education and training. On November 30, 2012, this Court granted Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint with prejudice because it alleged facts demonstrating that Plaintiff's claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1104 was time-barred as a matter of law.[1] See Stewart v. Caterpillar, Inc., No. 12 C 5328, 2012 WL 6019287, at * 2-3 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 30, 2012).

Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal of that decision on December 31, 2012.[2] On September 20, 2013, before any appellate briefing had occurred, Plaintiff's motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal was granted. She then filed the present motion on November 29, 2013, within one year of the original judgment.

Plaintiff argues that this motion is not an effort to seek another bite of the apple in relation to her breach of fiduciary duty claim. Instead, she contends that she is seeking judicial review of Caterpillar's underlying determination that its original calculation of benefits due was incorrect. According to the proposed amended complaint, the original calculation was correct, and there should not have been an actuarial reduction to her benefits. She therefore seeks relief for benefits due under the pension plan pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132, which provides that a participant or beneficiary may bring a civil action "to recover benefits due to him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan."[3] 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). The proposed complaint also includes a common law cause of action for estoppel and adds the plan as a defendant.

DISCUSSION

A party may be relieved from a final judgment due to "(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;... or (6) any other reason that justifies relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1)-(6). "A motion under Rule 60(b) must be made within a reasonable time - and for reasons (1), (2), and (3) no more than a year after the entry of the judgment or order or the date of the proceeding." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c)(1). The Seventh Circuit has "characterized the district court's considerable latitude in making its decision [on a Rule 60(b) motion] as discretion piled on discretion.'" Wehrs v. Wells, 688 F.3d 886, 890 (7th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Plaintiff's motion argues that she should be relieved from the dismissal of her complaint with prejudice due to mistake, excusable neglect, and also pursuant to the "catch-all" provision in subsection (6).

A. Mistake

Plaintiff first argues that her Rule 60 motion should be granted due to mistakes made by the Court in dismissing the action with prejudice, without leave to replead.[4] Plaintiff does not contest the Court's determination that the breach of fiduciary claim (the only claim not voluntarily dismissed) was time-barred, nor does she allege that a curative amendment could have salvaged that claim. See Sroga v. De Jesus, No. 12 C 9288, 2013 WL 2422869, at *7 (N.D. Ill. June 3, 2013) (explaining that time-barred claims should be dismissed with prejudice because they "cannot be cured by repleading"). The Court's alleged mistake was in not recognizing that certain allegations in the breach of contract section, along with statements in attached exhibits, could have supported a claim under 29 U.S.C. § 1132. Because the deficiency was "one of form, and not of substance, " she should have been allowed to amend the complaint to clarify that the breach of contract relief was brought pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). (Pl.'s Mem. at 1-2.)

Plaintiff states that in her (voluntarily dismissed) breach of contract claim, she alleged that she received benefits pursuant to contractual terms. Moreover, in her prayer for relief under the breach of contract claim, she sought retroactive benefits as previously calculated, a declaration that she continue to receive benefits as previously calculated, and prejudgment interest on the past-due benefits. In her administrative appeal documents, attached as exhibits to the complaint, she asserted that she was eligible to receive the contractual benefits previously agreed to. Therefore, according to Plaintiff, the "complaint clearly alleged that Caterpillar's recalculation of benefits in 2009 was contrary to the terms of the plan, and she requested relief of benefits due, the proper vehicle for which is § 1132(a)(1)(B)." (Pl.'s Mem. at 3.) She argues that she should be allowed to reinstate the case and amend the complaint "because the exhibits, which trump the allegations, indicated she sought to enforce her rights under the Plan, " (Pl.'s Mem. at 4), and "when written instruments attached to a complaint are inconsistent with the text of the allegations in the complaint, the documents attached control for purposes of dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6), " (Pl.'s Mem. at 6). The case Plaintiff cites for this proposition, however, held merely that a court need not credit unsupported allegations in a complaint when they are negated by exhibits. See N. Ind. Gun & Outdoor Shows, Inc. v. City of S. Bend, 163 F.3d 449, 454-55 (7th Cir. 1998) (explaining that "[a] plaintiff may plead himself out of court by attaching documents to the complaint that indicate that he or she is not entitled to judgment'") (citation omitted).

Plaintiff's reliance on McDonald v. Household, Int'l, Inc., 425 F.3d 424 (7th Cir. 2005) is also misplaced. In that case, the Seventh Circuit held that a complaint alleging only state law claims should not be dismissed on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on preemption, when the complaint alleges sufficient facts to support an ERISA claim. Id. at 429-30. Plaintiff has not established that the Court should have cobbled together a series of allegations from a dismissed count and attached exhibits, identified a potential § 1132 claim, and then allowed her to amend the complaint in order to "clarify" that new claim. See Graue Mill Dev't Corp. v. Colonial Bank & Tr. Co., 927 F.2d 988, 991 n.1 (7th Cir. 1991) (refusing to consider, in an appeal of a motion to dismiss, other terms in an attached agreement that allegedly violated a statute when those provisions were not challenged in the complaint). This is particularly true when the § 1132 allegations Plaintiff alleges the Court should have gleaned from the complaint are directly contrary to the allegations of misrepresentation in the only cause of action at issue in the motion to dismiss.

Moreover, even if the Court had made a mistake of law in dismissing the complaint without leave to replead, the proper procedural avenue for addressing that issue was an appeal, not a Rule 60(b) motion. See Gleash v. Yuswak, 308 F.3d 758, 760 (7th Cir. 2002) ("If [Plaintiff] wanted to contest the validity of the district judge's decision - either on the merits or on the ground that [s]he should have been allowed to replead - [s]he had to appeal."); Parke-Chapley Constr. Co. v. Cherrington, 865 F.2d 907, 915 (7th Cir. 1989) ("If plaintiff believed the district court was mistaken as a matter of law in dismissing the original complaint, he should have appealed... or he might have filed a timely motion under [Rule] 59 to vacate the judgment of dismissal and for leave to amend his complaint.'") (citation omitted); see also Stoller v. Pure Fishing Inc., 528 F.3d 478, 480 (7th Cir. 2008) ("A Rule 60(b) motion is not a substitute for appeal, and thus [Plaintiff's] attempt to use it as such was appropriately rejected."); Bell v. Eastman Kodak Co., 214 F.3d 798, 801 (7th Cir. 2000) ("To allow a ground ...


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