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Andujar v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada

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

August 20, 2014

GEORGE ANDUJAR, Plaintiff,
v.
SUN LIFE ASSURANCE COMPANY OF CANADA, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ELAINE E. BUCKLO, District Judge.

Plaintiff George Andujar, a longtime employee of Acme Finishing Company, Inc., became disabled and unable to return to work after being hospitalized for respiratory failure on March 8, 2013. For the first three months of his disability, plaintiff received benefits under his employer-sponsored short term disability plan, of which defendant, Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada, is the administrator. Unable to return to work after exhausting his short term benefits, plaintiff applied for benefits under his employer's long term disability plan, also administered by defendant. Those benefits were denied, the appeals process was exhausted, and this suit, brought pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA") ensued.

Plaintiff asserts two ERISA claims. The first is based on § 502(a)(1)(B) of the statute, which provides that a plan participant may bring a civil action:

to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan.

29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). The second seeks relief under § 502(a)(3), which provides that a participant may bring a civil action:

(A) to enjoin any act or practice which violates any provision of this subchapter or the terms of the plan, or (B) to obtain other appropriate equitable relief (i) to redress such violations or (ii) to enforce any provisions of this subchapter or the terms of the plan.

29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3).

Before me is defendant's motion to dismiss the latter claim, which I grant for the reasons that follow.

I.

After reciting the names of the parties and counsel, plaintiff's complaint jumps straight to the caption "Count I, " which contains, in addition to the jurisdictional and venue allegations supporting the action in this forum, a short description of the case and the parties, and a "statement of facts" setting forth defendant's wrongdoing. In this section, plaintiff summarizes his employment history, the medical conditions that rendered him disabled, and his application for, and receipt of, short term disability benefits. Cmplt. ¶¶ 8-10. Plaintiff then describes his application for, and denial of, long term benefits. These allegations include details about the materials plaintiff submitted in support of his application for long term disability benefits and the materials on which defendant relied in its denial. Id. at ¶¶ 11-21. Count I ends with the assertions that defendant's denial of benefits violates Metro. Life Ins. Co. v. Glenn, 554 U.S. 105, 115 (2008) (a case brought pursuant to § 502(a)(1)(B)), and that plaintiff's administrative appeals have been exhausted. Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.

Count II contains a mere four paragraphs, the first of which states, "[p]laintiff reasserts and incorporates paragraphs 1-23 above as though fully set forth herein." In the remaining paragraphs of this count, plaintiff asserts that defendant was an ERISA fiduciary; that as such, defendant owed plaintiff the duty "to act solely in the interest of participants and for the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to participants"; and that "the foregoing course of conduct" amounts to a breach of fiduciary duty under § 503(a)(3) of ERISA. Cmplt. at ¶¶ 24-28.

To redress his injuries, plaintiff seeks a judgment ordering defendant to pay long-term disability benefits to Plaintiff "in an amount equal to the contractual amount of benefits to which he is entitled, " including prejudgment interest on all benefits that have accrued prior to the date of judgment, and continuing as long as plaintiff meets the conditions specified in the policy. Plaintiff also seeks attorney's fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). Finally, "in the event the unjust enrichment exceeds the amount of prejudgment interest, " plaintiff seeks, pursuant to § 502(a)(3), the "disgorgement of unjust enrichment at Sun Life's rate of return on equity... in an amount in excess of the prejudgment interest." Cmplt. at 8.

Defendant raises multiple arguments for dismissal of count II. Its lead argument is that because plaintiff's fiduciary breach claim merely "repackages" his denial of benefits claim, the two claims cannot be brought together. For this argument, defendant relies on Varity Corp. v. Howe, 516 U.S. 489 (1996), and Mondry v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 557 F.3d 781 (7th Cir. 2009), as well as an abundance of cases applying these authorities in this district.

In Varity, the Court characterized § 502(a)(3) as a "catchall" provision that acts "as a safety net, offering appropriate equitable relief for injuries caused by violations that § 502 does not elsewhere adequately remedy." Id. at 512. The Court went on to explain that "where Congress elsewhere provided adequate relief for a beneficiary's injury, there will likely be no need for further equitable relief, in which case such relief normally would not be appropriate.'" Id. at 515. Although the Seventh Circuit has not expressly determined whether, under Varity, a benefits claim under § 502(a)(1)(B) precludes a claim for equitable relief pursuant to § 502(a)(3), it acknowledged in Mondry that "a majority of the circuits are of the ...


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