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Trujillo v. American Bar Association

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

September 7, 2016



          Robert M. Dow, Jr. Judge

         Before the Court is Defendants' motion [93] to dismiss Plaintiffs ERISA claim [89]. The Court had previously dismissed two of Plaintiff s complaints without prejudice. See [69], [86]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiffs ERISA claim [93] is granted with prejudice. Plaintiffs state law claim for tortious interference is dismissed without prejudice, allowing Plaintiff to file that claim in state court pursuant to 735 ILCS 5/13-217.

         I. Background[1]

         Pro se Plaintiff Robert Trujillo ("Plaintiff) filed his initial complaint against Defendants the American Bar Association ("ABA") and John Krsul in December 2013. In that complaint, Plaintiff sought "equitable monetary relief under ERISA against both Defendants based on his wrongful termination from his position at the ABA. [7], Compl. ¶ 22(B). Plaintiff also sought compensatory and punitive damages for Krsul's alleged tortious interference with Plaintiffs employment relationship with the ABA. Id. at ¶ 22(D). The Court dismissed Plaintiffs ERISA claim without prejudice because Plaintiff was not seeking "appropriate equitable relief required under § 1132(a)(3). [69] at 9-10. Plaintiff did not sufficiently allege that the money he sought was equitable; rather, he only sought compensatory damages. Id. After dismissing Plaintiffs only federal claim, the Court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law tortious interference claim. Id. at 10-11.

         Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint [73]. Plaintiff continued to seek compensatory damages. The Court found yet again that Plaintiff had failed to establish that the relief he sought was equitable. The Court highlighted the difference between equitable relief and compensatory damages, which fit "the classic form of legal relief and consequently are unavailable under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). Mertens v. Hewitt Assocs., 508 U.S. 248, 256 (1993). Plaintiff also brought a tortious interference claim, which the Court held to be colorable and sufficient to state a claim. Plaintiff has since filed a second amended complaint.

         The Court set forth the alleged facts in detail in its previous two memorandum opinions and those allegations remain unchanged. Defendant ABA sponsors an employee pension plan ("the Plan") that is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). This made the ABA a fiduciary to the Plan. Id. Defendant John Krsul, who is an ABA member but not an ABA employee, chaired the A-E-F-C Pension Plan Administrative Committee ("Committee"). The Committee is the named fiduciary of the Plan; as chair of the Committee, Krsul also qualifies as a fiduciary of the Plan.

         Plaintiff Robert Trujillo was hired by the ABA in June 2010 to serve as a program director in its Human Resources Department. In May 2011, the Committee appointed Plaintiff to serve as Administrator of the Plan; this made Plaintiff a fiduciary of the Plan. This role was distinct from and in addition to Plaintiffs role as HR program director.

         As Plan Administrator, Plaintiff alerted the ABA and Krsul to problems the Plan's record keeping and to overpayments and miscalculations of participant benefits. Plaintiff alleges that once he brought this to the attention of the Defendants, an organized campaign commenced intended to remove him from his job. Krsul emailed the ABA's Chief Financial Officer to ask "whether there was anything going on with the Plaintiff professionally that he should be aware of as the Committee Chair." Krsul proposed the outsourcing of the administration of the Plan, including Plaintiffs role as Plan Administrator. Plaintiff was subsequently removed from his role as Plan Administrator. Following his removal, Plaintiff was demoted and finally terminated by the ABA in June 2013 from his job in the ABA's HR department.

         In this second amended complaint, Plaintiff brings two claims: (1) the first claim, pursuant to Section 502(a)(3) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), alleges retaliation and discharge of Plaintiff as Plan Administrator; and (2) the second is an Illinois tortious interference claim against Defendant Krsul. See [89] at 2. Plaintiff asks the Court for the following relief: (a) reinstatement to his role as Plan Administrator; (b) all applicable Plan Administrator compensation owed plus interest from the date of Plaintiffs removal; (c) whatever equitable relief the Court deems proper should the Defendants refuse to reinstate Plaintiff; (d) monetary compensation for Defendant Krsul's tortious interference with Plaintiffs employment with Defendant ABA; (e) costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g); and (f) any other relief the Court deems proper. See Id. at 17.

         II. Legal Standard

         To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the complaint first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), such that the defendant is given "fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Ail. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the "speculative level." E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or a 'formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (ellipsis in original). Dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. The Court reads the complaint and assesses its plausibility as a whole. See Atkins v. City of Chicago, 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011).

         III. Analysis

         ERISA limits the types of relief available to a potential plaintiff. In its previous opinion [86], the Court made clear that Plaintiff would be unable to seek compensatory damages, as they were unavailable under § 1132(a)(3). Section 1132(a)(3) "authorizes only a limited range of remedies, raising a threshold question as to whether the relief [Plaintiff] demands is authorized." Mondry v. American Family Mut. Ins. Co., 557 F.3d 781, 804 (7th Cir. 2009). Specifically, the statute provides that a fiduciary 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 ...

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